Family reunification and refugees

At least since 2015, most discussions about immigration from Africa and the Middle East to Europe have focused on refugees. While most serious participants in this discussion agreed that among the roughly 1 million people who successfully made it to Europe in 2015, both acute survivors of warfare and people searching for better economic prospects could be found. Much of the political discussion that followed – about what, if anything, European countries and the EU could and should do about the situation – was backed up by competing claims as to the actual mix of people fleeing, respectively, bombardments in Syria, political violence in Eritrea and Afghanistan, and economic hardship and deprivation experienced by large segments of the population in a number of (primarily African) low-income countries.

However, by looking at numbers from Statistics Denmark on both applications for refugee status and the numbers of applications accepted, as well as for family reunification, it becomes clear that to understand migrant inflows, we need to look not only at the number of refugees arriving, but at family reunification as well.

Like most other Western European countries, Denmark has introduced a number of restrictions on immigration since the late 1990s. Family reunification is mostly limited to spouses over the age of 24 (ostensibly to avoid arranged marriages, but possibly also to make Denmark a less attractive destination for couples who marry young, a trait that often corresponds with low levels of education), as well as to children under the age of 15. It is not, however, limited to citizens, and thus refugees can apply for family reunification as well.

Yet, as can be seen from the figure below, there were more people arriving by family reunification than by successfully obtaining refugee status in every year from 2011-2016.

Moreover, applications for refugee status and for family reunification follow each other closely. In fact, applications for refugee status correlate with applications for family reunification at 0.97 over the years in question, while numbers of accepted refugees and accepted family reunifications correlate at 0.99, that is, an almost perfect correlation between the two phenomena.

Refugees and family reunification in Denmark, 2011-2016


(Despite reports that the deal between the EU and Turkey to contain the flow of refugees was breaking down, it can also clearly be seen that both numbers were far lower in 2016 than even 2014, a year before the ‘European Migrant Crisis’ is normally said to have taken place.)

Obviously not only refugees may and do apply for family reunification. Ethnic Danes marrying abroad as well as members of older groups of immigrants could significantly contribute to the statistics. The former would often include native Danish men and Thai or Filipino women, while the latter would pertain to men of Turkish, Pakistani, and Moroccan origin with women from those same countries.

As another preliminary control for that – besides the very strong correlations over time of the two phenomena over time – we can add the national breakdown of applicants for family reunification in 2015 and 2016, respectively:

National origin of applicants for family reunification

As can be seen, Syrians, Eritreans and stateless Palestinians make up the three largest groups of applicants for family reunification in 2015, despite being quite small minorities in Denmark before 2015. They were, however, three of the five biggest groups of asylum seekers that year.  Furthermore, it can be seen that the numbers for the non-refugee related groups, such as those of Thai, Filipino and Turkish origin, are quite stable even as the refugee-related numbers sharply drop from 2015 to 2016.

All in all, this points to a strong connection between asylum seekers and family reunification and understanding the two as closely related; many refugees arrive hoping to bring at least one family member. Given the high correlation, policy-makers can use refugee numbers as a very strong predictor of family reunification – depending, of course, the country’s laws on the area.

Houston, we’ve had a gender-class-culture problem


Ask Foldspang Neve, on facebook

Jessica, I largely agree with Rowling, but I don’t agree with her if she wants the discussion to be only about gender. Right now liberals and conservatives would like the discussion to be about two different things – which, of course, is often the case in any political struggle. As for the relevance of culture vs. gender, I’m personally currently of a boring ‘both are probably relevant’ opinion, but let me just quickly elaborate.

So, the above quote is one, very important part of the question; it has always been applicable, presumably through human history. This is what conservatives are keen to downplay – they would like the case to be seen mostly or purely as an issue of the ‘incompatibility’ between different cultures or the ‘inherent violence’ of Islamic culture, and many proclaim not to be able to see why a comparison with violence committed by non-Muslim men could possibly be relevant.

The other aspect is the conservative argument – which liberals in turn tend to downplay – that culture does seem to play some part. Again, different versions of the argument exist, but that’s not the important point here. Now, I don’t want to make too much inference from the Cologne case for now, as the only thing we know is that a large number of women were hurt, but little about their assailants.

Statistically, however, immigrants (and their descendants, but that’s an even more complicated question) from different countries fare very differently on average depending on where they are from; this is true across host nations, and not only in the West. That’s where the conservatives are right; even if you control for common social and economic (and demographic) indicators, this difference (often) persists. Now, people who fare badly get more press, but empirically it is easy to observe ethnicity having an impact either way.

