Taxing times for cross-border workers

The financial crisis has led governments around the world to raise taxes, cut credits, reduce or abolish deductions, and even target pensions. More and more of us are paying higher taxes while seeing a reduction or removal of social benefits. Yet few consider the implications for a large and growing sector of the labour force: migrant workers. PhD fellow Irina Burlacu recently joined a major tax conference in Austria, where she linked the discussions and findings to her own research.

One of the largest conferences in Europe on tax and related laws took place from 4-6 July 2013 in Rust, Austria, under the theme ‘Trends and Players in Tax Policy’. Co-organized by the Institute for Austrian and International Tax Law, Vienna, the WU Global Tax Policy Center, and the Research Council of Norway, the event drew around 100 participants, mainly researchers and practitioners in the area of international and European tax legislation.

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Migration Debate: From Local Lives to Global Policies

Migrant entrepreneurs represent clear development potential for source countries. While abroad they gain new skills, earn more money, build social networks — and often bring these benefits ‘home’. But amid a divisive political climate, how should academics and policy makers approach this thorny issue? On 29 May 2013, the Maastricht Schools of Governance and Management held an International Policy Debate to clarify the links between remittances, entrepreneurship, and development. 

As a new research assistant at UNU-MERIT, I was lucky enough to sit in on last week’s policy debate. Having finished my bachelor’s a few weeks ago, I can say that I have read development and migration about as thoroughly as an undergraduate can. But I had never before seen it applied in real time.

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Afghan Migration: Addressing Challenges, Mapping Futures

Afghanistan faces many changes in 2014, with the impending withdrawal of coalition forces and presidential elections set for the spring. In this climate of uncertainty, many are tempted to adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude; yet the country’s many complex challenges require urgent, coordinated responses. This was the message of an April 2013 conference organized by the School of Governance in the framework of the IS Academy project.

With nearly three quarters of its population affected by migration, and the largest number of international migrants worldwide, Afghanistan is a country at the heart of many debates on migration.

Now, more than ever, it is important to know what is pushing the culture of migration so manifest in Afghanistan. Next the international community needs to decide how it can help Afghanistan to develop adequate solutions for its massive migration challenges. (To this end, our playlist below presents several representatives from international organizations).

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Hybrid Political Orders and Fragile States: Lessons from Lebanon

Intervention in fragile states will increasingly form the centre of the discourse on aid effectiveness, humanitarian relief and regional and international governance. Since the start of the Arab Spring and following on from the global economic crisis, we have seen various strategies of intervention in various fragile states – from Cote D’Ivoire, Libya, Somalia, DRC and more recently the question of how to design and execute intervention in Mali.

In Syria, where UN Security Council support for intervention, even for creating a no-fly zone over Syria for Assad’s air force, is absent, the model of intervention has been to isolate the regime financially and politically – as was the case in Libya and Cote D’Ivoire. But whereas in these cases military intervention was sanctioned by the UN, in Syria the absence of a UN sanction has lead to intervention strategies, at least at the time of writing, limited to supporting the creation of a more unified  (and pro-Western) opposition.

In this photo taken by a UN observer, a shell lays in the middle of the street in Homs, Syria, a remnant of the heavy attack levelled on the city.

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How to Manage Migration in the Western Balkans?

Some birds fly south for winter, driven by the need for warmth and food in milder climates. They face neither physical borders nor restrictions on their movement. The situation for most of humanity, however, is much less straightforward — not least on the fringes of Europe.

The Western Balkans sits on a fault line of ethnic and religious tensions. The histories of Albania and Serbia among others are deeply marked by wars — wars that have sparked waves of migration over the centuries. Yet nowadays migration in and from the region is driven less by political unrest than by mass unemployment, linked in part to the Eurozone crisis.

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Pink Slippers and Platinum: Governance Failure and the Decline of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in South Africa

South Africa’s national defence force was once perhaps highly rated; recently it is facing ridicule and concern. Ridicule, as a Lieutenant-Colonel was seen sporting pink slippers with her official uniform in public. According to the UK’s Guardian Newspaper, “It is not an image of top guns defending African skies that is likely to deter would-be foreign invaders”. Concern, as an officer borrowed an air force plane for personal use to visit a friend in neighbouring Botswana.

