[Marxism] Immigration in Europe

Calvin Broadbent calvinbroadbent at hotmail.com
Fri Oct 7 10:26:02 MDT 2005

*Race and Class* Journal, vol. 39, 1997.

Blackening the economy: the path to convergence
y Liz Fekete

`What Europe wants is immigrant labour, not the immigrant.'

A. Sivanandan

In the post-war period, the various countries of Europe looked to immigrant 
labour to help rebuild their shattered economies, particularly in unskilled 
and semi-skilled mass production sectors like textiles, vehicle production, 
electrical industry and metal manufacture, but also in building and the 
service sector and in seasonal work like agriculture. But with changes to 
Europe's industrial base and the globalisation of manufacture, western 
Europe has sought to rid itself of settler/immigrant workers (surplus to 
current requirements) and replace them with temporary, ad hoc labour more 
suited to a post-industrial economy -- thereby retaining the economic 
benefit of migrant labour while divesting itself of its social cost -- in 
housing, health care, welfare, education.[1]

The first step in the strategy to laying off old labour (while ushering in 
the new) is to remove residence rights from certain categories of immigrant 
workers, and so render their stay precarious and contingent.

Laying off the old

The groups most vulnerable to such exclusion are: (a) guestworkers and 
seasonal workers; (b) Workers within the welfare state; (c) students; (d) 
dependants of existing immigrants, and (e) rejected asylum-seekers.

(a) Guestworkers and seasonal workers

Of all the countries of western Europe, Germany (lacking the colonial labour 
reserve available to Britain and France and Holland) has relied most heavily 
on the gastarbeiter system of employment for its post-war reconstruction. 
And although it is presently considering special measures to integrate 
Turkish guestworkers who have been resident in the country since the war, 
Germany is now in the process of repatriating the guestworkers imported into 
the GDR prior to unification, principally Angolans, Mozambicans and the 
Vietnamese. While civil wars in Angola and Mozambique have offered legal 
protection from forced repatriation for Angolans and Mozambicans, the 
Vietnamese have not fared so well. In 1994, Germany revoked the residence 
permits of Vietnamese workers, transforming them overnight into illegal 
immigrants. A repatriation agreement was signed with Vietnam in 1995 whereby 
Vietnam was promised development aid in exchange for taking back 40,000 
former guestworkers. But as most Vietnamese do not want to return, they have 
no option but to go underground and support themselves through illegal 
activities in the black economy.

Migrant workers in France and seasonal workers in Switzerland also find 
themselves under similar threats of deportation. In France, before the 1993 
Pasqua laws came into operation, migrant workers had the right to renew 
their permits at regular intervals and could even eventually gain 
citizenship. But the Pasqua laws (named after the hardline interior 
minister, Charles Pasqua) rescinded this right and rendered legal migrants 
-- many of whom have lived in France for a decade, paid regular social 
security contributions and taxes, and have children born in the country -- 

Not so well known is a law passed in Switzerland which ensured that, as of 
January 1995, non European Economic Area nationals were stripped of their 
right to transform seasonal work permits into annual ones. Unless workers 
had held a seasonal work permit for a period of eight consecutive years and 
could find an employer willing to guarantee them work, they were instructed 
to leave Switzerland no later than 31 December 1996. Even a small concession 
granted to Bosnian seasonal workers on account of the war in the former 
Yugoslavia was questioned by both trade unionists and employers, who 
petitioned the federal government to reverse its decision, on the grounds of 
preference for national labour.

(b) Welfare state workers

Non-EU workers within the welfare state are another group under threat -- 
either of deportation, or of having their professional and legal status 
within Europe downgraded.

In France, the Ministry of Education traditionally relied on teachers mainly 
from the Maghreb to fill gaps within the education service. Moroccan and 
Algerian auxiliary teachers, for instance, were recruited in the 1980s to 
teach maths and science subjects in difficult schools in the Parisian 
suburbs. Such teachers came in one of two ways, either on a ten-year 
employment contract with the right to regularisation on completion, or as 
supply teachers (most often foreign students, who would finance their 
studies in this way).(*) But, with the introduction of the Pasqua laws, 
these teachers' residence permits have been downgraded from permanent to 
temporary status, employment contracts have not been renewed, and 
regularisation is proving impossible.

As in education, so too in health. As of January 1996, doctors who qualify 
outside the EU, with the exception of those working in identified specialist 
areas, are barred from taking up posts in French hospitals. For non-EU 
doctors already working in France, a national aptitude test and a new post 
of contractual assistant practitioner has been introduced. The authorities 
argue that these reforms will improve the status of foreign doctors already 
inside France and put an end to poor working conditions, whereby foreign 
doctors are assigned to the least desirable jobs, particularly in accident 
and emergency departments. But, in reality, the reform operates to restrict 
the number of foreign doctors allowed to practise in France. Only 2,099 of 
4,000 doctors who applied to take the exam have been authorised to sit it. 
Now a Committee of Doctors with Foreign Degrees (CMDE) has been formed to 
campaign against the reform. It predicts that the end result of the new law 
will be a 75 per cent reduction in foreign doctors in France.

