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Gender and the ‘integrationist turn’ : Comparative perspectives on marriage migration in the UK and Sweden

Year: 2014

Type of text: Vetenskaplig artikel 

Published by: Amsterdam University Press 

Language: English

Author: Suruchi Thapar-Björkert & Karin Borevi 

Pages: 17

Available at:

Short description of text 

This journal article explores how the UK’s and Sweden’s policies on marriage migration through comparing the two nations approaches. A civic-integrationist perspective and gendered lens, particularly highlighting Okin’s critique of the multicultural project and its consequences on minority women, whilst also highlighting the critics of this positioning, pointing out the essentialising nature of Okin’s arguments. These perspectives are employed to illuminate the various arguments that underpin the policies that have been implemented regarding marriage migration. 

Most important results

“We draw on the interlinkages between three sets of arguments: first, a concern with women’s individual rights, second, issues of national identity and third, a growing concern with economic needs of the nation. We demonstrate how these three arguments can be invoked to suggest policy barriers for marriage immigration in three ways: 1) civic conditioning (e.g. language and civic requirements); 2) age criteria for transnational marriages and 3) income requirements. This positions marriage as the new ‘gatekeeper’ of Fortress Europe” (p.161)

“The right wing populist party, the Sweden Democrats, in Parliament since 2010, goes against the grain by campaigning for the introduction of all of the above mentioned three types of requirements to restrict marriage immigration. The party wants to introduce a ‘24 years rule’ for transnational marriages, similar to what applies in Denmark since 2002 (cf. Schmidt, 2011). It advocates a ‘national attachment requirement’, so that a spouse is allowed admission only if the couple – taken together – has greater ‘attachment’ to Sweden than to any other country, and also an obligation for both spouses to sign a declaration where they pledge themselves to take part in social life in Sweden and to comply with Swedish laws and regulations. The party also wants to introduce an income requirement, so that the sponsor must be self-supportive since at least one year; be able to take full economic responsibility for the joining spouse the first five years after arrival plus pay a one-time fee to cover state expenditures related to Swedish language instruction and other integration measures which the spouse will be offered once in the country (Parliamentary Committee on Social Insurance 2011/12:12). All of our the three lines of arguments are also identified in the Sweden Democrats’ justifications of these restrictions; to protect national identity and Swedishness; to limit the state’s expenditures related to immigration and to reduce men’s violence against women.” (p.158-159)

“For instance, in 2012, a government inquiry on forced marriages and child marriages explicitly rejected the idea of introducing a special age limit for marriage, when one of the spouses was from abroad.” (p.159)

“In compliance with the dominant Swedish approach of equal treatment, the inquiry maintained that this should not be pursued ‘since it would mean a strong limitation of an adult persons’ right to marry and live together and a negative special treatment of transnational marriages’ (SOU, 2012:35, p. 400). Instead the inquiry proposed that practices of forced marriages and child marriages should be counteracted via making it a criminal offence through a special penalty stipulation.” (p.159) 

“In 2004 a law change was introduced, defining all marriages (also those contracted abroad) as invalid if one (or both) of the spouses was younger than 18 years and if one of them was a Swedish resident or citizen (SFS, 1987:230). In the preparatory works, it was further clearly expressed that the wish to comply with specific cultural traditions or religious customs was not a legitimate cause for the authorities to approve the right to exemption and allow marriage at a lower age than 18 (Government Bill, 2003/04:48, p. 45)” (p.159)

“The policy debates around the issue of honour violence and forced marriages, can be characterised as a ‘retreat from multiculturalism’, driven by concerns that previous ‘multicultural’ ambitions to allow minorities the possibilities to maintain their cultural traditions implies a risk of resulting in the violation of individual minority members rights, notably women’s. It also provoked a heated academic debate (cf. Ekström, 2009), where some argued that the celebration in Swedish politics of a ‘multicultural ideal’ implied that society turned a blind eye to abuses of women and children (e.g. Wikan, 2004; Schlytter, 2004; Kurkiala, 2003; Hirdmann, 2004), while others instead held that the attention given to political concerns and introduction of policy measures to combat honour violence and forced marriages were grounded in false, simplistic – or even racist – understandings of immigrant communities’ cultures as essentially gender-unequal and different from the Swedish majority, which cemented ideas of ‘us’ and ‘them’ (e.g. Eldén, 2003; Kamali, 2004; De los Reyes & Molina, 2002” (p.159-160)

“As compared to regulations in other countries, the Swedish income requirement is very liberal – both in terms of what income is demanded and in relation to exemption rights. The requirement was justified as a way to ‘create an incentive and a motivating force’ for new arrivals to quickly integrate into the labour and housing market (Government bill 2009/10:77)” (p.160) 

“the income requirement was said to promote gender equality in creating similar incentives for men and women to get a job and become self-supportive, and also in creating incentives for more gender-equal sharing of the duties within the household (SOU 2008:114; Government Bill 2009/10:7” (p.160-161) 

“Sweden applies a two-years period before a joining spouse is eligible to apply for a permanent residence permit. If the relationship is discontinued during this period, the person loses his/her residence right. The rule was introduced in 1979, and justified as a way to prevent sham marriages and abuse of the right to family reunification. Over the years, it has been criticised, due to the vulnerable conditions of dependency it creates for the joining spouse (e.g. SOU 2012:45) but the political majority has repeatedly argued that it fulfils a ‘double aim’: 1) it prevents ‘sham marriages’ and abusive use of the right to family reunification, and 2) it allows the authorities not to make the more profound (and lengthy) examinations of how genuine and ‘serious’ a relationship actually is, when deciding on family reunification applications, than would be the case without it.” (p.161) 

Theoretical perspective/framework

Civic-integrationism, gender 


Policy analysis 

Suggestions for further research

How and if the changes in the asylum laws have impacted family migration. 

Summarised by: Linnea Roslund Gustavsson