Doctoral thesis: Managing migration in modern welfare states


This doctoral thesis, written by Dr Anton Ahlén, a former PhD student at Mistra Geopolitics Research School, compares countries’ family migration policies through three essays.

Whereas the first and second essays focuses on finding trends in family immigration and admission policies, as well as trying to explain policy changes throughout time, the third essay investigates whether and how much these policies have influenced patterns of family immigration in European states.

Refugees leaving their home country. Photo: Ruslan Lytvyn / Shutterstock.
Refugees leaving their home country. Photo: Ruslan Lytvyn / Shutterstock.

Key messages

  • The analysis regarding trends in family immigration policies in Europe shows that, while there was a general tendency towards growing restrictiveness over the 1990–2010 period, there were substantial differences between countries. For instance, regulation changes were identified in the form of stricter civic conditions for incoming family members, and similarly in the form of stricter economic conditions for resident sponsors. ­
  • When examining variations in family-immigration policy through the lens of welfare-state regimes, the tendency towards increasing restrictions and qualifying conditions on the admission of family migrants was notable. This trend might be explained by weaker universal and redistributive features in market-oriented welfare states, as well as other risk factors such as higher unemployment.
  • The study found restrictive admission policies have led to falling overall levels of family immigration and stratification in society due to requirements putting applicants who are less favoured by economic and cultural capital at the greatest disadvantage.
  • In terms of migration management, both social and migration policies have seen a shift of responsibility to applicants through which states create a system of informal selection that favours ‘the best and brightest’. The author suggests this shift allows states to respond to a section of the electorate which is critical toward immigration, while at the same time improving the integration potential of those who are admitted.


This thesis explores the causes and effects of increased conditionality in family-immigration policies, and the author questions regulatory systems on family migration, such as contributive and other merit-based criteria.

The author points out to future research areas:

  1. Examining potential conflicting objectives between the trend of stricter admission regulations in compared to recent efforts by the UN and other institutions to promote family migration.
  2. Exploring the impact of political parties and of anti-immigration sentiment on policy changes and inflow patterns in family-immigration policies.


Ahlén, A. 2022. Managing migration in modern welfare states. Essays on the development, causes, and effects of policies regulating family immigration. Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences 199. 43 pp. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. ISBN 978-91-513-1559-1.

Authors of this publication

Anton Ahlén ,