The UK has traditionally relied on the services of overseas student nurses, 
particularly from the Commonwealth, but changes to immigration practice mean 
that Commonwealth nurses, once their studies are completed, can no longer 
stay in the country to carry out their one-year teaching practice (which is 
necessary if they are to qualify back home.) And non-EU nurses who graduated 
several years ago have to reapply for work permits. Hospital trusts 
acknowledge that there is a shortage of nurses, but recruitment is not in 
the black Commonwealth, as before, but in countries like Finland, Canada, 

Similarly with doctors. While in the past many health authorities relied on 
overseas doctors to fill consultancies in unpopular specialities, changes in 
immigration law have made it difficult to obtain work permits. And, even 
though the NHS is experiencing a dearth of consultants in specialist areas, 
it is European doctors rather than those from Commonwealth countries who are 
being preferred. Where recruitment is from outside the EU, it is still the 
white Commonwealth countries of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, as well as, 
increasingly. South Africa, which are targeted.

(c) Students

Whereas non-EU students have, in the past, paid for their studies through 
work, working can now result in deportation. Changing the law to make access 
to grants or social provision more difficult is also designed to screen out 
students from poorer backgrounds or, as is the case in the UK and Norway, to 
stop asylum-seekers gaining access to education. In Norway, this works by 
cutting back access to state education loans, and in the UK colleges have 
been authorised, as of December 1995, to charge asylum-seekers the 
equivalent overseas fee for part-time courses. The Department of Education 
and Employment, besides, has proposed to remove asylum-seekers' eligibility 
for mandatory awards by making eligibility dependent on settled status. 
Switzerland, for its part, operates a deliberate policy to withhold visas 
from foreign students altogether, on the grounds that they might overstay. 
The UK, of course, has overstaying proscribed in its immigration laws.

The new hardline measures are intended to remove students who, by virtue of 
their personal circumstances, are forced to make claims on social security. 
For example, in Belgium, the Vande Lanotte Act of 1996 allows for the 
expulsion of foreign students and members of their family if they receive 
state benefits for a period longer than three months. An overseas student 
who has recourse to public funds forfeits the right to stay in the country 
once his or her studies are over. In Britain, students claiming public funds 
can have their stay curtailed and may be forced to leave mid-course.

Other countries, too, provide examples of such a trend. Abdallah El Hami, a 
Moroccan student at Metz university in France, who suffered from a rare 
disease and had to undergo several operations, was deported on the grounds 
of his irregular attendance at the university. Students who have fallen on 
hard times or failed to perform as model students are particularly 
vulnerable, as university authorities are pressured into informing on 
unsatisfactory students. In Belgium, the opinion of the academic authorities 
will be sought on the suitability of students who have been deemed to apply 
for excessive extensions of their studies. A Tamil student from Sri Lanka, 
studying at the Tromso maritime school in Norway, was threatened with 
deportation in April 1995 on the grounds that he was not making enough 
progress in his studies. (Student protests prevented his deportation). This 
is common practice in the U.K. affecting particularly West African students.

(d) Dependants

As Europe jealously guards its welfare state from the demands of 
non-Europeans, countries have made, or are in the process of making it more 
difficult for legally-resident non-EU immigrants and refugees to bring in 

A series of bureaucratic hurdles need to be overcome. Employment. suitable 
housing and ability to integrate into European society need to be proved, if 
dependants are to be allowed in. For instance, in November 1996 a special 
working group on family reunion set up by the Nordic Union countries 
recommended that accommodation should be a condition for family reunion, 
that a `qualifying period' before being eligible for cash allowances be 
established and that the reuniting of a child with his or her family should 
be made conditional on close family ties and/or dependence. (Already, in 
1996, a Somalian woman had been told by the Norwegian authorities that her 
14-year-old son could not join her as the boy was `not close family enough' 
-- while her 15-year-old daughter was -- and the Directorate of Immigration 
gave the same reason for denying entry to the 8-year-old son of an Iranian 
refugee.) In Denmark, the children of Somalian asylum-seekers are being 
subjected to DNA tests to verify their relationship before family reunion 
can take place. In Austria, where opposition to family reunion has been led 
by the trades unions, the Chamber of Labour has criticised a proposed new 
Aliens Bill for its failure to clamp down on `bogus' marriages. The 
government has responded by adding new measures, particularly on family 
reunion, proposing to limit the right to children under 14. In future, 
immigrants who take maternity/paternity leave could risk expulsion, on the 
grounds that they are not in employment. In Vienna, the Social Democratic 
administration rejects non-EU nationals' applications for family reunion 
without even an interview, on the basis that the applicants belong to a 
cultural group which, according to experience, has difficulty assimilating 
into central European customs, habits and way of life, especially in the 
areas of language and communication. According to the Greens, this approach 
is aimed at debarring Turks and Serbs in particular and amounts to the 
`first racist motivation by a public administration since 1945'.

