Divergent Migration Policies during Macroeconomic Downturns: A Relationship between Citizenship Law and Political Calculation

Woo, Yu Jin, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Leblang, David, Politics, University of Virginia

Along with flows of goods and capital, the movement of people adds another dimension to complex interdependence in the international economy. Scholars in the field of international political economy have long been searching for causal relationships among these factors since none of them can function alone without a consequence on the others. Thus, it is no surprise that migration policies of countries demand an in-depth study, since they function as core determinants of the direction and volume of people’s movements. In order to understand the enactment of certain types of migration policy, we need to examine the underlying incentives behind these policies as well as how these motivations are influenced by external conditions. As an attempt to study this issue, this research is motivated by a puzzle: Why do democratic countries enact different types of migration policies when they face macroeconomic decline?

I argue that citizenship law (law of soil or blood) sets a fundamental frame for migration policymaking in consolidated democracies, which function largely as destination countries from a global perspective. Here, I focus on politician’s preference formation process, and assume that politicians would push for a migration policy that would enlarge his probability of remaining in office. To achieve this, he needs to strategically calculate how to maximize his vote share.

Under such a circumstance, citizenship law plays two essential roles. First, it shapes public attitude on migrants. This mechanism speculates that natives in jus soli (law by soil) regime will feel less threatened by migrants. This is because migrants tend to have a wider avenue to obtain citizenship of the host country under this principal. Thus, frequent and consistent interaction between natives and those migrants allow for the natives to re-categorize the migrants into in- group members, and this would reduce overall anti-migration sentiment. In this sense, politicians in jus soli regime gain leverage on decision-making procedure on migrant issues, compared to those in jus sanguinis (law by blood) regime. Second, citizenship law changes the size of electorate. This mechanism posits that politicians in jus soli regime have a stronger incentive to enact a policy that favors migrants, because this citizenship law indicates a higher probability that migrants would obtain voting rights, and thus, their votes count. In sum, I argue that migration policy (especially on entry) would be more generous (both on entry and rights)
in jus soli regime.

This political calculation based on public tolerance and electoral concern toward migrants is what brings about divergence on migration policies during macroeconomic downturns. While there is a general tendency that politicians prefer to impose severer migration policies during economic decline, this pattern would be more apparent in jus sanguinis countries’ entry policies since politicians face higher anti-migrant sentiment as well as a lower probability to coopt votes from migrants.

In order to assess validity of this argument, I first empirically test each mechanism by using various datasets. After confirming significance of the two mechanisms, I examine the effect of citizenship law on actual migration policy outcomes, reformulating data collected by International Migration Institute dataset (2016). The overall results support my claim that jus soli countries tend to enact more open migration policies, particularly on migrants' entries, and this difference becomes even more salient during bad economy. My qualitative section further includes case studies on the United States and Japan.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Migration Policy, Citizenship Law
Issued Date: