Public service work and discretion in migration policies

A publication is out!

Some weeks ago, the RIEM (Revista Internacional de Estudios Migratorios) published my article “The role of established immigrants within institutionalised immigrant integration in Israel. I wrote this article after having submitted my dissertation, with the idea to focus on one aspect of it: street level bureaucrats.

As a matter of fact, a large part of the interviews I conducted was with persons working in municipalities and other governement agencies, and were in direct contact with the residents. They were part of the welfare department, the employment department and more frequently, the department dealing with immigration and so-called integration-related matters.

The many differences I could spot between each city’s policies were in part to be attributed to these street level bureaucrats. I tried to make sense of it through this article.

This has also impacted our arrival in Portugal. Throughout the administrative maze that one immigrant follows, one can only recognise the high level of discretion public service workers have: at the tax office, at social security, at the clinic, and at the home office (SEF here in Portugal). Every person tells a different story, and by coming twice for the same thing, you might get two different responses.

I can only imagine that this happens to returnees to Portugal. I have interviewed the person in charge of the GAE (Gabinete de Apoio ao Emigrante, which I have described in another post) for Bragança district. And he confessed that he had met… three people since the GAE was established. Three cases, all of them he referred to colleagues in Porto who knew better.

This does not necessarily reflect experiences with other GAE in the rest of the country. Precisely because there is a high discretion involved in municipal services, especially the ones that are voluntary set, and do not entail a long-lasting regulated relation with a ministry, in which persons are in charge of monitoring and supervision, re-training and so on.

The person I met in Bragança was in charge of another public action domain – tourism and economic development – and it seemed to me that returnees were not his priority. Moreover, unlike the workers I met in Israeli municipalities who were overwhelmingly immigrants themselves, he did not experience migration and return. I argue in my paper that this is obviously not compulsory, and it is certainly not a condition for a successful, open and progressive policy. Yet, representation does seem a factor.

I have also tried to contact villages’ representatives (the presidente da junta de freguesia), in vain. However, some returnees told me that they had to turn to them to get the declaration that proved they were still alive, and could pretend to retirement allowances in France. This level of governance ought to be, I imagined, a place where to gather information. But I did not manage to interview one of them. I met with two mayors outside of the zone I realised my enquiry at, and they found that the share of return migration was not so high in their jurisdiction. They were more concerned with out-migration of youth.

This is yet something to explore.


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