Theme Panel: COVID, Migration & Crisis

COVID, Migration & Crisis

Co-sponsored by Division 52: Migration & Citizenship
Created Panel

(Chair) Triadafilos Triadafilopoulos, University of Toronto

Session Description:
This panel sheds light on how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has generated new mechanisms and critical junctures in the governance of migration. Friederike Alm explores the impact of the global pandemic on migration politics – i.e., whether countries opened or closed their borders and access to resources to new migrants – using a comparative-historical analysis (CHA) of three democracies, Canada, France, and Germany. Gallya Lahav and Anthony M. Messina explore how COVID-19 has led to a similar creation of conditions as September 11, 2001, where nation-states create “special legal regimes” that are exclusionary and targeting of Muslim and Asian populations. Turning from a focus on government’s migration policy to government’s use of framing, Jan Kovar explores the framing of immigration in the Czech and Slovak parliaments between 2013 and 2021 to shed light on how party actors frame immigration in Central Europe, with a focus on framing around the refugee crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Taken together, the papers in this panel showcase how the pandemic has opened a new space for migration politics to vary across countries or for critical junctures to emerge within countries’ approaches to policy and framing.


COVID as a New Critical Juncture: The Pandemic Impact on Migration Politics
Friederike Alm, Goethe University, Institute of Political Science

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has generated a global dialectic of migration politics. While the virus knows no borders, governments’ immediate reaction has been to close theirs to contain the spread. In this paper I present insights on the impact of the global pandemic on migration politics based on a comparative-historical analysis (CHA) of three democracies, Canada, France, and Germany. Throughout the past two years, pandemic politics have had a significant effect on migration politics in the three democracies studied in this project, including an overall drop in immigration numbers, double standards in health measures for seasonal workers and the disruption of effective settlement policies for new immigrants. While this on-going research project encompasses a longer period, starting in 1945, in this paper I will focus on the way the global pandemic has acted as a new critical juncture for each country’s trajectory of migration politics. I am focusing on the connection between each country’s historical trajectory and their reaction to migration politics in the pandemic context. To investigate this question, I am drawing on a vast corpus of qualitative in-depth expert interviews which I have conducted with public servants, academics, and practitioners in migration politics across each country case (approx. 50, 15-18 per case). Each expert interview is between one and three hours in length and they contain information on all the countries’ historical trajectories in migration politics, including a question item on the impact of the global pandemic. Public perception seems to be that these three democracies reacted similarly to the pandemic, with variations coming from the measures deployed to curb further spread. However, my results indicate each countries’ pandemic impact on migration politics differed. In parts, these reactions were in line with their historical trajectory; sometimes they went against the progressive developments of more recent years. For example, reacting to the dramatic drop in immigration numbers, Canada ramped up its immigration target to an unprecedented number and introduced measures to regularize temporary migrants into permanent migrants. This effort is clearly in line with Canada’s immigration-as-nation-building approach, as well as Canada’s historical reliance on immigration for economic stability. In recent years, Germany’s immigration rules have become more liberal, welcoming more and more high-wage migrants into the labour market, slowly but surely converging with the Canadian model. However, Germany’s historically grown, muddled dispersion of integration measures across states, communes and municipalities meant that settlement politics were severely disrupted, leaving new arrivals neglected and without the necessary support in an already strained labour market. This development is surprising considering Germany’s increasing reliance on immigrants, but it is in line with Germany’s historical neglect of immigrants’ accommodation and needs. The data collection for the French case is currently on-going (disrupted by the pandemic), which is why insights for the French case will be included in the paper submission this summer. Considering that France is Europe’s oldest immigration country that has historically grappled with effectively managing migration, the insights gained in my research will be insightful. Critical junctures are times of societal crises which can shake up and rearrange political and institutional settings. In CHA research, critical junctures are decisive periods for research, in which historical change is manifested. With the pandemic being a recent and on-going event, it is difficult to make predictions on its long-term political and historical impacts. However, the emerging themes presented from my research lead me to argue that the pandemic will constitute a new critical juncture in migration politics for all three country cases. My analysis therefore contributes to a deeper understanding of diverging political developments in similar countries in times of pandemic crisis. It is too early to say whether the pandemic will alter each country’s historical trajectory regarding migration politics entirely, but its impact on migration politics will, without a doubt, be significant.

