By Anna-Maria Nykänen
Even though many people think that theories are useless in our everyday lives and that they just serve the interests of the academics, theories do matter. Theories about immigration policy are no exception.
Theories about immigration policy help us understand the factors that influence politicians' decisions but they also make the world more comprehensible. Without simplification and conceptualization, and without some regularity and patterns, it would be more difficult to understand how the world works now and what is likely to happen in the future. In addition, politicians can shape their decisions as well as their policy goals based on the alternatives offered to them by different theories in all aspects of politics.
Eytan Meyers offers a good comparison of the main theories in immigration policy in his article "Theories of International Immigration Policy - A comparative Analysis", published in the International Migration Review in 2002. In the article, Myers compares the six most influential theories of international migration: Marxism, realism, liberalism, the "national identity" approach, domestic politics, and institutionalism. He examines pros and cons of each theory in a very clear manner and even though the article appeared in an academic journal, Meyers has a writing style that enables readers outside of the academic community to understand his message. The aim of Meyers' article is to fill a hole in the academic debate; even though it is well understood that immigration policy shapes immigration patterns, the theories behind these policies are not well defined and not compared with each other.
Among other things I found to be intriguing in this article is the fact that the six most influential theories are the same ones that can be found in the theories of international security. However, in international security the six theories presented are usually placed inside only three different theory groups; realism, liberalism and constructivism. Treating each of these approaches as their own theory is one of the advantages of Myers' article. It enables him to discuss and compare them with more depth. However, as Myers points out, there is no one theory that can explain everything. Therefore trying to study and understand the theories can feel frustrating and seem pointless to both readers of the article and to the politicians who are supposed to use them as a background to their policy decisions. In addition, and probably due to the limited space of the article, Meyers does not offer specific examples of how politicians use these theories as a decision making tool.
By Anna-Maria Nykänen, Bachelor of Political Science, Good Governance Consortium Exchange Student in the University of Minnesota.
From mid-April to mid-May 2010, selected students from Professor Katherine Fennelly's course "PA5452: Immigration and Public Policy" are sharing thoughts on their readings with IHRC readers.