Amid such state racism and press hysteria about `bogus marriages', white and 
non-white Europeans alike are finding that marriages to non-EU citizens are 
under threat. The UK primary purpose rule, under which foreign spouses who 
wish to join their partners in the UK must prove that they did not marry in 
order to emigrate, is becoming the model that other European countries 
follow. (Ironically, though, the new Labour government is committed to 
repealing it.)

All in all, the harsh immigration regime across Europe has led to a 
situation where families are split up, parents deported and their 
European-born children placed in the care of social services or fostered 
out, regardless of the psychological or material cost. This is exemplified 
in France where the law not only states that family reunion can be refused 
on grounds such as lack of sufficient income and inappropriate housing but 
also that all the family must be brought in at the same time -- or they lose 
the chance to come for ever. In fact, the Pasqua and its attendant laws are 
a charter for family dis-union, as they virtually turn the passage to 
adulthood into a passage to deportation. For, on reaching the age of 18, the 
children of immigrants, even though they may have been born in France, must 
apply for citizenship, although a criminal offence could lead to the refusal 
of citizenship and result in deportation. As of 15 January 1997, children of 
parents from Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia and all the republics of the former 
Yugoslavia living in Germany must apply for residence permits.

In some cases, the separation of children from parents is justified by the 
suggestion that the children were conceived so that the parents could stay 
in the country. The federal court in Switzerland, for instance, accused a 
Serbian woman of having a child simply to remain in the country and promptly 
ruled to deport them both. To do otherwise, they argued, would be to open `a 
royal road for those women who want to bypass the law'. And what of the 
child, a Swiss citizen? According to the judges' Orwellian view, the child 
was not so much under a deportation order as simply `following the destiny 
of her mother, like other Swiss children, whose foreign mothers decide to 
return to their home country'.

(e) Rejected asylum-seekers

Others who are subject to summary deportation are those groups of rejected 
asylum-seekers, sometimes called `tolerated foreigners'. Many, if not most, 
rejected asylum-seekers come from countries where there is war, civil war or 
political oppression. In the past they were normally given `B' status or 
`exceptional' or `humanitarian' leave to remain; now they are being thrown 
out as fast as European states can organise the charter flights.

Many countries are following the lead of France in setting a target-figure 
for the number of rejected asylum-seekers and others with vulnerable 
immigration status who will be deported. While the French government 
promised in 1995 to deport 25,000 people a year, the Belgium government has 
set a target of 15,000 and Germany and Switzerland have fixed targets for 
the return of refugees to the former Yugoslavia. Germany, which has used 
charter flights to deport rejected Sudanese asylum-seekers, and Roma to 
Macedonia, would like to deport its Kurdish minority too, but, at the 
moment, some of the Lander are defying such federal instructions. Both 
France and the Netherlands are seeking to expel Somalians (Denmark has ruled 
that northern Somalia is safe), while Norway, Switzerland and France are all 
negotiating with Sri Lanka for the return of Tamils. Angolans are another 
group under threat from Swiss plans for forced repatriation, while in the 
Netherlands there are more deportations of Iranians as the Dutch government 
envisages `positive developments in the field of Iranian human rights'. And 
central Africans, all countries seem to agree, are suitable cases for 

Ushering in the new

The new migrant labour, to replace the old, comes in various designer guises 
(designed by the state, that is) and is slotted, albeit temporarily. into 
those niches of the post-industrial economy where they can best serve the 
purpose of delivering up their labour even as they forego their rights. The 
most glaring example of this is, of course, in the area of domestic and/or 
caring work -- washing, cleaning and looking after the young and elderly -- 
into which migrant women are largely `recruited'. But in agriculture too, 
and in construction, migrant labour is employed on a similar ad hoc basis. 
For, as agriculture becomes another sector in the global industrial economy 
and less a way of life, seasonal temporary migrant labour becomes more 
crucial than it has ever been to European agribusiness. With farm holdings 
replaced by specialised single crop farms geared towards exports (80 per 
cent of Dutch farmlands, reports the Ecologist,[3] are sown to just four 
crops), with the massive spread of greenhouses for early production of 
vegetables, flowers and certain fruits, there is a steady demand for 
seasonal migrant labour from eastern Europe and the Maghreb. Employers are 
the first to recognise the importance of these workers and the fact that 
they do backbreaking and poorly paid work that no indigenous European worker 
is prepared to do. `As soon as the sun shines, the Dutch are sunbathing on 
the beach,' complained a Dutch employer of Polish and Turkish migrants, 
furious that the police had raided two agricultural workplaces in 
Wieringerwerf and deported thirty-five Poles, leaving lettuces to rot in the 
field. Or, as a north Bavarian vintner told the Guardian, `Without our good 
friends the Poles, we could not bring the harvest in.'[4] And the head of 
the employment office in Foggia, responding to an outburst of extreme racist 
violence in September 1993, during which North African migrants were driven 
out of Puglia, the tomato harvest capital of Italy, pointed out that 
`Without the non-EU citizens, we'd not manage the harvest.'