Framing Immigration in Central Europe during the Refugee and COVID-19 Crises
Jan Kovar, Institute of International Relation Prague

There is extensive research investigating the framing of immigration in the media, particularly focusing on Western Europe. Scholars recently directed their focus to Central European countries in this regard as well as immigration started to matte as a socio-political topic in the region. The immigration-framing literature generally documents that the media employ several main immigration (master) frames whose prevalence varies over time, media outlets, countries and following real-time events. Surprisingly given the societal role of political parties, much less research focuses on how political actors frame immigration. When scholarly interest is directed on political actors’ framing of immigration, it often relies on media data as a source to examine how framing of immigration differs across parties and time. There is yet much less research, and very little on Central Europe, that would examine party actors’ framing of immigration in an unmediated, direct manner. By focusing on the framing of immigration in all relevant plenary speeches in the Czech and Slovak parliaments between 2013 and 2021 (N = 2016), we try to shed light on how party actors frame immigration in Central Europe in such direct manner. On the descriptive level, we not only show that administrative, security, and cultural framing was the most prominent during the timeframe, but that the framing of immigration is generally negative and more so as the refugee crisis elapses. We also document differences between the refuge crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the decreased salience of cultural framing during the latter crisis. On the explanatory level, our regression analyses show that framing of immigration is related to party-level factors (party positions and government participation), individual-level factors (education and age) and content factors (migrant categories explicitly mentioned in a speech). Among the ideological determinants, the placement of parties to which a particular parliamentarian belongs on the GAL/TAN (socio-cultural) dimension of conflict has the largest effect size. For the content factors, it is most substantively interesting that immigrants from the MENA region, irregular immigrants and those with Muslim religious background are framed in significantly more negative security and cultural terms than other groups of immigrants (i.e., those from non-EU Europe and South East Asia, those with explicitly stated Christian religious background and those referred to as asylum-seekers).

Immigration, Integration and Citizenship: Elements of a New Political Demography
Adrian Favell, University of Leeds

The paper offers a critical review of the state-of-the-art in migration studies, in the light of new state centered restrictions on international mobility imposed by the COVID pandemic. The paper centers on a contrast between established comparative scholarship — elaborating progressive models of immigration, integration, and citizenship, that reflect the increasingly diverse, migrant-built societies of the North Atlantic West — and a new generation of work in the last decade, influenced by critical, anti-racist and decolonial theory, that rejects this “Eurocentric” liberal democratic global order and self-image. Establishing a bridge between older neo-Weberian approaches to immigration and sovereign nation-state building and newer (or revived) Marxist-Foucauldian accounts, it accents the state-power building effects of bordering, managing, and cultivating “diverse” national populations, and its ongoing governmental categorisation of citizens and migrants, nationals and aliens, majorities and minorities, as a key feature of neo-liberal “racial capitalism”. These issues have only intensified under the conditions imposed by the pandemic. The argument develops in relation to wanted and unwanted migration in advanced liberal democratic economies, “visible” forms of immigration versus “middling” forms of everyday cross-border mobility, and the limits of humanitarian arguments for open borders and expansive asylum rights. The paper sketches an alternate politics to the self-legitimating “political demography” of liberal democracy, relating the ongoing colonial power of ideas of immigration, integration, and citizenship, to the reproduction of massive global inequalities between “the West and the Rest”.

Why the Immigration Politics of COVID-19 Are like Those of September 11th
Gallya Lahav, Stony Brook University; Anthony M. Messina, Trinity College

This paper asks why the politics of immigration and human mobility during the COVID-19 health crisis in Europe and the United States closely parallel those of September 11th. Its central hypothesis is that both negative focusing events are illuminated by a security-driven threat politics paradigm that initially emerged during the post-Cold War period and which continues through the present (Lahav and Messina forthcoming). After specifying the main assumptions of the paradigm, this paper cites four major points of intersection between the politics of COVID-19 and September 11th. First, after decades of pursuing relatively open trade and immigration and human mobility policies, the liberal states capitulated to domestic pressures to close their economies and compromise many of the basic rights and freedoms of their citizens. Second, as occurred following the terrorist attacks of the early and mid-2000s, the COVID-19 crisis has precipitated a rhetorical assault by numerous political elites on liberal values and norms. Illiberal political rhetoric especially targeted Muslim and Asian populations in the aftermath of each focusing event. Third, both the pandemic and events of September 11th bolstered the liberal state’s decision-making authority and sovereignty and, in so doing, discredited the conventional wisdom among scholars of immigration that the latter has irreversibly declined. Both crises specifically motivated the liberal states to adopt special legal regimes, thus freeing them from the conventional decision-making process. Finally, differences in political party threat framing precipitated partisan dissensus regarding immigration and human mobility policy. After an initial period of inter-partisan agreement on the appropriate state responses to each crisis at the elite and non-elite levels, partisans of the political Right and Left eventually perceived the nature of and solutions to the threats each posed very differently. The paper draws upon a variety of sources of evidence, including comparative public opinion survey data and political elite discourse analyses, as well as policy tracing.