Where it gets more complicated is that culture interacts with gender: In Europe, men do much worse than women in many immigrant communities, and this is a much more pronounced difference than among the natives. Moreover, it also interacts with class, as does gender, and both at the same time. What we end up with is an exciting, but hard-to-handle three-way interaction.

Pakistani female doctors

The female MD: countries should woo her; some do. Source:

So in other words, an outcome of the US being very selective with their non-Hispanic immigration has been that many recent immigrants do extremely well. As Pew outlined in their 2012 report The Rise of the Asian Americans, Indian-Americans, for example, earn more than 50 per cent more than the median personal income; the difference between household incomes is more than 75 per cent higher.

Pakistani-Americans, by comparison, do not stand out, but are still doing better than the population at large. While their personal incomes are only slightly higher than the median, the share of Pakistani Americans who have a college degree is twice as high as for the general population (27.9 % vs. 55.7 %).  While there is a gender difference, it is not huge (and at least for Indian-Americans, it still favors men).

Clearly, the by now almost mainstream European reactionary argument of Islam being a dysfunctional religion has no grounding in data in its simple form. Now Pakistani Brits (and Pakistani Danes) don’t do nearly as well; they are mostly working class, and the men clearly do worse than the women. Thus, we see that gender having a cross-cutting effect on who gets higher education to begin with, but also is important in affecting the negative effects of not being middle-class; and that ethnicity or culture again affects the interaction between the two so much that working-class immigrants seem to be the worst off – in Europe at least – while highly educated immigrant men seem to be among the best off.

Coming back to the original topic of sexual violence, as for the data I know the best – i.e., the very detailed registry data from Denmark – this also seems to be the case there (although I have to say that crime is not my usual topic). There is a clear overrepresentation of non-Westerners (as they are unhelpfully categorized) among those found guilty of sex crimes. Now, some not insubstantial part of this effect is explained by class alone: simply that lower class people commit more of those crimes, and more of the non-Western migrants are lower-class. Yet a substantial effect remains, although, I suspect, not among white-collar immigrants. I.e., it is working-class immigrants who fare particularly badly; and when it comes to violent crime and sex crimes, men (of all races and classes) vastly outnumber women as perpetrators. Thus, the full intersection.

This, I think, is worth looking seriously at by policy-makers. The most obvious differences between migration to the US and to Europe are often said to be what characterizes the host countries: that in the US, people expect and accept diversity, and they much less so in Europe, especially outside of France and the UK (the liberal explanation); and that the much less generous welfare state incentivizes people to work, and thus doesn’t ‘trap’ them in receiving benefits (the conservative explanation). However, migrant characteristics are vastly different also: The US and Canada tend to pick people who are very foreseeably going to be productive members of society. Europe has received many more working-class migrants, who are neither received as well or as good at adapting – and for the men, this results in very different crime rates.

Canada has taken what seems like a not very egalitarian consequence of this: they are now not taking any single men. That’s quite a drastic policy change, but much of the electorate is onboard with it, also since there is still so much goodwill towards the not-freaking-Harper government for being, well, not led by Harper. While I don’t have the statistics on it, I would be very surprised if they didn’t in their ‘health and security’ screening also find out whether people seemed like potentially successful new citizens. The interviews that many countries, but very notably those on the North American continent carry out among UN refugees and internally displaced persons are largely about desirability. It is also exactly what the US does, and did even when it was people from its supposed ally who was doing the fleeing, as after the Vietnam War – which is likely to explain at least part of the difference in reception between the educated first and less well-educated second waves of refugees from Viet Nam to the United States.

Going back to Europe where authorities can be less selective about who is arriving than their North American counterparts, the interaction between culture, class and gender does seem, from an empirical perspective at least, to bring to the forefront legitimate policy questions of targeted immigration policies – something that the political left in Europe has puzzlingly refused mostly on egalitarian principles and less on liberal cultural principles (with Britain being a possible exception). That is, many European social democrats were rather willing to discriminate between different applicants on the basis of culture than on class. While this may seem intuitive given a materialist background, it hardly is a defense of the electorate of these same parties: when asked in polls, the British public for example is highly skeptical of immigration in general, but highly positive of the immigration of doctors and nurses: whereas three quarters of the British public favor reducing immigration in general, roughly the same share supported admitting more immigrants – if they were doctors or nurses. Similarly trending results were found in a highly-cited 2010 experiment published in the American Political Science Review using US data.

In other words, it seems that a large segment of the population mostly has material interests in mind when it considers immigration. A smaller section – maybe 20 % – may be genuinely anti-immigration, no matter its benefits, but that is way too small a group to wield political power outside of a class alliance. Most likely, the larger group is a mix of middle-class and working class citizens, while the ‘true’ reactionaries are the current UKIP voters, whose core voters are overwhelmingly petit-bourgeois. This can be understandable, though: from a working-class perspective, increased competition for the kinds of jobs and social benefits your own group depends on is unlikely to be welcome, especially when those jobs and benefits are already being squeezed. This indicates that mostly, immigration-skeptics are not primarily motivated by cultural disdain or xenophobia, but by more tangible self-interest – like everybody else.

