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Abstract

This article focuses on gendered discourses in integration policy and the problems immigrants pose in the reproduction of inequalities in a number of European countries. There has been little consideration of how gender categories operate in relation to broader political discourses around the construction of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and the constitution of national social and political communities and identities. Yet gender issues have become significant in the backlash against multiculturalism and gender and sexual relations have moved to the centre of debates about the necessity to enforce integration, if not assimilation. The first section outlines recent developments in the immigration-integration nexus in different European states. The second section draws out some of the reasons for the focus on family migration and spouses who are seen as the main importers of the ‘backward’ practices and with ‘doubtful’ parenting practices for future generations of citizens. The third section tackles the shift of current debates about integration of migrant women from the periphery, where they were largely invisible or mere appendages of men, to the centre, where they have acquired in the process a heightened, though not necessarily positive, visibility. Too often, representations of migrant women are based on a homogenised image of uneducated and backward migrants as victims of patriarchal cultures, legitimizing in this way the use of immigration controls to reduce the numbers entering and to tackle broader social issues, as has clearly been the case with forced marriages. Furthermore, the more discourses focus on Muslim women and Islam as inimical to European societies, the more the debate becomes culturalised and marginalises the socio-economic dimension of integration and the structural inequalities migrants face. Thus pre-entry tests may have less to do with integration than with a desire to reduce the flow of marriage migrants or to raise their human capital.