The same dependency on migrant labour is true of the construction industry 
which, with its booms and slumps, has always relied on a steady supply of 
hire and fire labour. But this reliance is accentuated today by Europe's 
renewed building programme as well as the rapid development of road and 
transport networks required not only to meet the needs of a single European 
market but to open up links with eastern Europe. Some 500,000 workers work 
in the German construction industry and one out of every four of these is 
either a clandestine immigrant or an officially registered unemployed 
person. On many construction sites, reports the International Herald 
Tribune, Germans are in the minority.[5] The lowest-paid workers come from 
countries such as Hungary, Poland, Turkey and Portugal. And as Berlin is 
rebuilt following reunification, the importance of the foreign worker to 
contractors becomes crucial. As Imre Karacs puts it: `If Berlin is to be 
restored by 1999 and if it is to happen at the prices tendered, foreign 
workers are essential as a unionised German worker will not work the same 
hours. When the temperature dropped last winter,' he added, `the Germans did 
not emerge from the canteen.'[6]

>From guestworker to `work tourist'

But a new framework is required to regulate the use of such temporary 
migrant labour, not least to ensure that immigrants do not settle and add to 
Europe's social costs. For, although under the old German gastarbeiter 
system, migrants were brought in under contract to do a specific job for a 
specific time, their contracts were invariably renewed as the industries 
they were employed in required a certain continuity in their (semi-skilled) 
workforce. Thus, over the years, the guestworker came to acquire residence 
rights and the right to bring in families, although not to settle and gain 
citizenship. In the southern European countries of Spain and Italy, on the 
other hand, there was a complete vacuum in immigration policy until the Ley 
de la Estranjera of 1985 and the Martelli law of 1990.(*) Prior to this, the 
authorities had a laissez-faire attitude to `illegals', tolerating them for 
the work they did -- and residence rights could be acquired over a period of 
time or via sporadic amnesties. In France, too, the authorities turned a 
blind eye to clandestine labour (which was actively recruited by private 
businesses irritated by the cumbersome bureaucracy of the National Office of 
Immigration), and undocumented workers were similarly regularised over a 
period of time.

The new economic and political dispensation, however, rules out this kind of 
laissez-faire approach. For what post-industrial Europe now requires is not 
so much the guestworker as the `work tourist', not the labourer but his or 
her Labour. And, in this enterprise, Germany has been the most systematic, 
entering into a number of bilateral agreements with eastern European 
governments to allow workers from their countries some legal access to the 
German labour market on the basis of four different types of permits:

* Project-linked employment, for a maximum period of three years as part of 
an agreement between a German firm and a foreign subcontractor. (This is 
particularly favoured by the construction industry as a means of providing 
flexibility, and by small and medium sized firms to reduce industrial 

* Contract work for a maximum period of eighteen months (used mainly in 
construction, the metal trade, and the car industry).

* Seasonal work for three months at a time, issued at the behest of a German 
employer and used mainly in agriculture, forestry and the vineyards.

* Trans-border commuter work, issued for those living up to 50km from the 
border for up to three months at a time, on condition that they return home 
every night, with priority being given to domestic labour.

Hedwig Rudolph, in his `The new gastarbeiter system in Germany', 
characterises the new system as one of `temporary labour migration'. When 
the job ends, the worker leaves. There are no opportunities for 
regularisation or settlement.[7]

On the other hand, the countries of southern Europe (which have 
traditionally relied on migrant north African labour) have, in trying to 
modernise their migrant labour system, tended to create chaos rather than 
rigidity, reflecting the conflict between immigration policy and labour 
needs. For one thing, the impetus to bring in harsher immigration laws has 
been not so much domestic as Europe-inspired, as the EU regards Spain and 
Italy as having porous borders through which north African migrants, as well 
as asylum-seekers from the rest of Africa, can gain access to the 
Mediterranean countries and from there to the rest of Europe. But, as the 
Spanish and Italian economies still require a steady flow of migrant labour, 
and as undocumented workers as a whole are vital to flexible local systems 
of employment based in small businesses -- a characteristic of southern 
European economies -- there is a clash between the EU goal of tighter 
immigration controls and the domestic need for a flexible, peripatetic 
workforce. The way in which both Spain and Italy have gone about resolving 
this contradiction is through a combination of annual quotas for work and 
residence permits, occasional amnesties for illegal workers (which in Italy 
has led to employers sacking undocumented workers because they do not want 
to pay national insurance contributions or issue contracts to seasonal 
workers, or provide accommodation) and sporadic clampdowns, with police 
being given greater deportation powers.

