Self-Help or Self-Destruction? Immigration Politics in Germany, Italy, and Japan

Rao, Anand, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Schoppa, Leonard, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Echeverri-Gent, John, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

What explains variation in recent immigration policies among nations facing similar economic and demographic challenges? Explanations rooted in political economy cite push-pull dynamics as being the key factor, but if those explanations were correct then a similar pattern of wide-scale, well-planned immigration liberalization should have been observed in those advanced industrialized capitalist democracies facing the most serious labor shortages and fiscal problems arising from increasing numbers of non-working elderly residents relative to working adults. Cultural explanations of immigration policy are often vague, ascribe immutable qualities to people based on nationality, and do not account for variation among the so-called non-settler countries.

Employing qualitative process tracing and comparative historical analysis, this dissertation argues that particular institutional configurations arising from an exogenous shock can play a major role in determining the nature and durability of national immigration policies. In cases where the shock leads to the creation of restrictive institutions that view immigration through the prism of security, reform is likely to become very difficult owing to the fungible quality of security as a priority for the state. In cases where the shock leads to the creation of institutions that treat immigration as a matter of enforcing cultural or ethnic cohesion, reform is more likely to occur due to the difficulty of rationalizing continuation of such a policy in changed circumstances. In cases where an exogenous shock to a nation’s immigration policy does not occur, drift is the most likely outcome with neither culture nor security gaining traction as the key variable influencing outcomes.

While acknowledging that ethnic cohesion and national security are not mutually exclusive terms, this dissertation provides evidence for the existence of the above patterns by analyzing immigration policies in Germany, Italy, and Japan. In postwar West Germany, an immigration policy constructed on the basis of maintaining ethnic homogeneity experienced significant change after reunification in 1990, as regulations governing naturalization and eligibility for citizenship at birth were liberalized. In Italy, immigration was not a high-priority issue in the postwar era. Decades later, the result was a kind of drift that saw an increase in the foreign population owing to labor shortages but no clear commitment either way on the policy front. Finally, in Japan the creation of a strongly security-oriented migration policy in the early 1950s was influenced by the events of the Korean War and concern about communist subversion while the country was still under official occupation by the United States. This framework gave a great deal of discretionary power to the Ministry of Justice, a conservative bureaucracy that would prove very resistant to any substantive reform decades later.

This analysis contributes to the growing literature on immigration politics by showing that it is vitally important to understand how earlier periods characterized by critical junctures shaped institutional developments and outcomes over the following decades. No national immigration policy is set in stone, but substantive reform is more likely to occur in certain cases. One note on name order: All names for Japanese people are written in the order of family name first, given name second. This is the standard practice in Japan to the present day. The names of Germans and Italians are written in the conventional Western manner with the family name coming second. I alone am responsible for all errors contained in this dissertation.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
immigration, critical junctures, institutions, comparative historical analysis
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