Migrations and Access to Social Rights in the EU and Slovenia
The social rights of migrants are regulated with caution because of the prevailing opinion that migrants do not migrate just because of labour but also because of welfare benefits and services provided by welfare states. Access of migrants to social rights depends on several factors: on the extent of the welfare state (the extent of social rights and benefits), on the connection between rights and citizenship, on integration or immigration policies and on discourses about foreign workers. In the last decade or so political discourses and public opinion on the eligibility of migrants to social rights and benefits have become increasingly hostile. The consequences are mainly more restrictive migration policies and conditions which are difficult to comply with in order to obtain a status that allows for greater security and stability of migrants’ life cycles. In the article we focus on the effects and consequences of the interconnectedness of pejorative speech and legal status that enables access to social rights in the EU and in Slovenia.
KEY WORDS: welfare state, social rights and benefits, restrictions, migration policies, public opinion
MIGRATIONS AND ACCESS TO SOCIAL RIGHTS IN THE EU AND SLOVENIA
The social rights of immigrants is a broadly theorised issue. They are increasingly connected with employment as welfare states are transformed into workfare states, which means that the responsibility for personal well-being is individualised. The basic question posed to the political agenda in the EU is how much immigrants contribute to the national economy and to how many entitlements they can be eligible. The question is complex because the response has to incorporate several fields of enquiry, e.g. how immigration and integration policies incorporate restriction of access to social rights, public opinion or public consensus on the eligibility of foreigners to social rights and legal grounds for claiming the rights in the national states and in the EU. The main research question in the article relates to the interconnectedness of these fields of enquiry. For the analysis we used secondary sources including legal and policy documents as well as media reports and other relevant sources.
The results of the study can be summarised into several findings. There is a significant gap between public opinion that immigrants mainly migrate to (ab)use social benefits and on data provided on the issue in various studies. The results show that immigrants contribute more to national economies that they claim from the welfare budgets. Public opinion in the EU generally does not support access to social rights for immigrants, which is also reflected in state policies. Many EU countries are restricting access to social rights with measures employed in integration policies, such as conditioning the reunification of families with an exam on the destination country’s language or history, conditioning access to social rights with permanent residency, etc. The European Commission clearly states that any kind of the abuse of social rights is intolerable, but at the same time it states that false accusations are similarly intolerable. Any kind of claims of “social tourism” must be proven before restricting access to rights and benefits.
In Slovenia public opinion is similar to that of the EU, with just 36.7 % of respondents agreeing with the statement that immigrants should have equal rights as citizens. Despite the weak consensus on the social rights of immigrants, this is not (yet) reflected in Slovene integration policies. The problem in Slovenia lies in access to social rights relating to employment. There are problems with obtaining a work permit or residency independently from employers. Slovenia only provides benefits for family members of employed immigrants if they are residing in Slovenia. No benefits can be transferred to the county of origin. This means that immigrants allocate part of their salary to various compulsory insurance schemes but they cannot claim the associated rights. The problems in Slovenia are thus much more complex and relate to the specifics of the labour market.