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Immigration policy encompasses criteria for qualifying as an immigrant, through an independent application or family reunification. Policies vary over time based on the types of workers that are needed, definitions of family used in family reunification, and assessment of the impact of such policies on the country's social, political, and economic systems.

In an independent application, the immigrant is applying based on the country's employment admission criteria. Family reunification occurs when an immigrant applies to bring family members into the country. Priority for admission is given to spouses and children. Close relatives such as siblings and parents are included during periods of more openness in immigration policy.

In describing nine industrialized democratic nations' approaches to immigration policy at the end of the twentieth century, Wayne Cornelius, Philip Martin, and James Hollifield (1994) classified the countries as follows: countries of immigration (United States and Canada), reluctant countries of immigration (France, Germany, Belgium, and Britain), and latecomers to immigration (Italy, Spain, and Japan).

Australia, like the United States and Canada, is a country of immigration. All three countries are proud of being nations of immigrants and lands of opportunity for newcomers. Until the mid-1960s and 1970s, immigration to these countries was primarily from Europe; after that, larger-scale immigration of visible minorities from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean began. Western nations are experiencing increased ethnic diversity because of the general movement of people in the last half of the twentieth century from developing to industrialized nations (Zlotnic 2001).

At the start of the twenty-first century, some Western countries wanted to limit admittance under family reunification and to place more controls on immigration. Controls involve sanctions against employers and immigrants. The government fines employers who hire immigrants who are in the country illegally, and family-sponsored immigrants are limited in eligibility for public resources such as welfare.

There are three primary reasons for needing controls. First, Western countries do not have the ability to provide employment for more newcomers and permanent residents. Second, immigration from developing nations affects national culture, language, and identity of the country of immigration. Finally, more immigrants strain already over-burdened government-funded health, education, and welfare systems (Cornelius et al. 1994).

Critics suggest that the need for controls is overstated, and that the controls are based on ethnocentrism, reflecting Western views of marriage, family, and way of life. Such controls potentially have an impact on arranged marriages, adoption, extended family, and homosexual relationships. Marriages may be viewed as a way to enter a country—a marriage of convenience rather than a legitimate marriage (Cohen 2001).

Controls have an impact on families adjusting to their new country. If controls restrict the reuniting of family members, families remain separated by national boundaries or they enter as illegal immigrants. If family members are admitted, families remain responsible for them financially. This places a burden on the family, and also reinforces dependence, keeping spouses in an untenable marriage (violence, abuse) and limiting opportunities (Cohen 2001). Controls are based on the idea that family reunification is a drain on public resources. Some research suggests that this is not the situation ( Jasso and Rosenzweig 1995).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesImmigration - Reasons For Immigration, Policy, Pathways To Immigration, Immigration's Effect On Families