Restrictive Migration Policies have Adverse Effects on Migrant Health
Restrictive policies including those pertaining to temporary visas, detention and reduced access to welfare support are linked to a greater risk of poor general and mental health, as well as mortality among migrants, relative to native populations and migrants that did not experience such restrictions. These findings are highlighted in a recent review in The Lancet Global Health.
The growing number of migrants to high income countries in the past decades has coincided with increasingly restrictive migration policies. These governmental actions commence at international borders, through restrictions on entry and forced detention of migrants, and continue with a myriad of efforts restricting access to health, housing and the labour market. Ultimately, these policies deprive migrants of their civil rights and limit their full participation in society.
Multiple studies have already demonstrated the negative impact of restrictive policies on the health of migrants, but have generally focused on individual governmental policies implemented in specific national contexts. The review rigorously compiled and systematically analysed these studies to provide more solid and comprehensive evidence of the effect of migrant-hostile policies on health. The findings serve to further invalidate xenophobic actions and to provide policymakers with a solid instrument to inform future agendas.
More concerning is that the negative impact of restrictive integration policies on the health of migrants is observed in some countries (such as the U.S.) where migrants have relatively good health on arrival. This means that host countries are particularly responsible for the deterioration in migrants’ health.
While this review evaluated the health impact of a wide range of specific governmental policies, it was also observed that countries with an overall exclusionist approach to migration (such as Denmark) report poorer overall health and a higher risk of dying among migrants, compared to countries with an assimilationist approach. This implies that, beyond specific governmental actions, the overall negative climate can have harmful effects on the health of migrants.
Good health is a fundamental condition for promoting other social achievements among migrants (i.e. learning a language, completing their education and/or actively participating in the labour market), all of which facilitate their full participation in society. The introduction of restrictive policies thus encourages xenophobic sentiments by limiting migrants’ opportunities for social cohesion. As a consequence, adopting respectful migration policies is not only morally right but socially necessary.
About the authors: Sol Juárez (Associate Professor of Public Health, Researcher), Helena Honkaniemi (MSc, Doctoral Student), Andrea Dunlavy (PhD, Researcher) and Mikael Rostila (Professor of Public Health Sciences) are based at the Centre for Health Equity Studies, Stockholm University/Karolinska Institute and the Department of Public Health Sciences, Stockholm University in Stockholm, Sweden.