A hierarchy of `illegals'

In the process of laying off the old migrant labour system and ushering in 
the new, Europe has thrown up whole new categories of `illegals' (who end up 
manning and womaning the black economy). Some of these are `recruited' from 
the earlier settler/immigrants, who, having lived and worked in Europe for 
years, even decades, and raised children here, refuse to submit to 
repatriation and/or deportation. But, deprived of their papers, their only 
means of survival is illegal work. And so the), -- the sans papiers -- swell 
the human cargo of desperate asylum-seekers and refugees brought in 
illegally by criminal networks because all legal routes of entry to Europe 
have closed.

The luckier among this number -- those most familiar with European work 
patterns and rooted in existing immigrant communities -- find continuous 
work in the retail trade and service sector, in agriculture and 
construction, or in moving from one job to another, as in southern Europe, 
from the harvests of fruit and vegetables in spring and summer to T-shirt 
production in autumn and winter. Some work as manual ,sweated' labour in 
dilapidated factories, like the Albanian `illegal', Shuke `Pasqualina' Leke, 
who died in November 1995 after she became trapped in a machine in the small 
rubber moulding factory where she worked. The garments sector is another 
employer of undocumented workers, exploited by small manufacturers and 
suppliers who are themselves small fry in a capitalist chain of production 
so geared to the vagaries of the market as to make production itself ad hoc, 
seasonal, customer-oriented. (The burden of just-in-time production falls 
squarely on the sweatshop worker.) In the UK, six hundred or so small 
textile workshops are dotted around north-east London. Turkish union 
organiser Tekin Kartel says that Turkish immigrants and Kurdish 
asylum-seekers work in sweatshop conditions, producing goods like ladies' 
jackets for major high street stores. `Factories are closed from December to 
March. The rush starts in May,' he said. `Workers are repeatedly laid off 
when work is not available and, when it is, overtime is made compulsory.'[8]

Similarly, in the Sentier district of Paris, the biggest clothes producing 
district of France, the Chinese work in appalling conditions in mini 
factories (and private flats, because this provides greater security from 
work inspectors and the police), making brand-name products. When Spanish 
police raided several clothing factories in Madrid in 1994, Chinese women 
emerged from a cellar full of sewing machines, irons and a great quality of 
clothing ready for distribution throughout Spain's luxury shops under 
expensive labels. Men in another Madrid factory worked from 10am until 2am, 
with factories often doubling as dormitories, with a hole in the floor for a 

At the very bottom of the hierarchy of `illegals' are the street hawkers, 
prostitutes and sex workers, and those who work in restaurants and quarries, 
literally as slaves, bonded to the criminal networks who smuggled them into 

Despite the exploitation they face, and the gloomy reality of their lives, 
the various categories of undocumented workers are characterised in popular 
discourse as one `illegal' mass which has tricked its way into Europe to 
scrounge off the generous provisions of its welfare state. French interior 
minister Jean-Louis Debre claimed that the nature of immigration to France 
has changed from `workers who want to integrate into the national community 
to claimants who want to take advantage of our welfare state and don't want 
to integrate'.

Thus, new measures to deny undocumented workers any access to welfare are 
popular, regarded as necessary in order to protect welfare from 0being 
overrun by tricksters and fraudsters. The state's intention may be to add 
another dimension to its repatriation programme (less contentious than 
forced deportation, because less visible, is a gradual programme of starving 
them out) but the result is to drive undocumented workers further into the 
`use them and throw them' culture of the service sector and retail trade, or 
into the hands of criminal networks.

