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Polities beyond Borders. The New Dynamics of Emigrant Politics and Policies in Latin America

Nation-states are no longer contained by their borders. In times of mass migration and dense transnational networks, states of origin reach out to their citizens abroad in wholly new ways. While the most popular emigrant policies include external voting and channels so that emigrants can send remittances to their states of origin, this project documented -for the first time ever for an entire world region- that emigrant policies also include social services (e.g. health and education), obligations, and the institutional and symbolic inclusion of emigrants.
DFG, 2014-2017

Research Questions

The vast literature on transnationalism has shown for over two decades that emigrants maintain economic, social, and political ties with their country of origin. Yet, only lately have political scientists begun to research the role of the state as a creator or regulator of those ties. The existing literature on the many policies through which sending states target their citizens abroad – what we called "emigrant policies" in this project – has so far remained largely confined to either case studies or to specific sub-issues, such as external voting rights, which cannot be generalised to other countries or other issue areas. As a result, the reasons why states adopt these policies, as well as their variations and their effects, remained largely unknown. Focusing on Latin American and the Caribbean as a global front runner region in the adoption of emigrant policies, our research project addressed two central questions: (1) How do states of origin reach out to emigrants? (2) How do "emigrant politics" – that is, the interaction of homeland political actors with emigrants – play out in the adoption of these policies? The project adopted a comprehensive empirical and mixed-methods approach. Its goal was to provide new insights on how and why sending states actively adopt policies to engage with their citizens abroad, and on how this interaction impacts the politics and polities of the countries of origin.

Contribution to International Research

Our project addressed a key gap in the current research on emigrant politics and policies. It stretched between, on the one hand, many migrant-centred studies that document the transnational political practices of emigrants and, on the other, a limited number of comparative studies on the policies of the states of origin. We contributed to closing this gap by first conceptualizing emigrants, then surveying and ordering them, and then looking at the role that states and emigrants have played in the very development of these policies. Our project brought the advances made in the comparative study of emigrant policies in some particular cases and across regions (Gamlen 2006; Rhodes and Harutyunyan 2010; Ragazzi 2014) to Latin America and the Caribbean. It went beyond specific policies (e.g. such as external voting or remittance policies) to cover a very wide range of policies (over a hundred) all of which specifically target emigrants as beneficiaries. For Latin America and the Caribbean, such a thorough comparative analysis of emigrant policies had been lacking so far; for the whole world, this is the first time that almost an entire world region is so comprehensively surveyed for emigrant policies. Finally, the project overcame some major limitations of the political science research on transnational migration in terms of the comparability of cases and the selection issues behind case studies by using a mixed-methods research design.

Research Design and Methods

Our project consisted of three phases. First, we collected, ordered, and analysed new data on the political, economic, symbolic, cultural, social, institutional, and administrative dimensions of emigrant policies for 22 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Using a rigorous data collection tool, we gathered data systematically, codified them following clear codification rules, and developed an original and comprehensive emigrant policies index (i.e. EMIX), which provides a general picture of the importance that states of origin in the region attribute to emigrant policies. Second, we used this database to carry out quantitative analyses. Third, we have undertaken a small-N qualitative, comparative case study to understand the political dynamics between the sending states and emigrants in the design and adoption of emigrant policies with the aim of maximising the variety of emigrant policies in order to explore the different possible mechanisms through which emigrant policies have come to adopt different models.

Preliminary Findings

We presented papers on panels – and organised panels and workshops ourselves- in international conferences to showcase our conceptualisation and operationalisation work, as well as our index. These participations all demonstrate the importance that emigrant policies have acquired for sending states, as well as the variety of approaches taken by these policies. Our research confirmed that transnational migration has challenged core concepts of the nation state such as citizenship, nationality, and belonging, and given new depth to concepts such as "external citizenship".

While migration debates are often framed in terms of social issues, marginalisation, discrimination, integration, and assimilation, our findings highlight the role of state–migrant relations as a key factor in the success of certain communities to organise themselves politically beyond the borders of their country of origin. Furthermore, the Emigrant Policies Index (EMIX) confirms that the LAC region has made crucial advances to assist their diaspora in the states of reception and to integrate their non-resident citizens into the political, economic and social fabric of the state of origin. The EMIX shows that the most extended emigrant policies dimensions are those related to the recognition of dual-citizenship, the adoption of programs that aim to incorporate non-residents into the economy of the state of origin (i.e. return schemes or remittances) and, surprisingly, policies that extended social protection beyond borders (i.e. healthcare or pension schemes for non-residents). The EMIX, however, also shows that there is great variation in the degree of extension of emigrant policies across LAC countries. While some countries, such as Brazil, Mexico or Ecuador have adopted almost all of the emigrant policies covered in our study, other countries focus only on certain policies notably within the electoral or economic dimension. The qualitative part of our research, based in the study of four cases (Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay), has helped us to understand cross-country variations in the design and implementation of emigrant policies. As they reach out to migrants living abroad, emigrant policies are shaped by complex political debates and involve conflicting interests. Our field research gave us the opportunity to corroborate the role of the interplay of social and political actors at the national and subnational policymaking levels and within particular institutional constellations (e.g. pertaining to different administrative structures of states and to different possibilities for political participation and representation within each) in propelling extensions of emigrant policies and giving them specific contents.

More concretely, our published work has made substantive contributions to the comparative literature on emigrant policies:
- A conceptual contribution to the definition of emigrant policies that has been useful for operationalising these policies within our project but which will also be useful in comparisons beyond our region of study.
- A data collection tool that can be used by other researchers and other projects to enlarge the data set we have produced, to replicate our study or as the basis for future projects with a larger geographic or analytical scope.
- An original dataset available to the academic community and which codifies the principal emigrant policies of all Latin American and major Caribbean countries at the large-N level.
- We have shown that in the best studied of all emigrant policy dimensions, the electoral one, there is general convergence about an extension of active voting rights across countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, yet this convergence dilutes when we look at the government bodies that can be elected by emigrants, as well as at the rights of emigrants to be themselves candidates.
- We have shown exactly which rights and obligations are substantially covered by states of origin when they allow citizens abroad to maintain and exercise citizenship (i.e. electoral rights).
- We have published a book that presents the results of our data collection phase in narrative yet comparable form in collaboration with FLACSO-Chile, both on paper and online.

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