A new report by the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society (COMPAS), of the University of Oxford, City-level responses to migrant families with restricted access to welfare benefits: A European pilot study finds that, in both legislation and practice, access to welfare for migrants can be restricted in Berlin and Madrid. The report is a pilot study which aims to provide concrete research on entitlement and restrictions to welfare for migrants which has been the subject of tense and emotive debates in some EU countries recently.

Regarding entitlement to welfare, the research shows a certain degree of inclusion in the provision of welfare benefits for migrant families in Berlin and Madrid, including for refugees, those with subsidiary humanitarian status (granted in that country), some third-country nationals, asylum seekers, some EU citizens, and those with a longer period of residence. However, irregular migrants and job-seeking EU citizens in Berlin and irregular migrants and migrants with less than a year’s residence are excluded from basic support by restrictive laws and policies set at federal or regional levels.

Where migrants were entitled to support, it was found that the experiences of migrants in asserting these rights varied depending on the local area, and that some local government institutions and/or ‘street-level bureacrats’ were gatekeeping, i.e. restricting services arbitrarily.

For those unable to access welfare whether due to the law or the practice, the research demonstrated that the implications for migrant families can be severe, often leading to destitution, which could be in the form of illegal encampments, sleeping in abandoned buildings or the back rooms of shops, sofa surfing and the inability to afford basic living needs such as food for children.

The researchers encourage national, regional and local authorities to engage in a dialogue tofind“the appropriate and proportionate balance of immigration enforcement vis-à-vis prevention of safeguarding risks, regardless of immigration status”. COMPAS also recommends that Member States share good practices with regard to inclusion of migrant families to welfare benefits.


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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 26 September 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.