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Lecture | Leiden Interdisciplinary Migration Seminar (LIMS)

Welfare state development and immigration control in France, 1880-1945

Thursday 20 February 2020
Leiden Interdisciplinary Migration Seminars 2019-2020
Johan Huizinga
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden
2.60 (Conference Room)

LIMS talk by Alex Afonso, entitled ‘Welfare state development and immigration control in France, 1880-1945’


With about one million immigrants in 1901, France was the largest immigration country in Europe at the turn of the 20th century, and its economy relied heavily on foreign labour. This was mostly due to a combination of structural and political factors. First, a demographic transition to a low-fertility regime in the early 19th century – earlier than in other European countries - created a shortage of labour, which made an open immigration policy an important demand of employers: the “depopulation” of France and low birth rates were a cause of continuous concern throughout the 19th century. In this context, foreign workers were used to feed the needs of industry in a context where the native agricultural workforce was also less mobile and more able to resist proletarianization. Finally, a weak and fragmented labour movement was unable to effectively mobilise against employers’ calls for foreign labour. In this context, the concomitant movement of increasing hostility to immigration and welfare state expansion observed elsewhere in Europe at the turn of the century was expressed in the French context on internal boundaries: restrictions on welfare entitlement which affected foreign nationals specifically. In contrast, external boundaries¸ or the limitation of immigration flows per se, played a smaller role at least until the 1930s (Dewhurst Lewis, 2007). As such, the early days of the French welfare state at a time of high immigration provide a good example of immigration openness with a clear segmentation of social rights.


The Leiden Interdisciplinary Migration Seminars (LIMS) aim at fostering further discussion across disciplines on migration-related topics and creating an open dialogue between the speakers and the attendees. The seminars are a platform for those at Leiden University working on migration-related topics.

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