Social Policy Review 34
Analysis and Debate in Social Policy, 2022

6: Caught between the local and the (trans)national: a street-level analysis of EU migrants’ access to social benefits in German job centres


Immigration fundamentally challenges the social contract of European welfare states, which is based on the idea of redistribution within a closed, nationally bound community of welfare. This chapter explores how local social administrators deal with the challenges of solidarity and fairness within an increasingly culturally diverse society when legal entitlements remain ambiguous. It approaches the question through a detailed examination of the German case, as the country constitutes one of Europe’s ethnically most diverse countries. The study is based on over 100 in-depth qualitative interviews with local social administrators, migrant claimants and welfare advisers and explores the inequalities in access when claiming welfare benefits and associated services in local job centres. The findings point to three dominant styles of decision-making, namely generous, restrictive or indifferent gatekeeping based on nationality and perceived belonging of a claimant. Street-level bureaucrats informally, yet systematically, sort benefit claimants, with non-nationals more likely to be subject to administrative discretion that creates barriers to receiving benefits. The findings show how street-level practices affect possibilities for social and economic inclusion and exclusion regardless of Germany’s manifest legal obligations to EU citizens.

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