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Do immigrants at bay keep the xenophobes away? Immigrant rights and public opposition to immigration

Migration
Social Welfare
Immigration
Public Opinion
Philipp Lutz
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Philipp Lutz
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Abstract

Large-scale immigration regularly evokes various concerns among citizens of liberal democracies and mobilizes political opposition. National governments often seek to address these concerns by restricting the rights of immigrants. An inferior legal status is expected to limit the effects of immigration on society and make natives more willing to accept new immigrants. Despite this prominent policy rationale of reconciling the economic need for immigrants with political concerns, we lack empirical evidence on whether such policies help to attenuate opposition to immigration. This study provides an analysis of the untested assumption that the public of receiving countries is more open towards immigration if the associated rights of immigrants are more limited. For that purpose, I run a factorial survey experiment in Switzerland and the United States to estimate the conditional nature of immigration preferences. The study makes several contributions. First, I provide a comprehensive assessment of immigration preference regarding immigrants’ right to permanent residence and access to social benefits. Do people accept higher levels of immigration if immigrants are treated as temporary guests and are excluded from welfare benefits? Second, I assess how immigrants’ characteristics shape the relationship between numbers vs. rights in the individual preferences of immigrant admission. The findings shed light on the conditions under which the public of receiving countries is willing to accept immigrants.