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Controlling Marriage Migration

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Husbands, wives and partners coming to the United Kingdom are a major source of immigration and their settlement is an issue that has been gaining increasing political importance. At Middlesex University, Dr Helena Wray led a Nuffield Foundation-funded research project – Controlling Marriage Migration in Europe and US: A Comparative Approach.

The project emerged from the substantial debate over immigration, family immigration and integration and the increasing tendency of states to restrict family immigration. "There was a tendency to talk about Europe as if it was a single entity but when I looked at which countries were under discussion, it tended to always be the same half  dozen countries in Western and Northern Europe. In addition, policy discourses often appeared confusing and contradictory. I wanted to look more deeply into what policy actually did, as opposed to what it said it did, and to see if there were common threads between states," says Dr Wray.

The project involved a survey of national regimes across Europe, including those states that are less often studied, particularly in Eastern and Southern Europe. There was also an in-depth study of four states: UK, France, Denmark and the US. It investigated several questions: Have the types of controversial conditions been imposed throughout Europe or are they associated only with a few states in Western and Northern Europe? To what extent do national regimes within Europe bear a 'family resemblance' that is distinct to that found elsewhere, for example, the United States?  What do states actually control when they regulate marriage migration?

Dr Wray and her team found that the most restrictive measures are confined to a few countries in Western and Northern Europe but that the influence of European law means that European states use similar regulatory mechanisms, creating a 'family resemblance' between states. In European states and the US,  there is often a gap between what governments say and what they do so that policy appears arbitrary or incoherent. However, looking at the impact of policy reveals substantial overlap between the groups in each state that are most affected by controls despite these differences in policy formulation. There is thus a congruence in policy outcome that is not always immediately apparent.

"We found that spousal migration poses complex and often conflicting series of policy and regulatory problems. States manage these by fudging or even concealing regulatory aims. Regulatory regimes reflect national history and context as well, in Europe, as the influence of European law but there is often considerable underlying congruence in what policy achieve," says Dr Wray. "This work will enable more informed and nuanced judgments to be made when comparing national regimes in this area."

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