Globalization, Immigration and the Welfare State: A Cross-National Comparison

By Xu, Qingwen | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Globalization, Immigration and the Welfare State: A Cross-National Comparison


Xu, Qingwen, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare


Over the past decades, the forces of globalization have helped created a huge wave of immigration. The relationship between globalization and immigration has been intensely examined in the last decade with a focus not only on whether and how much globalization has caused international immigration but also how to promote and sustain a just global system for the growing number of immigrants. This study selects three developed countries with different welfare state philosophies and traditions--Australia, Sweden and the United States--and compares how they cope with the growing number of immigrants and their various needs. This paper reflects thinking about states' ability to redistribute resources, about the ability to agree upon a unified theory of welfare rights in a diverse society, and the feasibility of opening nations' welfare systems to all immigrants in the globalization context and from a rights-based social work perspective.

Keywords: Welfare State, Immigration, Australia, Sweden, the United States

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Over the past decades, the forces of globalization have helped created a huge wave of immigration. The United Nations estimates that 3% of the world's population--about 191 million people--lived in a country other than the one in which they were born in 2005, with 33% having moved from a developing to a developed country, 33% moving between developing nations, and another 33% having moved from a developed country to another developed nation (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2006). In the last decade, the ratio of the Western world's foreign-born population has been increasing. According to UN migration statistics from 228 countries and regions, the United States leads the world as a host country, with 38 million immigrants in 2005, constituting almost 13% of its population. But the share of the immigrant population is larger still in Australia at 19.6% in 2005, and Canada at 18.9%. In regional terms, however, Europe's migrant population of 64 million in 2005 was almost 50% greater than the 45 million in North America (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2006). The relationship between globalization and immigration has been intensely examined in the last decade with a focus not only on whether and how much globalization has caused international immigration but also how to promote and sustain a just global system for the growing number of immigrants.

It is important to emphasize that a just global system must consider the interplay between immigration and the welfare state primarily because the welfare state has been conceptualized to structurally address issues like economic and social well-being, equality, human rights and justice. While scholars in the fields of law, political science, sociology, economics, and social work have identified several challenges that immigration poses to the welfare state, there is a general lack of discussion about a reconstruction of the welfare state to accommodate immigration in the context of globalization. In addition, while addressing relations between immigration and the welfare state, there is a sense of powerlessness and/ or reservation about certain principles of the welfare state. Concerns have been raised about states' ability to redistribute resources, about the ability to agree upon a unified theory of welfare rights in a diverse society, and the feasibility of opening nations' welfare systems to all immigrants (e.g., Vasta, 2004; Clarke, 2005). Reflections on these issues pose particular challenges to different types of the welfare state. This study selects three developed countries with different welfare state philosophies and traditions--Australia, Sweden and the United States--and compares how they cope with the growing number of immigrants and their various needs. This paper also explores the relationship between globalization, immigration and the welfare state from a rights-based social work perspective.

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