The biopolitics of the migration-development nexus: Governing migration in the UK

DOI10.1177/0263395718809287
Date01 November 2019
Published date01 November 2019
/tmp/tmp-17sH7mwC565P8P/input 809287POL0010.1177/0263395718809287PoliticsPinkerton
research-article2018
Article
Politics
2019, Vol. 39(4) 448 –463
The biopolitics of the
© The Author(s) 2018
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migration-development
https://doi.org/10.1177/0263395718809287
DOI: 10.1177/0263395718809287
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nexus: Governing
migration in the UK

Patrick Pinkerton
Queen Mary University of London, UK
Abstract
While politicians in the United Kingdom (UK) have engaged in fractious debate over the
appropriate way of responding to the myriad issues arising from the so-called migration or refugee
crisis in recent years, there is an apparent cross-party consensus regarding the ability of overseas
aid and development spending to reduce levels of global economic migration. This suggests
that the central tenets of what is known in the policy literature as the ‘migration-development
nexus’ have been accepted by the political establishment in the UK, demonstrating a belief that
development spending can be used to ameliorate the global economic inequalities seen as giving
rise to mass migration. Drawing on Michel Foucault’s concepts of biopolitics, governmentality,
and subjectification, this article argues that the migration-development nexus represents a
technology for enacting a strategy of governance that operates through a dual process of enticing
and maintaining mobile subjects. It is then suggested that in the UK context, this operates through
the temporary nature of the time-limited visa regime, which allows migrants from outside the
European Union to be ‘governed through mobility’. The article therefore illustrates how mobility
can be central to governing logics, as well as something that can exceed them.
Keywords
biopolitics, Foucault, governance, migration-development nexus, mobility
Received: 12th January 2018; Revised version received: 24th September 2018; Accepted: 25th
September 2018
Introduction
While politicians in the United Kingdom (UK) have engaged in fractious debate over the
appropriate way of responding to the myriad issues arising from the so-called migration
or refugee crisis in and around the Mediterranean Sea in recent years, there is an
apparent cross-party consensus regarding the ability of overseas aid and development
spending to reduce levels of global economic migration. Both the Conservative govern-
ment and the Labour opposition have signalled their support for the continuation of the
Corresponding author:
Patrick Pinkerton, School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End
Road, London E1 4NS, UK.
Email: p.pinkerton@qmul.ac.uk

Pinkerton
449
statutory requirement to spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development
assistance (ODA), in part due to a belief that such spending can tackle the root causes of
mass migration to Europe (HM Government, 2017b; Jamieson, 2016; Osamor, 2017).
This suggests that the central tenets of what is known in the policy literature as the
‘migration-development nexus’ have been accepted by the political establishment in the
UK, with senior ministers and shadow ministers seemingly united in their belief that UK
ODA can be used to ameliorate the global economic inequalities seen as giving rise to
mass migration.
While engaging with the policy-orientated literature on the migration-development
nexus, this article will not provide a direct intervention into the technical or empirical
sides of this debate. Instead, the work of migration scholars to debunk this hypothesis, by
highlighting how economic development triggers rather than stems migration, will
provide the point of departure for a critical investigation into policies of migration gov-
ernance that flow from the acceptance of this nexus, such as the facilitation of remittance
transfers, diasporic networks, and temporary visa schemes. The article will develop
Michel Foucault’s concepts of biopolitics, governmentality, and subjectification to con-
struct an argument that the migration-development nexus represents a biopolitical tech-
nology for enacting a wider strategy of governance that operates through a dual process
of enticing and maintaining mobile subjects. Specifically, it will be argued that, in the UK
context, this operates through the temporary nature of the time-limited visa regime, which
allows non-European Union (EU) migrants to be ‘governed through mobility’, in the
sense of being produced as mobile and movable. This argument will provide both an
advance in Foucauldian scholarship, in the sense of clarifying the role of mobility in gov-
ernance strategies, and a practical demonstration of the continuing relevance of Foucault’s
key ideas in relation to the contemporary management of migration. Furthermore, the
article will be of interest to scholars working on migration and mobility studies more
generally, by producing new knowledge that can allow for the recognition of governmen-
tal practices that entice and maintain mobility, and by illustrating how mobility can be
central to governing logics as well as something that can exceed them.
This argument will proceed across the three sections of the article. The first section
discusses the main features of the migration-development nexus discourse, and considers
its impact on migration policy in the UK. The second section situates the valorisation of
mobility by the migration-development nexus within Foucault’s analysis of the centrality
of circulation to biopolitical governance, before going beyond this to develop my novel
understanding of the migration-development nexus as operating to ‘govern through
mobility’. The final section illustrates how this form of governance functions through the
UK visa regime. The conclusion considers the future research agendas that are opened up
by this conceptualisation, particularly in the context of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The migration-development nexus
In the early 2000s, policy-makers and academics working on migration and development
began exploring the productive links that could be forged between the two areas, resulting
in a great ‘international buzz’ (Vammen and Brønden, 2012) around the notion of a
‘migration-development nexus’. This term captures the optimistic belief that the twin
problems of growing levels of migration and the failures of development strategies could
be best tackled together, by harnessing the economic benefits brought about by migration
to the service of international development (Ruhs, 2005). This migration-development

