migration  Migration, Integration and Citizenship – what use are the terms?


Perchinig explains the meaning of the terms, but at the same time analyses the way in which they are used and thus the implicit consequences for people affected by these definitions. In connection with this he then questions whether these ‘terms and key concepts are suitable in order to understand the underlying social circumstances ’ (page 13). He attempts to present alternatives via a new approach.  

According to the United Nations Organization definition, an international migrant is somebody who leaves his or her usual place of residence, where he or she has work, a life and leisure time and settles in another country (the extent of internal migration is not known, and can therefore only be estimated). If the stay is for longer than a year, the United Nations talks about ‘international long-term migrants’. If somebody returns to his or her original country of residence, he or she is simply defined and listed in statistics from then on as a migrant. The term migration is therefore a one-way street from the country or state of origin to the destination country or state. The term migration is seen solely from the perspective viewpoint of the national state, and the migrant only as an individual with contacts and relationships in the country he or she has just left. ‘One of the most important functions of migration is to confront a bridge between different worlds, across which knowledge, culture, yearnings, desires, skills and the transfer of capital go unnoticed’ (page 17).

Today integration is seen as positive but fishy (page 19), however there is no generically accepted integration term (page 20). Some people understand it as the creation of an equal opportunities policy (Caritas Switzerland), others (H.C. Strache, Freedom Party of Austria) a debt that migrants carry, so he focuses on the acquisition of the German language and the contribution to the employment market. Integration is boosted within the sphere of culture with regard to a common language and common words getting discussed, while at the same time successful integration is clearly seen as being in the interest of the historic ideal of the national state. The obligation of the state to remove obstacles to integration is also called for so as to make social equality possible. However migrants are categorised as victims of structures of discrimination with no potential to act (page 22).

This reference to the acquisition of language and thereby the ability to communicate conceals, according to Perchinig, the underlying debate on identity, not conducted in public. To prove this he cites different examples from the integration and naturalization tests which have become popular in Europe. After a look at Great Britain and the Netherlands he analyses in detail the Austrian naturalization test which is composed of a federal section confined to legal and political questions, and a state section. He finds in the latter part a surprisingly acute focus on historic events, personalities and founding of churches, referring to important facts from a medieval culture of remembrance in each federal state and not to areas which could contribute to increased political empowerment. In a subsequent digression Perchinig analyses the meaning of these naturalization tests as the modern means of initiation rites of earlier tribal societies in which ‘naturalization becomes  . . . an act of coming of age and is a way of regarding foreign citizens as immature.’ (page 24). According to Perchinig naturalization tests contain classical power techniques and also include a ‘self technique’ which calls for a generalized gesture of subjugation to the power of the state (page 25).

Today we have to deal with increasing globalization and the massive revaluation of the market as a medium of societal interaction (page 31). The market is not producing equality but inequality, competition in which development is not going in the direction of wholeness but of fragmentation of society and life opportunities. Perchinig, as a new perspective, cites the ideas of the Indian Nobel prize-winner Amartya Sen, who focuses on “realization opportunities”.  Here income and wealth are not an end in themselves but aids for a successful life. What is important is the acceptance of a person and the chance to develop the underlying potential in a human being. This requires ‘a legally-structured framework of equality and freedom from discrimination . . . but on the other hand skills and competencies of individuals . . . as well as individual willingness to take up opportunities’ (page 33).

Taking this idea of seizing opportunities further, the step towards anti-discrimination and educational policy is being controlled firstly to show that it is necessary for access to the market place; and secondly alongside knowledge and proficiencies any symbolic capital brought along is also important for acceptance, for example in terms of accredited educational achievements: ‘at the same time knowledge of language and culture of other areas clearly also yields better returns’ (page 34).

Finally the problems of citizenship in the globalizing world are discussed, with questions on temporary residence permits, access to the employment market and political participation raised. With the term ‘denizenship’ or ‘citizen’s right to live somewhere’ automatic access to these rights for non-citizens too following a certain length of stay is recognized (page 36). The European Commission talks about citizenship in this respect. Since 2005 the legal status of third country nationals has also absorbed elements of this idea. Meanwhile the big dividing line runs between nationals, EU citizens and third country national long-time residents on one side . . . and temporary visiting people in the country who are simply tolerated or have no documentation (page 36).

According to Perchinig these problems can only be solved if the term of citizenship is called into question: over and above all differences citizenship is today characterized by the state’s fear of ceasing to be the definite authority over affiliation. The legal demands of individuals for naturalization are weak and barely enforceable: access to citizenship reflects a one-sided power relationship (page 37). The objective would be to demand a European electoral citizenship awarding all rights in each country of residence and all economic obligations, but no relationships of loyalty, thus representing a voluntary decision on the part of the individual.


Dr. Bernhard Perchinig

Born 1958, Klagenfurt/Celovec  1986: Ph.D., Vienna University (with distinction).

Dissertation: “We are Carinthians and that means . . . “ German nationalism and political culture in Carinthia. Published by Drava (Klagenfurt/Celovec), 1989.

1988/89: Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Politics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

Since January 2003: Research Fellow, Institute for European Research into Integration, Institute for Research into Urban and Regional Science, Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Lecturer at the Centre for European Integration.