Opposition to immigration

Opposition to immigration exists in most states with immigration, and has become a significant political issue in many countries. Immigration in the modern sense refers to movement of people from one state or territory to another state or territory where they are not citizens. Illegal immigration is immigration in contravention of a state's immigration laws.

In the United States, the principal concerns expressed by those opposed to immigration are the perceived effects economic costs (job competition and burdens on education and social services); negative environmental impact from accelerated population growth; increased crime rates, and in the long run, changes in traditional identities and values. In Spain, surveys show the issues that arouse most controversy are, "in descending order, jobs, crime and housing."

Opposition to immigration ranges from opposition to any immigration to ones nation to calls for varying kinds of immigration reforms that further restrict immigration and may go hand in hand with measures to fight causes of flight.

Anti-immigration arguments

National identity

Some critics of immigration argue that the presence of immigrants may distort the national identity of the native population. That means that the native population opposes immigration because they fear they may lose their sense of belonging to their own nation, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture, language and politics.

National identity can be an important factor for social peace in cases where there are intra-national divides. For example, a 2015 study showed that the educational content of Suharto's Indonesia emphasizing the national unity of Indonesia was an important cause of improved inter-ethnic and inter-religious relationships.

Isolation, separation and stability

Immigrants may isolate themselves in their own communities, forming self-organized communities, ghettos or parallel societies where they live according to their own culture, rather than assimilating to the native culture with a reduced or minimal spatial, social and cultural contact with the majority society into which they have immigrated. Such ethnic enclaves can be the result of humans naturally liking to be around people like themselves. They might not learn the local language and might eventually undermine the national unity, as well as the cultural and religious unity of the native country. Research by Jennifer Neal of Michigan State University suggests that ethnic enclaves promote social cohesion at the cost of decreasing tolerance between groups and that their size, autonomy and proximity are factors. Some also suggest to devolve more power to local communities.

Immigration may adversely affect social and political stability.

Increased competition

Economic arguments concentrate on competition for employment, and the higher burdens that some groups of immigrants may impose on social welfare systems, health systems, housing and public schools of the native state. For example, Denmark's strict immigration law reform has saved the country 6.7 billion euros compared to previous more permissive approach, according to a 2011 report from the Danish Integration Ministry.

Environmental space, quality and resource scarcity

The following are more an argument against overpopulation than against immigration, but sometimes overpopulation is caused by immigration. Some people think there is a certain size of land needed to provide for a population ("environmental space"), e.g. to provide for the population's consumption, including absorption of waste products. Immigrants, in this logic, such as a new born child, reduce the per capita size of land of the native country. This idea dates back to Robert Malthus who claimed this in a similar way in the early 19th century.

Some are concerned about urban sprawl and congestion, alterations in the wildlife and natural environment of the state, and an expansive carbon footprint due to immigration. Furthermore, some are concerned over a state's scarce resources, dwindling water reserves, energy, pauperized soils and solid waste.


Immigrants (and cross-border movements in general) can bring infectious diseases uncommon to the native population from their home countries which some perceive as a threat of significance in opposition to immigration.

Some point out that this threat is often overstated by opponents.

Immigrant crime

Opponents of immigration often claim that immigrants contribute to higher crime rates. However, research suggests that people tend to overestimate the relationship between immigration and criminality. The academic literature provides mixed findings for the relationship between immigration and crime worldwide, but finds for the United States that immigration either has no impact on the crime rate or that it reduces the crime rate.

Military unity

Some concerns regarding immigration can be found in perceived military loyalty, especially if the country of emigration becomes involved in a war with the country of immigration. Particularly if a country finds itself in the need of drafting.

Dangerous journeys

Many people make dangerous migration journeys on which many have died. Harshly restricting immigration and making these restrictions known to potential emigrants may prevent them from taking such dangerous journeys.

Import of culture

Immigrants bring their culture with them. The immigrants' thinking, their norms, practices, customs and values shape, extend and influence the native country's culture (Leitkultur). Some such extensions and influences might not be desired by parts of the native population, for reasons that may include less civilised cultural practices, restrictions as well as collisions with the native country's norms, laws and values in general.

Welfare costs

Opponents of immigration often state that immigrants have a net negative effect on public coffers mainly due to the provisioning of medical care and welfare.

Various factors influence the impact of immigrants to a nation's public coffers and their use of welfare. While immigrants can improve a state's welfare system by for example counteracting trends of aging populations their net economic impact might also be negative. George Borjas, economics professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, states that "the more unskilled the immigrant, the more likely the immigrant will be a fiscal burden". High-skilled immigrants have better labor market prospects than those admitted based on kinship ties or for humanitarian reasons. It also depends on the tenures, wages and ages of the immigrants and the country's integration system.

