Comparing Immigration Policies Under the IMPALA Database

A person’s decision to migrate is affected by various economic, political, and social factors not only in the country of origin (push factors), but also in the destination country (pull factors). More specifically, push factors are elements that cause people to leave their country of origin and pull factors attract migrants to the destination country. Push factors can include lack of economic opportunities (unemployment and low wages), political instability, natural disasters, and violence. On the other hand, pull factors can include the proximity between two countries as well as economic opportunities, social networks, and a liberal reputation. The liberal reputation of the country of destination refers to the procedures governing the admission of foreigners, for example, visas. Governments of recipient countries restrict these policies with the aim of diminishing its attractiveness, and thus, the number of people who migrate.

In the paper “Comparing Immigration Policies: An Overview from the IMPALA Database,” Beine et al. present preliminary results from a database that compares immigration or admission policies for nine countries between 1999 and 2008. The countries under analysis are Australia, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Specifically, the authors analyzed the complexity and stringency of immigration regulations among different countries, looking across varying years and types of migration.

The IMPALA (International Migration Law and Policy Analysis) database is a collaborative approach to classify, measure, and compare immigration policies related to citizenship acquisition and to economic, family, humanitarian/asylum, and student migration. Before the creation of the IMPALA database, there was no comparable or reliable database on immigration regulations. In this sense, the IMPALA database enables researches and policymakers to assess the trends, restrictiveness, and effects of immigration regulations across countries, years, and immigration issues.

The results from the IMPALA database analysis show an increase in regulatory complexity, that is, an increase in the number of differentiated migration regulations from 1999 to 2008. Specifically, Germany had the most complex regulatory framework and Spain the least. The results also suggested an increase in regulatory restrictiveness. For example, language proficiency or minimum future expected earnings have been established as requirements for a person to be accepted into a country. Switzerland is on average the most stringent country and Spain the least.

The authors found an unproportioned increase in the restrictiveness of regulations towards low-skilled migrants compared to high-skilled migrants, as well as an increase in the differential treatment between both types of workers. In the United States, this difference is quite significant as immigration regulations are twice as restrictive for low-skilled compared to high-skilled migrants, while in Switzerland the stringency score is the same for both types of workers. On the other hand, Germany, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg have implemented less restrictive regulations for high-skilled migrants instead of tightening regulations for low-skilled migrants. Finally, with respect to the treatment of high-skilled migrants, the United States is the least restrictive and Switzerland the most; and with respect to low-skilled workers, the United States is the most stringent and Australia the least.

Regarding family reunification programs, for six of the nine countries, the authors found an increase in the stringency of regulations for partners of residents, while the contrary was true for children of residents as six of the nine countries have implemented less stringent regulations. Furthermore, over time the restrictiveness of asylum regulations have increased, with the exceptions of Luxembourg, France, and Switzerland, where in these two last countries there has been no change.

Although efforts in recent years have been made to achieve a more equitable distribution of refugees across European countries, competition over the restrictiveness of migration policies continues to avoid lenient asylum policies which may cause an influx of refugees. These policies have undermined the security interests of forced migrants. A more comprehensive, common set of migration policies could reduce not only the unequal distribution of refugee burdens, but also the need for such restrictive policy measures that undermine the security of forced migrants.

The IMPALA database analysis provides the first systematic evidence on the stringency of immigration policy and the treatment across different types of migrants. While governments restrict immigration policies to reduce incentives to migrate, evidence suggests that structural pull factors, such as a low rate of unemployment and high economic growth, are the main factors that influence the decision to migrate. Given that most pull factors are economic incentives and not politically motivated, migration will continue to happen, albeit on a limited scale, despite the presence of restrictive immigration regulations.

Article source: Beine, Michael; Anna Boucher; Brian Burgoon; Mary Crock; Justin Gest; Michael Hiscox; Patrick McGovern; Hillel Rapoport; Joep Schaper; and Eiko Thielemann. “Comparing Immigration Policies: An Overview from the IMPALA Database.International Migration Review, (2016).

Featured photo: cc/(zimmytws, photo ID: 660849228, from iStock by Getty Images)

Daniela Bergmann
Daniela is interested in social and economic development. Prior to attending Harris, she worked at the Central Bank of Mexico and also has experience in the private and academic sectors. She holds a degree in Economics from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.

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