Immigration Policy Theory: Thinking Beyond the ‘Western Liberal-Democratic’ Box
Theories on immigration policy-making almost exclusively focus on ‘Western liberal democracies’. Explicitly or implicitly, they link specific dynamics of immigration policy to liberal democracy and herewith suggest a ‘regime effect’, leaving immigration policy-making in other political systems strikingly undertheorized. This paper challenges the theoretical usefulness of categorizing countries as Western/non-Western or democratic/autocratic and calls for a more nuanced theorizing of immigration policy. It asks: How do political systems shape immigration policy-making? Rather than offering alternative theories for ‘non-Western’ or ‘autocratic’ immigration policy-making, this paper proposes a two-dimensional classification of immigration policy theories. It distinguishes ‘issue-specific’ theories that capture immigration policy processes regardless of the political system in place from ‘regime-specific’ theories whose insights are tied to certain features of a political system. The paper also advances the ‘illiberal paradox’ hypothesis to account for the enactment of liberal immigration policies by illiberal, autocratic states. These theoretical reflections emerged through a confrontation of the existing theoretical literature with empirical insights on immigration policy-making in 21st century Morocco and Tunisia. Based on 110 semi-structured interviews conducted with political, institutional and civil society actors in both countries in 2016 and 2017, the paper illustrates how domestic and international institutions, interests, and ideas shaped immigration regimes in Morocco's monarchy as opposed to Tunisia's democratic transition. By expanding theories beyond the ‘Western liberal-democratic’ box and investigating the broader role of political systems in immigration politics, this paper hopes to provide some food for thought for a more global theorisation of immigration policy.