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On 8 November 2019, IMI researcher Katharina Natter was awarded a Cum Laude distinction for her PhD dissertation at the University of Amsterdam, entitled "Political Regimes and Immigration Policymaking. The Contrasting Cases of Morocco and Tunisia."

It is often assumed that there is a fundamental difference between immigration policymaking in democracies and autocracies, with democracies associated to liberal immigration policies and autocracies to migrants’ rights restrictions. But what if we start to look for similarities in immigration policymaking across political regimes? 

Katharina’s dissertation unpacks the role of political regimes in immigration policymaking. The contrasting cases of Morocco and Tunisia reveal that migrants’ rights do not go hand in hand with citizens’ political rights. In fact, democratic politics does not necessarily lead to immigration liberalization and autocratic policymaking can drive liberal reform, a dynamic Katharina calls the ‘illiberal paradox’. Extensive fieldwork, semi-structured interviewing and archival research show that in Tunisia, the imperative to safeguard the democratic transition has led to a deliberate depoliticization of immigration that ultimately fostered restrictive immigration policies; while in Morocco, immigration liberalization was central to the monarchy’s authoritarian consolidation strategy. 

Through the in-depth analysis of immigration policy drivers and dynamics in Morocco and Tunisia, Katharina’s dissertation advances general theorizing on the role of political regimes in immigration policymaking. It specifies the extent of a ‘regime effect’ in immigration politics and teases out similarities in policymaking across the ‘democracy/autocracy’ divide, suggesting that the theoretical toolbox for analysing immigration policymaking is not as fundamentally different across political regimes as often expected. Ultimately, this research also demonstrates the value of immigration policy research for broader political sociology and comparative politics debates on modern statehood.

Katharina’s research was funded by the European Research Council Migration as Development (MADE) project led by Hein de Haas at the University of Amsterdam.

To read more about Katharina Natter’s research, see: