How individual attitudes are mapped into immigration policy outcomes

Giovanni Facchini, Anna Maria Mayda, Tue, 05/27/2008



According to recent estimates, about 11 million individuals migrate each year. Although this might look as a large number, it implies that worldwide only one in six hundred individuals changes country of residence over a twelve months period. Provided that the income gap between poor sending countries and rich destination countries continues to be very pronounced and transport and communication costs have drastically declined compared to one hundred years ago, it appears that restrictive migration policies are key determinants of the limited flows actually observed. The authors of CEPR DP6835 examine the process through which individual attitudes are mapped into these immigration policy outcomes in democratic societies.

Leaving aside non-economic considerations, given the large efficiency gains brought about by migration to host countries, a welfare maximising government should allow a substantially larger number of immigrants than the one actually observed. Hence, a purely normative economic framework is not well suited to explain the policies currently implemented. This paper is carrying out an in depth investigation of the determinants of individual attitudes towards immigration. The authors supplement the 1995 round of the ISSP dataset with the newly released 2003 survey to assess whether individual attitudes towards migration in the post September 11 world are still consistent with predictions and find that economic factors have not been overshadowed by emotional considerations. If preferences are aggregated through a simple majority voting mechanism, the authors find that across countries of different income levels, only a small minority of voters favour more open migration policies, which can be an explanation of the restrictive policies in place. Policy makers seem to take public opinion into account when formulating migration policy.

At the same time, given the extent of opposition to immigration revealed by voters’ attitudes, the question arises why migration is allowed to take place at all. The answer lies with pressure by domestic interest groups, many of which favour more open migration policies. For example, during the ‘dot com’ boom at the end of the nineties, high tech firms have intensively lobbied the US congress to increase the number of H1-B visas. The authors focus on the United States and use a panel covering the period 1994 – 2005 to study pressure groups by differentiating labour according to both skill levels and occupations. They find systematic evidence suggesting that lobbying activity of organized labour leads to a reduction in the inflow of foreign workers in the same occupation/education cell and to an increase in the inflow of foreign workers in different occupation/education cell.

Summarised by CEPR staff

DP6835 From individual attitudes towards migrants to migration policy outcomes: Theory and evidence

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Topics:  Migration

Tags:  immigration, immigration policy, Interest Groups, Median Voter, Political Economy



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