Non-European Migrants’ Social Assistance and Residence Trajectories in Belgium By Legal Entry Category

Bruno Schoumaker, University of Louvain-la-Neuve
Sarah Carpentier, UCL - DEMO

In line with public debates, literature about migration and the welfare state deals mainly with the challenges that migration poses to welfare states, such as being a welfare magnet, financial sustainability and social legitimacy. However, the role of the state in structuring migrants’ careers through the welfare state and inequalities in these through legal categories, conditions and practices remains largely uncharted territory. Particularly relevant are social assistance careers as social assistance, ultimate safety net and seismograph of (new) risk situations, is the most used benefit scheme at arrival. Of the extra-European migrants who entered Belgium in the period 2008–2014 15% took up social assistance during the first years after arrival. Cohorts of extra-European nationals navigate among the changing legally allowed motives for migration that define the conditions of entry and stay and social assistance access that can alter over time. In general, access to social assistance became more restrictive over the last decade. Furthermore, social assistance uptake is conditional on having a valid residence permit and legal residence in the municipality. Therefore, in this paper we examine jointly the social assistance and residence trajectories by legal category for a one-in-four random sample of the non-European migrants aged 18 and over that arrived during the period 2008–2014 (N=87,653). We trace their trajectories up to 2014 on the basis of, to international standards, unique linked longitudinal administrative data from the National Register and the Datawarehouse Labour Market and Social Protection. To analyse the trajectories we use descriptive and advanced event-history analysis techniques, such as joint analysis of correlated processes and multistate modelling, which is apt to model transitions between event types with an event-related dependence. Theoretically, we mobilise life-course theory to show how the state structures life courses through temporal ordering and normative scripts.

In line with public debates, literature about migration and thewelfare state deals mainly with the challenges that migration poses to welfarestates, such as being a welfare magnet, financial sustainability and sociallegitimacy. However, the role of the state entities in structuring migrants’ careersthrough the welfare state and inequalities in these through legal categories,conditions and practices remains largely uncharted territory. Particularlyrelevant are social assistance careers as the social assistance scheme,ultimate safety net and seismograph of (new) risk situations, is the most usedbenefit scheme at arrival. Of the extra-European migrants who entered Belgiumin the period 2008–2014 15% took up social assistance during the first yearsafter arrival. Cohorts of extra-European nationals navigate among the changing legallyallowed motives for migration, such as asylum seeker, student or individualreunifying with his family, that define the conditions (that can alter overtime) of entry and stay and access to social assistance. In general, access tosocial assistance became more restrictive over the last decade.

Studying migrants’ entries into and exits from socialassistance and their residence careers is relevant for several reasons. First,policy makers usually overestimate their control over migration flows and selectivemigration is not as successful as hoped (Jurado & Brochmann, 2013). Therefore,it is key to gain insight in how to design institutional arrangements thatenable the fast and sustainable labour market integration of various migrants. Second, the labour market position and benefit dependence ofmigrants may affect the socio-economic position of their children and theirdescendants (Gottschalk, 1990; Lindahl et al., 2015; Platt, 2005; Stenberg,2000). Hence, it matters from a social investment perspective. Third, a study for Belgium by Carpentier (2016) showed that 38% ofexits from social assistance are due to unknown reasons (i.e. they do not startin work or take up any benefit). Examining the interactionwith residence trajectories could shed light on the share of exits attributableto administrative procedures, errors and end of legal residence.  

The literatureidentified four events or characteristics that favour social assistance uptake,that are mediated by six factors that filter these events and characteristics.Triggering factors are being migrant, whether individuals experienced adverselife-events, have less favourable background characteristics or grew up infamilies depending on social assistance (Kauppinen et al., 2014; Lorentzen etal., 2012; Stenberg, 2000). Filtering factors are the socio-economicconditions, the design of the social insurance and other social assistanceschemes, the household, the social network, and the design and implementationof social assistance (e.g. non-take up and award error) (Saraceno, 2002). Studiesthat examined migrants’ social assistance uptake found that in most countriesthey are overrepresented (Riphahn et al., 2013; Zorlu, 2013; Gustafsson, 2013; Borjas& Hilton, 1996; Pellizzari, 2013). In Belgium, uptake was exceptionallyhigh among non-European migrants (Corluy & Verbist, 2010). A lower uptakerate among migrants relative to natives was found in Ireland, Spain and Canada (Baker& Benjamin, 1995; Barrett & McCarthy, 2007; Rodríguez-Planas, 2013).Differences across countries may be due to variation in migrant populationcomposition and eligibility criteria. In countries with higher uptake ratesamong migrants, sociodemographic characteristics and work experience, typicallyexplained all or a substantial part of the difference between migrants andnatives (Borjas & Hilton, 1996; Pellizzari, 2013; Riphahn, 2004; Riphahn etal., 2013; Zorlu, 2013), except for Sweden (Hansen & Lofstrom, 2003). Furthermore,migrants’ social assistance participation varies with migration historycharacteristics. Uptake by legal migrant category was rarely studied, exceptfor refugees, who have higher uptake (Borjas & Hilton, 1996; Borjas &Trejo, 1993; Hansen & Lofstrom, 2003). We do not know studies that examinethe link with residence careers. Nevertheless, uptake is conditional on a validresidence permit and legal residence.

In this paper we examine jointly the socialassistance and residence trajectories by legal category for a one-in-fourrandom sample of the non-European migrants aged 18 and over that arrived duringthe period 2008–2014 (N=87,653). We trace their trajectories up to 2014 on thebasis of linked longitudinal administrative data from the National Register,the Datawarehouse Labour Market and Social Protection and the Local EmploymentAccounts. These data are to international standards unique, as, to ourknowledge, no former social assistance study disposed of data about socialassistance episodes, identity titles and residence permits, and legal residencein the municipality. To analyse the (determinants of the) trajectories we usedescriptive and advanced event-history analysis techniques, such as joint analysisof correlated processes and multistate modelling. Multistate modelling is aptto model transitions between event types with an event-related dependence.Theoretically, we mobilise life-course theory to show how the state structureslife courses through temporal ordering, normative scripts and institutionalcomplementarities en discontinuities. However, this structuring is not rigid. Individualscreatively deal with it.

Presented in Session 1089: International Migration and Migrant Populations