Migration and Classification: Towards a Multiple Migration Idiom

In various countries, public authorities, research institutes and civil-society organisations are struggling to classify migrants and their children. When and how can we classify according to origin? Making a distinction according to migrant groups can be useful when it comes to monitoring problems, developing policy and determining its effectiveness. However, such a classification is justified only if there is no alternative and the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Outdated categorisation and labeling

The categorisation and labelling commonly used in the Dutch migration debate are outdated. The term ‘allochtonen’, used to describe people with at least one parent born abroad, and the term ‘autochtonen’, used for people whose parents were born in the Netherlands, are no longer appropriate. The same applies to the distinction between ‘western’ and ‘non-western’. Migrants are nowadays so different as regards country of origin and the reason for migration that they can no longer by covered by these single umbrella terms. Furthermore, these labels create a sense of exclusion and subordination.

Variable distinction

The area of research or the policy issue must determine the terminology, not the reverse. Alternative classifications could be labour migrants, family migrants or asylum migrants. What is needed is a multiple and variable distinction according to origin groups (e.g. ‘residents with a Dutch, Turkish, Polish background’). When describing the total population make-up, the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), in consultation with Statistics Netherlands (CBS), refers to ‘residents with a Dutch and a migration background’.

Diversity of classifications

Migration and classification is an investigation of the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy about when and how can we classify according to origin. The aim of this investigation is to contribute to a multiple migration idiom that is more appropriate to the present migration diversity. In the descriptive part of the investigation, the current classification practice in the Netherlands and other European countries is considered, the criticisms of that practice and the alternatives. In the evaluation, assessment frameworks are formulated to determine when it is meaningful to classify according to origin and what requirement should then be imposed on clustering and labelling. The current migration diversity requires a diversity of classifications.