Convergence and the end of welfare

All these trends and tendencies occurring in the underbelly of the European 
economy are further aggravated by Europe's drive for convergence -- 
convergent interest rates, convergent inflation rates, convergent budget 
deficits and convergent government debt levels -- which, in turn, require 
massive cuts in public expenditure.(*)

The easiest place to cut public expenditure is in welfare. But this is also 
the least popular, as European governments are finding out to their cost. 
Hence, not wishing to risk social dislocation or lose political power, 
governments are responding to public protest by providing thinner but 
continued protection for the more privileged sections of society, while 
attacking the welfare rights of more vulnerable constituencies, increasingly 
portrayed as unwilling to work and dependent on welfare. The most vulnerable 
of these are the former guestworkers; and seasonal workers, the 
asylum-seekers and de facto refugees whom Europe is already in the process 
of excluding. For, without nationality and citizenship rights -- and now 
without even the right to work or reside in Europe -- they have no social 
rights either. And popular racism -- which has already defined them as 
`illegals' and `scroungers' -- gives European governments the mandate to 
exclude them from social provision altogether.

There is, of course, nothing intrinsically new in `foreigners' being denied 
access to state benefits and social provision. In the UK, since 1988, income 
support regulations limit entitlement to basic subsistence benefits for 
immigrants (those seeking entry to the UK were only allowed to do so on the 
basis that they would have no recourse to public funds). Denmark has had 
similar regulations since 1992. While France and Belgium link rights to 
benefits to residence rights, social security regulations in Switzerland 
rule that a foreigner must make contributions for ten years, or live in the 
country for fifteen, in order to qualify for benefits. In Austria, foreign 
nationals, once unemployed, are not entitled to unemployment benefit for the 
same period as Austrian citizens and, once cut off from social security, 
they lose the right to remain in the country. As Spanish law requires 
workers to prove willingness and readiness to work, an immigrant who is 
dismissed from employment or whose work permit expires is deemed ineligible 
for unemployment benefit. The underlying `subsidiarity principle' of German 
social security laws, according to which all other family members are called 
on to support an unemployed person before he or she can be considered for 
what is, in effect, poor relief, is enough to put anyone off from claiming 
benefits, let alone foreigners.[9]

But, however unfair the system was in the past, it in no way compares to 
today's systematic exclusion of migrant workers and rejected asylum-seekers 
from welfare. For, with the removal of residence rights, comes the removal 
of social provision. No documents, no welfare -- and `welfare sneaks' 
everywhere. France leads the way in establishing a welfare sneak system 
through its infamous `Pasqua laws', which require state officials to report 
on the immigration status of those who apply for benefits or access to 
education or health care. When coupled with regulations on `aiding irregular 
stay', which penalise with a fine or prison sentence anyone who seeks to 
conceal those deemed illegal, the Pasqua laws have generated a climate in 
which professionals such as doctors and social workers dare not come to the 
aid of immigrants. Similar laws exist in Belgium and Italy. And the Dutch 
`Koppelingswet' law, known as the Coupling law, requires that any call by 
immigrants on the welfare state should be contingent on their residence 

In addition to such overarching legislation which denies benefits to 
`illegals' there are also specific regulations as regards health, housing, 
family life, welfare rights, which further degrade their lives and drive 
them to despair and death.


We have already seen how, in France, the Pasqua laws place a duty on state 
officials to report on the immigration status of those who seek health care 
-- as does legislation in the Netherlands. In Belgium, the Vande Lanotte law 
removes the right of asylum-seekers to receive help from social services. In 
Italy, the denial of health care to undocumented workers was 
institutionalised in 1994 under proposals that foreigners must pay in full 
for health care and any other medical expenses. By January 1995, reported 
the civil rights group Senza Confine, 76,000 regular documented workers had 
been struck off the registers of health units.

As even the right to emergency health care is threatened, illnesses like 
HIV/Aids are left untreated, and pregnant women left too frightened to seek 
care or turned away when they seek it. The following examples of new 
measures and how they affect individuals give some indication of how medical 
emergencies are being defined ever more narrowly.

Belgium: The Secretary of State for Social Integration is considering the 
introduction of a Royal Decree on Emergency Medical Care as doctors in some 
hospitals are refusing to treat people without papers free of charge, on the 
grounds that hospitals are not reimbursed by the state.

France: If implemented, proposals put forward by the 1996 Philibert 
parliamentary commission -- justified on the grounds of curbing the excesses 
of `illegal immigrants' basking in a profusion of free medical treatment 
courtesy of the French taxpayer -- would mean a denial of health care, 
except emergency treatment for contagious disease, for anyone deemed 

Germany: A Kurdish asylum-seeker died on 25 June 1996 from acute cirrhosis 
after being denied a liver transplant by the authorities in Bremen who 
argued that they could not meet the cost of the operation.

Italy: In September 1995, authorities in Naples refused to help an Algerian 
undocumented worker with leukaemia, saying that, as he was an illegal 
immigrant, they could not operate free of charge. In April 1995, the baby of 
a Zairean woman died after a doctor in Caserta refused to treat her while 
she was in labour. At around the same time, a two-month-old Roma baby died 
in a hospital near Rome after doctors refused to treat the baby for 
bronchitis because the parents could not produce the 6,000 lira demanded of 

Netherlands: The African Foundation for Aids Prevention and Counselling in 
Amsterdam warned that the policy of linking access to health care to those 
officially registered as residents would prevent `illegals' coming forward 
to be tested.

