1Back in 2015, The Guardian published an article by Mawuna Remarque Koutonin entitled ‘Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?’ Although short, the article seems to have hit where it hurts—it had 3,000 comments and was shared 152,000 times on social media, earning its place on the list of ‘The Guardian’s biggest stories of 2015’. Although it is debatable whether race is the only (or even the most important) trait that separates ‘immigrants’ from ‘expats’, this article, as well as some personal experiences shared in the comments section, corroborated what scholars have long known, namely that not all the foreign-born in Western societies are treated equally and that the country of origin operates as the principal factor that draws the line between more and less ‘desirable’ immigrants. This division has resulted in a substantial and, most likely, long-term ethnic stratification across increasingly diverse Western destination countries. When thinking of ethnic inequalities in the labour market or residential segregation, we usually blame employers, real estate agents, or landlords. Yet, in her recent book, Roxana Barbulescu shows that receiving states, ‘the rule setters of integration’ (p. 10), may also act as agents of inequalities across immigrant groups. The book focuses on the experiences of two newly emerged destination countries, Spain and Italy, but its comparative approach provides readers with a pan-European perspective on immigrant integration practices.
2The first chapter shows how the understanding of the concept of ‘immigrant integration’ has evolved over time and across different European countries. The author argues that integration can only be theorized if the heterogeneity of the immigrant population with respect to origin, legal status, and citizenship is taken into account. The second chapter gives a brief overview of recent immigration to Spain and Italy. It also shows that the socioeconomic profile of Western immigrants in the two countries is considerably more favourable than that of other immigrants. The third chapter discusses sizeable differences in political, social, and labour market rights as well as in the rights of residence between foreign-born EU citizens and other immigrants (‘If the principle is that all citizens are equal before the law, this chapter clearly shows that noncitizens are not’, p. 148). The fourth chapter focuses on immigrant integration policies in Western Europe. Until the 2000s, integration programmes were voluntary, but since then, many European countries have also introduced mandatory sanction-based policies. These policies include integration contracts, language tests, or civic tests. Barbulescu labels this new approach to immigrant integration ‘neoassimilation’. Knowing that Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission will, in all likelihood, have a newly created portfolio ‘Protecting Our European Way of Life’, it appears that the term ‘neoassimilation’ is not entirely inadequate.
3In general, despite some inconsequential shortcomings (to illustrate, the term ‘co-ethnic immigrants’, when referring to Latin American immigrants in Spain, may be somewhat inapt in my view), the book provides a fine-grained overview of recent immigrant integration policies and is therefore an insightful read for scholars, students, and policymakers. The principal conclusion of this book is that ‘the more rights a certain group enjoys, the fewer integration duties it has to fulfill’ (p. 212). In this way, states can even further accentuate already sizeable inequalities among immigrant groups, most notably between foreign-born EU citizens and immigrants from other parts of the world. Moreover, the book contributes to contemporary migration research in at least three other ways. First, it provides extensive evidence on how the newly emerged destination countries approached immigrant integration. It explains why none of the approaches used previously in other European countries was considered ideal, but it also discusses how considerable differences in integration policies between Spain and Italy emerged. Second, it shows that, under certain circumstances, integration policies (especially voluntary ones) can vary considerably across regions within the same country. Third, the author argues that there have been sizeable differences in the treatment of immigrants from the old and new EU member states. Drawing on the experiences of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants in Spain and Italy, she discusses in much detail the ways this hierarchy of EU citizenries manifests itself.