The Determinants of Immigration-Policy Preferences in Advanced Economies: A Cross-Country Study

Article excerpt


The process of globalization continues to be the subject of considerable debate. Controversy surrounds many aspects of globalization, including the impact that increasing trade and capital flows have on economies, the role and influence international institutions should have on national policies, and the effect of immigration policies on destination economies. Recently, particularly in Europe, policies governing legal immigration are at the center of political debate. Public views toward immigration policy are the focus of this paper.

It is a widely held belief that increased immigration decreases workers incomes in the destination country and increases unemployment among native workers [Friedberg and Hunt, 1995]. Though each concern represents a relevant economic question, popular beliefs and economic theory seem at odds with each other. In fact, most economic studies find small net gains in GDP per capita to host countries from increased immigration and that past immigration has had no obvious impact on unemployment in the host country. (For evidence and a summary of the literature, see Coppel, et al. [2001]).

This tension between the public opinion of the perceived effects of immigration on a host economy and the actual economic impact creates an interesting policy problem. On the one hand, special interest groups and non-governmental organizations are becoming more globally organized, thereby increasing their capabilities of influencing economic policy in several countries simultaneously [QECD, 1996]. This influence is, at least in part, based on popular public opinion. On the other hand, as suggested above, a significant portion of public opinion is inconsistent with actual economic outcomes. Consequently, there is the possibility that policies increasingly are affected by misguided opinion rather than data or theory. As a result, it is a valuable exercise to study the determinants of individual level immigration-policy preferences so economists can better understand possible sources of misinformation among the general public.

There are a number of excellent studies in the economics literature on the effects of immigration on host economies, and of immigration. Yet, as Scheve and Slaughter [2001] point out, little research has focused on the determinants of individual preferences regarding immigration policy. They argue that only after individual preferences are understood can reasonable policy-making efforts be made.

This paper extends Scheve and Slaughter's analysis of the U.S. to present new evidence on immigration-policy preferences across ten advanced economies. The data is unique in that it results from a single survey instrument employed during a given year across a number of economies. This study, therefore, contributes to the literature in a two important ways. First, it tests whether skill level-as measured by education and relative income-is a robust determinant of immigration-policy preferences across a large sample of advanced economies. Second, it considers not only aggregated results across ten countries, but also examines results for reach individual country included in the sample.

The empirical examination shows that skill level is a robust determinant of immigration-policy preferences, that is, less skilled workers are more likely to want limits on immigration. The results also suggest that individuals are more likely to favor policies limiting immigration as they: (1) are older, (2) are members of trade unions, and (3) classify their political ideology as conservative. The results also indicate that individuals who are not citizens of their country, or whose parents are not citizens of the respondent's country are less likely to favor policies that restrict immigration. Individual country-level regression results do vary, in particular with regard to the influence of trade union membership. This last result suggests a need for further research on how political opinions and activities of trade unions vary across countries. …