The paper examines the structure of selection that determines migrants’ welfare rights. Using illustrations from the UK, it confirms that migrants’ welfare rights are stratified by, and dependent on, immigration status. It describes the outcome of this structure and shows why welfare policies need to reclaim independence from immigration policies to which they have become tied. Using terms from Walzer (1983), an argument is made for ‘autonomy’ in these different ‘spheres’.
An alternative approach is suggested in which access to welfare provisions for migrants is made regardless of immigration status and is based instead on equal treatment and non-discrimination between migrants and nationals of the receiving country. Nationals are seen to be migrants’ comparators, and unequal treatment between them constitutes discrimination. Alternative approaches to migrants’ welfare include reliance on universal international human rights law, and approaches that take into account more radical, substantive equality values than equal treatment. We argue, however, that amongst the advantages of an equal treatment policy are the rights retained by national governments to exercise sovereignty in determining the shape of their welfare provisions whilst also engaging international law on human rights.