UK: The North Middlesex hospital in London was investigated by the 
Commission for Racial Equality after a GP alleged that the hospital was 
screening patients whose first language was not English. The Uganda 
Community Relief Association reports that GPs are turning away Africans with 
HIV and Aids, saying that the only way they can receive treatment is through 
hospital accident or emergency treatment. The Terrence Higgins Trust, 
African Advocacy Foundation and the Aids Treatment Project have alleged that 
African asylum-seekers are being refused the new triple combination therapy 
for HIV on the grounds of their uncertain immigration status. A Chilean 
refugee. Carlos Padilla, fully entitled to free NHS treatment, overheard 
hospital staff discussing how much he would have to pay for surgery and 
aftercare following an operation for a ruptured spleen and ran away and hid 
in a hospital plant room. His body was discovered several days later.


In housing, too, legislation is being put in place to close down immigrants' 
and asylum-seekers' access to public provision. For instance:

Austria: The asylum law of 1991 which states that asylum-seekers have no 
legal claim to assistance from the Federal State has led to increasing 
homelessness. Council housing in Vienna is not available to foreigners. 
According to its Socialist mayor, preference must be given to Austrian 

Belgium: The Vande Lanotte law states that refugees only have a right to 
housing (and food) if they stay in state reception centres.

France: The Philibert parliamentary commission (1996) has proposed tougher 
criteria for access to public housing for immigrants.

Italy: Access to state subsidised housing is limited to nationals and 
privileged aliens.

Netherlands: The Coupling law (see above) also applies to council housing. 
As a number of towns and cities have refused to implement the national 
policy of evicting rejected asylum-seekers from their homes, the Immigration 
and Nationality Department has taken over this responsibility. Families with 
children will not be thrown onto the streets but taken to reception centres 
for asylum-seekers (which are usually holding centres pending deportation).

UK: The 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act disqualifies asylum-seekers from 
social housing and from housing benefit.

Family life

Austria: Bilateral accords granting foreign workers payment of family 
allowance for their children living in the former Yugoslavia, Turkey and 
Tunisia, were unilaterally cancelled in June 1996. Under new austerity 
proposals, it has been suggested that supplementary unemployment allowance 
paid to families with children living abroad should be suppressed.

France: The Philibert parliamentary commission has suggested the scrapping 
of child allowance to immigrants. Despite countless rulings in French courts 
and at the European Court of Justice, France persists in prohibiting the 
payment of the adult disability allowance and the minimum old-age pension to 
non-EU nationals. It has also ignored a ruling by the UN Human Rights 
Commission that freezing the war pensions of colonial ex-servicemen who 
fought for France during two world wars and the war in Indochina violates an 
accord signed by France.

Germany: In 1993, regulations on family allowance stated that only 
foreigners with an unlimited right of residence or a limited residence 
permit were entitled to family allowance. All workers, whether of German 
nationality or not, must contribute to the German insurance scheme for care 
in old age, but under present law, foreign workers lose all claim to this 
benefit if they return to their countries of origin.

Welfare rights

Austria: In order to qualify for unemployment benefits, immigrants must have 
a work permit valid for two years, issued after at least one year's 
employment in a particular firm, or a `licence of release' (gained after 
five years of regular employment within the previous eight years). Austria 
was successfully challenged in the European Court of Human Rights by a 
Turkish national who was refused an allowance to `relieve distress', even 
though he had paid, on the same basis as an Austrian national, contributions 
to the unemployment insurance fund.(*) A 1990 decree states that all claims 
for welfare made by asylum-seekers who cannot prove their identity, or are 
in possession of false documents, will be rejected at the outset. The 
federal interior minister recently announced that state aid for Bosnian 
refugees will cease at the end of 1997 because it is impossible for the 
state `to care perpetually for people capable of working'.

Belgium: Under the Vande Lanotte Act, a foreign student and family can be 
expelled if an application for social security is made for any period longer 
than three months. Asylum-seekers are obliged to stay at designated 
reception centres while their applications are considered, and have no 
entitlement to social security but are given benefits in kind, such as food 

Denmark: In order to receive benefit, asylum-seekers must demonstrate an 
attempt to learn the Danish language. In one region, Aarhus, the authorities 
ordered that refugees should work for twenty hours a week before being 
allowed to take up benefits. Those who fail to comply, including women and 
children, have social security payments stopped.