450
Politics 39(4)
orthodoxy views migrants as potential transnational agents of development (Brønden,
2012: 2), due both to the massive increase in recent years of the value of remittance
transfers from high-income to lower- and middle-income countries (De Haas, 2012: 9),
and the possibility of migrants returning home with additional skills and capital to invest
in their local economies (Datta, 2009: 112). International groups such as the Global
Commission on International Migration (GCIM) and the Global Forum on Migration and
Development (GFMD) have been set up to investigate the best ways to facilitate,
encourage, and manage these trends, hoping to produce ‘triple wins’ for migrant-sending
countries, migrant-receiving countries, and migrants themselves (Lavenex and Kunz,
2008: 447) by facilitating remittance transfers, replacing the ‘brain drain’ from develop-
ing to developed countries with a ‘brain gain’ and incorporating migrant diasporas into
development strategies, with the ultimate goal of bringing about eventual reductions in
global levels of migration. As Geiger and Pécoud (2013: 369) emphasise, highlighting the
connections between migration and development has produced some very specific policy
prescriptions. When ‘the potential impact on world development of even a small liberali-
sation of labour mobility’ is foregrounded, ‘temporary and circulatory labour migration
schemes’ emerge as the paragons ‘of “sound”, “balanced”, or “well-managed” immigra-
tion policies’. The creation of regularised channels for legal, cross-border temporary or
circular migration1 to allow persons to circulate between a ‘home’ and destination’ coun-
try is therefore seen by proponents of the nexus as the best way to unleash the develop-
mental potential of migration (De Haas, 2012: 22; Lavenex and Kunz, 2008: 448–449;
Vammen and Brønden, 2012: 29).
It is crucial to note, however, that this emphasis on creating legal routes for certain
types of migration operates alongside a concerted effort to tighten and close off other
channels for forms of migration considered ‘illegal’ or irregular. The discourses of the
migration-development nexus must therefore be seen as complementing the wider log-
ics of the securitisation of migration. The provision of (limited) channels for regular-
ised migration can work to legitimise efforts to clamp down on the movement of people
outside these channels, while development aid and more favourable immigration quo-
tas are key bargaining chip in the outsourcing of border controls, as enacted by the EU’s
‘mobility partnerships’ with third-country governments (Feldman, 2012: 73). The poli-
cies of the migration-development nexus can therefore not be separated from the secu-
ritisation of migration through practices such as the discursive linkage of migrants with
transnational criminal and terror networks (Huysmans, 2006: 63–84), or the policies of
surveillance,...

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