Setting immigration policy: from Westphalian sovereignty to supranational management?

Paul Demeny, Population Council

Since the development of the modern state system, permission to grant or deny non-natives settlement in a given state was recognized as the sovereign right of the receiving state. Attempts to challenge or at least to qualify this right first emerged in an articulated form in the decade following the end of World War I but remained largely inconsequential. The asymmetric formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 with respect to freedom of movement reflects the classic status quo: it codifies the right to leave one’s country, but posits a right of free movement only within one’s national borders, not the right to be accepted by another country. The Geneva convention concerning the right for asylum for political refugees was constructed as a demographically minor modification of the right to unilateral decisions by states in the matter of immigration. The acceleration of the process of globalization in the most recent decades led to increasing questioning of the appropriateness of the classic Westphalian doctrine concerning immigration policy. As control over movements of goods, services, and capital came to be matters regulated by mutually agreeable arrangements between states and were placed under the supervision of newly created international organizations, such as the WTO, calls for a similar internationalization of formulating international migration policies became stronger, emanating most notably, although mostly indirectly, from the United Nations. Extrapolating the direction of initiatives proposed by various semi-official bodies, such as the Global Commission on International Migration, regulation of the movement of persons across international borders eventually would be placed under supranational management. This paper traces and critically examines the intellectual and institutional history of this process and discusses likely future developments in the locus of setting immigration policies.

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Presented in Session 70: Migration Policies