South Africa’s platinum mines were also once highly rated. Until the Marikana Massacre of 16 August 2012 when the South African Police killed 34 striking workers, apparently shooting many in the back, interfering with evidence after the shootings, and charging the mine workers (the victims) with the deaths of their fellows. While it is the police, and not the mines that are now facing an inquiry, the context of South African mining remains problematic, despite a decade of the longest commodity boom in recent history.

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Return Migration: A Question of Choice and Flexibility?

On 27 June 2012 the IS Academy: Migration and Development project hosted an Advanced Academic Update (AAU) on Return Migration, Reintegration and Development.

The purpose of the AAU was Flickr John Perivolaristo provide state-of-the-art knowledge in the field of return, reintegration and development and to engage in lively debate amongst policy makers, representatives from non-governmental organizations and international organizations, and academics. The AAU was well attended with representatives from several organizations in the Netherlands working with return migrants, policy makers, and academics.

Throughout the day participants engaged in dynamic discussions regarding key questions such as: Do assisted voluntary returnees contribute to micro level development in their communities of return? What are the obligations of receiving states in readmitting their citizens? How can programmes for assisted voluntary returnees be optimized? What is the role of research and evaluation in informing best practices in assisted voluntary return?

A key element of the discussion that was particularly of interest was the question of honesty regarding assisted voluntary return programmes. Currently in the Netherlands the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs funds these programmes as part of their development cooperation budget. However, there is no evidence as of yet to illustrate that these programmes contribute to development in the countries of return.

In the UK case, it is recognized that the cost to forcibly return an individual is 10 times more expensive than if the individual opts for assisted voluntary return. From this perspective, the purpose of the assisted voluntary return programmes can be viewed as to motivate people who do not have a right to stay to return, to do so in a humanitarian way, and to be cost effective for the government.

This begs the question: is development funding the most appropriate source of financing for this kind of programme?

The discussions and resulting policy recommendations have been summarized in a IS Academy policy brief that will be on the website shortly. Key recommendations noted from the day were the importance of flexibility in assisted voluntary return programmes, give returnees choices, the time to make decisions, and the ability to change their minds.

It was also recognized that there is a lack of research on the effectiveness of these programmes and further research and evaluation is required to fully understand the long-term impacts of these programmes and their effectiveness. Further events on the topic of return migration will be organized for the IS Academy project in the future.

by Katherine Kuschminder, PhD fellow, Maastricht Graduate School of Governance. Image: Flickr / John Perivolaris

Migration, Development and Sharing Research on ‘Transnational’ Life

To what extent do migrants stay in touch with family and friends in their countries of origin? How do their experiences in destination countries influence their capacity and desire to stay involved with their homeland? What are the links between integration processes, transnational activities and return migration? These were among the questions of a workshop co-organized by UNU-Maastricht (UNU-MERIT / MGSoG) and Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) on 14 December 2011.

Speakers included Masja van Meeteren (EUR, Post Doc), who presented her research on how irregular migrants are involved in transnational activities. Her work adds value because the experiences of irregular migrants remain at the periphery of migration research, even though their precarious situation demands much more attention.

By contrast Marianne van Bochove (EUR) focused on migrants who are socioeconomically successful in Belgium and The Netherlands. Her innovative approach expands our understanding of transnationalism because she combines transnationalism literature with urban sociology literature to study the transnational activities and identifications of migrants.

Linda Bakker (EUR) then presented early results of her research into the integration of refugee groups from a transnational perspective based on the SING survey conducted among major refugee groups in The Netherlands. Linda has done a tremendous amount of work even though she is just at the beginning of her PhD research. Her project is promising and definitely one to follow, as it focuses on refugees’ transnational involvement, a subject that is only recently attracting more attention in The Netherlands.

Last but not least, representing UNU-Maastricht, I presented my paper on the compatibility between migrants’ integration processes in The Netherlands and their engagement in social and economic transnational activities, based on data we collected for the IS Academy, ‘Migration and Development: A World in Motion project’. I was very happy to receive many useful and constructive comments on my paper!

Beyond the workshop itself, Professor Godfried Engbersen (EUR) gave a lunchtime lecture on ‘Labour migration patterns among Central and Eastern European migrants’ and spoke with our migration coordinator Melissa Siegel in a brief video interview (see window above).

Özge BILGILI, PhD Researcher on Migration & Development, UNU-MERIT / Maastricht Graduate School of Governance