When Borders Migrate: Reconstructing the Category of ‘International Migrant’

Using the Baltic states as an empirical example of a wider social problem of categorisation and naming, this article explores the statistical categories of ‘international migrant/foreign-born’ population used in three major cross-national data sources (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Eurostat and The World Bank Indicators (WBI)). We argue that these seemingly politically neutral categories ignore historical processes of state formation and migration, and privilege the current ethnonational definition of the state. We demonstrate how, in regions with recent geopolitical changes, the international migrant category’s spatial and temporal constraints produce distorted population parameters, by marking those who have never crossed sovereign states’ borders as international migrants. In certain social contexts, applying the international migrant category to those who have never crossed international borders shapes and legitimises restrictive citizenship policies and new forms of social exclusion. We further argue that, when uncritically adopting this category, transnational institutions assert territorial imaginaries embedded in ethnonational political discourses and legitimise exclusionary citizenship policies.

Anastasia Gorodzeisky and Inna Leykin, When Borders Migrate: Reconstructing the Category of ‘International Migrant’, Sociology, 2019.