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This paper outlines the conceptual and methodological underpinnings of DEMIG POLICY, a new database tracking major changes in migration policies of 45 countries between 1946 and 2013. Besides significantly extending the geographical and historical coverage of existing migration policy databases, DEMIG POLICY attempts to overcome the common ‘receiving country bias’ by also including emigration policies. This paper describes the process of compiling migration policy data and shares insights into the theoretical foundations and the operationalization of a coding system that disaggregates policy packages into their sub-components, categorises specific policy types and target groups, and assesses changes in policy restrictiveness and their relative importance. This paper also addresses the challenges involved in the various phases of the database compilation. It stresses that theoretical considerations should guide the making of well-reasoned, non-arbitrary decisions on database features; and that transparency with regards to policy selection and coding decisions is essential to achieve consistency. The paper also underlines the importance of grounding the compilation and analysis of policy databases in a thorough understanding of the historical and political contexts in which those policies have emerged. Finally, the paper discusses the potential of DEMIG POLICY and its flexible coding system to increase insights into the nature and evolution of migration policies, and their interaction with migration and broader processes of economic and political change.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

Publication Date




Total pages



migration policies, emigration policies, immigration policies, methodology, database, coding