Now a current problem of the immigration policies of (North-Western) European countries is that it has been successful in attracting mostly the opposite group of people, i.e. low-skilled males. As Texas A&M professor Valerie Hudson pointed out two days ago in Politico Europe, there is a striking sex imbalance in the current group of migrants and refugees coming to Europe. In Sweden, 71 per cent of all applicants for asylum in 2015 were male. According to Hudson, “18,615 males aged 16 and 17 entered Sweden over the course of the past year, compared with 2,555 females of the same age.” That is actually enough of an imbalance to seriously skew the sex ratio in the population at large for the young cohorts. Again, quoting Hudson: “when those figures are added to the existing counts of 16- and 17-year-old boys and girls in Sweden—103,299 and 96,524, respectively, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Database—you end up with a total of 121,914 males in Sweden aged 16 or 17 and 99,079 females of the same age.” While I argued just a few days ago that the overall number of immigrants – just about one million in the ‘record-breaking’ year of 2015 – is not a problem by itself for a continent of 500 million people, the class and gender of those migrants may pose a problem and Europe would do well to devise a strategy that either favors families and women like Canada does (without excluding single males partout, as there are obvious ethical problems with doing so), or strongly favors high-skilled migration (again, like both Canada and the US) or both. This stands in contrast with current liberal approaches in Europe. Simultaneously, there is no empirical evidence, however, of there being a benefit of limiting immigration from Muslim countries like many right-wing politicians claim; it is matter of whom you attract from those societies.








2015, the year of exodus? A proportionality check

by Ask Foldspang Neve

The current refugee crisis did not start in 2015, nor will it end there. Rather, the singular case does little justice to describe the situation of the people around the world. People have obviously been fleeing from a number of conflicts for years, although they have been largely ignored. The long plight of people fleeing either too much political order, as in Eritrea, or too little, as in Somalia, Congo, and the Central African Republic, are examples. Yet it is often repeated that the number of refugees is now higher than anytime since the Balkan Wars in the 1990s – or even since World War Two, with the worsening of the war in Syria and the collapse of any resemblance of a state in Afghanistan being the two main contributors to the rise in numbers. Still, the 972,500 refugees who came to Europe in 2015 make up only 1.6 % of the at least 60m people forcibly displaced worldwide; and there were less than half as many people reaching Europe last year as there were refugees staying in Turkey.

What spurred the change in the level of attention citizens and governments in the West pay to the change was the appearance of refugees in Europe, where disunited governments who could reasonably have foreseen the currently unfolding events years ago claim that they were caught unaware. In reality, all Western governments were caught unaware of was the ability and determination of displaced people to make their way across state borders once their situation had become sufficiently hopeless. What mattered to European governments was not that people were fleeing; it was the direction they were fleeing in.

The myopia became crippling when Western governments failed to fund UN agencies doing one of the few things they are really successful at: responding to humanitarian crises outside of a political context. This forced the UN to halve its rations to refugees in Kenya and cut a third of its aid to Syrian refugees and to healthcare to internally displaced Iraqis. Stripped even of food and the most rudimentary medical attention, the cross-border exodus gained pace. While nation-building or even ending conflict remains firmly out of range of our social technology, providing food, shelter and basic sanitation and healthcare is not, and the price is small: the 500,000 refugees in Kenya cost less than $10m a month to feed, yet even this paltry sum was too much for increasingly inward-facing authorities in rich countries. (The same scenario also played out in the end of 2014, when a last-minute call for donations finally staved off cuts for refugees in Kenya for another half a year.)

Refugees and the population of Europe

Not a lot, if you ask the nationalists. Sources: UNHCR and EUROSTAT

In a debate that seems to have lost all proportionality – and is rapidly leading to political despair in Europe and the incapacitation of the Schengen agreement spurred by the demands of nativist and right-collectivist parties – a sense of proportions seems to be more important than ever. We should us remind ourselves that the cumulative number of refugees arriving in Europe by sea since 2013 is still only 1,305,630. That is the equivalent of less than a third of a per cent of the EU population of 508 million. And even if Europeans decided to foot the entirety of the bill for the ‘record-high’ funding appeal from the UN system for humanitarian aid for 2016, it would cost them only $19.9b, or 0.1 % of their GDP. In other words, if Europeans decide to let European unity be shattered by a few million refugees, it is entirely of their own choosing.