Outsiders' Business: A Critical Review of Research on Immigrant Entrepreneurship [1]

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Authors: Jan Rath and Robert Kloosterman
Date: Fall 2000
From: International Migration Review(Vol. 34, Issue 3)
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc.
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 8,966 words

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In the Netherlands, a significant proportion of the immigrant population has established itself as self-employed entrepreneurs in the past few years, a process which has caught the attention of researchers. This article critically examines the output of these researchers. It is concluded that although research in the Netherlands has brought to light a number of interesting facts, it has not contributed a great deal to our understanding of immigrant entrepreneurship. The harvest is one-sided, local and theoretically not very far-reaching. Research on immigrant entrepreneurship has been dominated by social scientists, who show a great deal of interest in ethnocultural characteristics and processes of ethnocultural incorporation. In so doing, they reduce immigrant entrepreneurship to an ethnocultural phenomenon existing within an economic and institutional vacuum. It is suggested that researchers seek linkages with the latest developments in international theory-building and that they pay more systematic attention to the structural changes in the urban economy and the institutional framework of the welfare state within which entrepreneurs operate.

Although nearly all Dutch politicians are still very reluctant to acknowledge it, the Netherlands has become undeniably a country of immigration. For over three decades now, the number of immigrants has exceeded that of emigrants. The composition of this immigration has been very heterogeneous in terms of countries of origin, causes of migration and endowment of human capital, and also very different in sociocultural orientation. Moreover, this composition has been anything but stable over the years. In the 1960s, for instance, so-called guestworkers from Mediterranean countries constituted an important category of immigrants. More recently, immigrants from advanced economies (mainly other EU-member states and North America) and refugees from less-developed countries, mainly Asia and Africa (e.g., Somalia, Iran and Iraq), are on the rise.

This continuing immigration raises the question of which socioeconomic paths of insertion in Dutch society have been accessible for newcomers. This question is relevant both for obvious policy reasons as well as from a scientific point of view. For most of the more than three decades of continuous immigration, both policymakers and scientists in the Netherlands have been phrasing answers in terms of employment. Approximately 80 percent of the immigrant labor force population in the Netherlands in 1996 worked as employees (CBS, 1996:43). Those immigrants who are not employed are commonly considered to be looking for jobs and their insertion is first and foremost achieved by providing employment for them. This understandable focus on salaried employment is, however, less and less justified as immigrants set up shop in increasing numbers. In 1987, 9,393 immigrants from the so-called target groups of minority policies were self-employed, a mere 3.3 percent of the corresponding labor force. [2] Ten years later, this number almost trebled to 27,380 immigrant entrepreneurs, which amounts to 7.4 percent of the corresponding labor force. The percentage of self-employed among Turks is rather higher and even exceeds the national average: 12.2 percent among Turks against 10.2 percent for the entire population (Tillaart and Poutsma, 1998:39-40).

Notwithstanding the overall focus of most researchers on...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Rath, Jan, and Robert Kloosterman. "Outsiders' Business: A Critical Review of Research on Immigrant Entrepreneurship [1]." International Migration Review, vol. 34, no. 3, 2000, p. 657. Accessed 2 Mar. 2021.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A66769308