This paper explores the link between the political orientation of governments and the restrictiveness of immigration policies. Although it is frequently assumed that left-wing governments are more pro-immigration than right-wing governments, this link is more complex in practice, partly because parties may favour and oppose the migration of different migrant categories and parties may be divided internally. Furthermore, political negotiating, the influence of (particularly business and trade union) lobbies, as well as the international diffusion of policy trends may water down parties’ ideological preferences and lead to much more fuzzy policy outcomes at government level.
Drawing on the DEMIG POLICY database tracking migration policy changes and two datasets on political institutions, we assess the effect of government party orientation on different dimensions of immigration policy in 21 European and traditional Anglo-Saxon immigration countries between 1975 and 2012. Results consistently indicate that there is no clear association between the political orientation of governments and the restrictiveness of migration policies. Instead, we find that the restrictiveness of migration policies is mainly driven by factors such as economic growth and unemployment, recent immigration levels and political system factors such as electoral systems or the level of federalism.