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Working paper

Immigration and the Conditionality of Unemployment Benefits in OECD Countries

Samir Negash, PhD candidate at Leiden University and Olaf van Vliet, Professor by special appointment Comparative Welfare State Analysis at Leiden University wrote a paper regarding the topic of immigration and the conditionality of unemployment benefits in OECD countries.

Samir Negash & Olaf van Vliet
18 July 2020

This study assesses if immigration affects the extent to which welfare states apply conditionality requirements for recipients of unemployment benefits.

In recent years, the use of unemployment benefits conditionality has increased in advanced welfare states. We investigate whether the use of these requirements is more prevalent in countries taking in a larger number of immigrants. Previous studies found mixed results for the contention that immigration induces pressures on states to reform their social welfare policies. The mechanisms typically posited for how immigration affects welfare states point to economic and political logics. The economic logic notes the incompatibility of generous welfare states with unlimited immigration. The political logic is embodied in studies which stress the impact of immigration, and ethnic heterogeneity more generally, on the social cohesion and social solidarity necessary to sustain welfare states. This paper argues that part of the reason why these studies find inconsistent effects is attributable to the emphasis on welfare spending and generosity as outcome variables. The effects of immigration on other institutional features of welfare states have remained relatively under explored. Some of this research has studied how accessible social benefits are to different categories of migrants. These rules, excluding migrants from benefits, can, however, be at odds with other important norms, such as the principle of equal treatment. Instead, this study contends states may instead opt to make the receipt of benefits more conditional as a middle ground strategy between making benefits inaccessible to migrants and enacting cutbacks on expenditures or reducing the generosity of benefits altogether. To investigate this argument, the present study focuses on the conditionality of unemployment benefits receipt. This study conceives this as another distinct instrument of welfare reform – one that stresses activation on the part of beneficiaries. The present study tries to separate the effects of mechanisms implied by the economic and political logic, and identify the effects of demographic and fiscal pressures resulting from immigration. The extent to which immigration induces pressures to make benefits more conditional, is we expect, contingent on the generosity of individual welfare states. Where welfare states are more generous, we expect the pressure to implement additional activating measures in their unemployment benefits to be stronger in response to immigration. Moreover, the study also assesses if the presence of strong radical right parties affects the relationship between the presence of immigrants and the strictness of unemployment benefits. Radical right parties are thought to favour the maintenance of social insurance benefits, such as unemployment benefits. While these parties may favour the general maintenance of benefits levels, their position on the conditionality of benefits receipt has not been researched. This study posits that in contexts where immigration makes the identity of recipients more salient, the presence of strong radical right parties contributes to more conditional unemployment benefits. The study investigates these relationships using a dataset of unemployment benefits conditionality for 21 Organization for Economic Development (OECD) member states from 1980-2012. We analyze these propositions using a time-series-cross-section design.

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