Germany: Legislation to reduce social security allowances for 
asylum-seekers, civil war refugees and `tolerated' foreigners is presently 
going through the Bundesrat. I These groups will receive up to 20 per cent 
less in social welfare than that granted to recipients of German descent 
during their first three years in Germany. The 1993 Asylum Benefits Law has 
already cut direct financial assistance to asylum-seekers in favour of food, 
clothes and coupons exchangeable only in specific shops.

Netherlands: Legislation adopted on 26 February 1997 compels asylum-seekers 
with a temporary residence permit to search for and accept any form of paid 
employment. Those who do not will have benefits reduced. Already, the 
`pocket money' doled out to asylum-seekers has been reduced. A central body 
for the relief of asylum-seekers, the COA, has set up a study group to put 
forward proposals on new allowances.

Sweden: Asylum-seekers who do not reside in assigned towns or cities may 
have their benefits cut if new proposals put forward by a parliamentary 
committee go through. And refugees who fail to attend Swedish language 
classes will not receive full benefits but subsistence payments only.

Switzerland: A strict interpretation of Swiss law means that, in order to 
receive benefits, a foreigner must have made contributions for ten years or 
lived in the country for fifteen years. If the law is interpreted rigidly, 
then asylum-seekers are denied benefits. Under social security regulations 
issued by the Council of States (one of two chambers in the Swiss Federal 
Parliament), refugees pay back money loaned by social services to cover rent 
and medical expenses. Social service departments have been given the 
authority to recoup money directly from cheques or salaries paid out to 

UK: The habitual residence test means that those social security claimants 
who cannot prove that the UK is their `centre of interest' are denied 
benefits. The 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act removes all benefits from 
asylum-seekers who applied after arrival, and those whose claims have been 
rejected, a total of 13,000 asylum-seekers, including 2,000 children at 

This, then, is the shape of welfare to come. For, the conditions attached to 
benefits (to attend language classes, live in a specific area and work in 
unpaid public works, for instance) shift the `concept of welfare ... from 
concern to coercion, from rights to duties'. And this, in turn, shifts the 
balance in the state apparatus from welfare to authoritarianism.

Hence, what is emerging in Europe is increasingly an authoritarian state and 
not a welfare state -- justified in terms of the ideas of social Darwinism 
(survival of the fittest), of the New Right (cultures of dependency) and of 
protectionism (national preference). And from these three strands a new 
racism is being forged, a racism built on exclusion and economic expediency.

(*) The fact that foreign teachers (as well as doctors) came to France on 
contracts is in itself evidence of discrimination within the system. For, 
under French law, a large number of jobs are restricted to French nationals. 
Public sector enterprises, for instance, apply a rule of excluding all 
foreigners other than EU nationals. Public sector employers got around the 
law by either employing foreign doctors and assistant teachers under 
contract or under arrangement with employer services.[2]

(*) The Ley de la Estranjera was introduced in 1985 specifically to curb the 
flow of African immigrants into Spain: the Martelli law was a similarly 
tough measure aimed at virtually closing the Italian frontier to immigrants 
and making it impossible for `illegals' to regularise their status.

(*) Those seeking to join European Monetary Union (EMU) must have a budget 
deficit of less than 3 per cent of gross domestic product by 1 January 1999 
when the single currency comes into effect. If any country overspends, 
others within EMU will have to underspend to compensate. That is why the 
budget deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product has become the key 
yardstick of convergence.

(*) Proposals in a new Aliens Bill will make some foreign nationals eligible 
for this allowance.


[1] The information in this article is based on the work of the Institute of 
Race Relations European Race Audit, a bimonthly bulletin on the most 
important developments in European racism. Additional information, 
particularly in the sections on access to public housing and welfare 
benefits, has been taken from Migration News Sheet, a monthly information 
bulletin on immigrants, refugees and ethnic minorities, edited by A. Cruz.

[2] See John Wrench, Preventing racism at the workplace: a report on 16 
European countries (Dublin, European Foundation for the Improvement of 
Living and Working Conditions, 1996).

[3] R. Vellve, `The decline of diversity in European agriculture', in the 
Ecologist (Vol. 23, no. 2, March/April 1993).

[4] Guardian (1 March 1996).

[5] International Herald Tribune (12 December 1996).

[6] Independent (9 June 1996).

[7] H. Rudolph, `The new gastarbeiter system in Germany', in New Community 
(Vol. 22, no. 2, April 1996).

[8] CARF (No. 20, May/June 1994).

[9] See Wrench, op. cit., and P. Chamberlayne, `Income maintenance and 
institutional forms: a comparison of France, West Germany, Italy and Britain 
1945-90' in Policy and Politics (Vol. 20, no. 4, 1992).

Liz Fekete is principal researcher for the Institute of Race Relations 
European Race Audit. She has been active in the anti-racist movement for the 
last fifteen years and is a member of the Campaign Against Racism & Fascism.

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