Damage to migrants' home countries

Some opponents of immigration argue that emigration of highly skilled or well-educated individuals may hurt their home countries - which could otherwise benefit from them and build up their economy and improve their social and political system (i.e. Brain drain). However, the notion of a "brain drain" remains largely unsupported in the academic literature though. According to economist Michael Clemens, it has not been shown that restrictions on high-skill emigration reduce shortages in the countries of origin. According to development economist Justin Sandefur, "there is no study out there... showing any empirical evidence that migration restrictions have contributed to development." Hein de Haas, Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam, describes the brain drain as a "myth". Research suggests that emigration (both low-and high-skilled) is beneficial both to the sending countries in terms of economy, education, and liberal democracy.

No solution to underlying problems

Immigration may be the outcome of problems in the migrants' countries of origin. Open immigration policies and efforts do not address these problems. However, just keeping borders closed does not address them either.

Jeanne Park of the Council on Foreign Relations recommends European leaders to address the root causes of migration such as helping to broker an end to Syria's civil war, restoring stability to Libya, and upping aid to sub-Saharan Africa. According to her barring a political solution to these regional crises, Europe will continue to struggle with migrant inflows. Concerning the migratory and refugee movements in and from the Horn of Africa Günther Schröder notes that greater efforts are needed to deal with its causes. A report by the German Caritasverband states that only a long-term strategy that differentiates between combating the causes for migration in the countries of origin and the development of an EU migration policy will be able to find solutions. Responding to the root causes of illegal migration flows involves cooperation with third countries, including migrants' countries of origin and transit and might manifest itself in conflict prevention / peacekeeping and state building. It has been suggested that safe havens be created within the country of origin. It can be argued that immigration means that people "flee" of their country's problems instead of organizing, building up pressure, being involved in constructive foreign aid programs or otherwise addressing them.

Causes of anti-immigration views


Older people tend to hold more negative views of immigration.

Country of origin

A study of Europe found that immigrants themselves tend to hold more favorable views of immigration. The same study found no evidence that the native-born children of immigrants hold more favorable views of immigration.

Economic status

A 2014 review study in the Annual Review of Political Science found that "there is little accumulated evidence that citizens primarily form attitudes about immigration based on its effects on their personal economic situation. This pattern has held in both North America and Western Europe, in both observational and experimental studies." A study of Europe found the unemployed hold less favorable views towards immigration than the employed.

Education and information

Levels of education are one of the best predictors of support for anti-immigration policies and parties. A 2016 study published in the European Economic Review found, on the basis of European survey data in the period 2002-2012, that "higher levels of education lead to a more positive reported attitude toward immigrants". The authors suggest that this is explained by weaker economic competition between immigrants and educated natives, a higher aversion to discrimination among the educated, and a greater belief in the positive effects of immigration among the educated. A 2013 study in the American Journal of Political Science lends some support to the economic competition theory, as highly educated Americans who exhibit lower levels of xenophobia tend to support reductions in the number of highly skilled immigrants. A 2007 study in International Organization found that "that people with higher levels of education and occupational skills are more likely to favor immigration regardless of the skill attributes of the immigrants in question. Across Europe, higher education and higher skills mean more support for all types of immigrants. These relationships are almost identical among individuals in the labor force, that is, those competing for jobs! and those not in the labor force." One paper finds "that each additional year of secondary schooling reduces opposition to immigration, and the belief that immigration erodes a country’s quality of life, by around ten percentage points."

One study of Japan found that exposure to information about the benefits of immigration substantially increased support for a more open immigration policy.

Geographic proximity to immigrants

Some research suggests that geographic proximity to immigrants drives anti-immigration views, while other research shows the reverse. Other research suggests that it is the perception of proximity, not actual proximity, that drives these views.

A 2017 study finds that "more rapid ethnic changes increase opposition to immigration and support for UKIP" in the United Kingdom.

Intergenerational transmission

Some research suggests that anti-immigration views are transmitted from older generations to younger generations. A 2017 study of Germany found "high association between fathers’ and sons’ right-wing extremist attitudes". A 2015 study found that British communities that were more acceptant of Jews in medieval times show much more tolerance towards 20th century immigrants (chiefly Caribbean and South Asian immigrants) and 21st century immigrants (chiefly Eastern European), and less support for the far right.

Sociopsychological explanations

A 2014 review study in the Annual Review of Political Science found that there is substantial evidence in support of sociopsychological explanations for anti-immigration views. A 2007 study in International Organization found that "the link between education and attitudes toward immigrants is driven by differences among individuals in cultural values and beliefs. More educated respondents are significantly less racist and place greater value on cultural diversity than do their counterparts; they are also more likely to believe that immigration generates benefits for the host economy as a whole."

A 2017 study in the American Political Science Review argued that hostility towards immigrants is driven by disgust and can be explained as a psychological mechanism designed to protect humans from disease.

Research suggests that the perception that there is a positive causal link between immigration and crime leads to greater support for anti-immigration policies or parties. Research also suggests that bigotry and immigrant alienation could exacerbate immigrant criminality and bigotry. For instance, University of California, San Diego political scientist Claire Adida, Stanford University political scientist David Laitin and Sorbonne University economist Marie-Anne Valfort argue "fear-based policies that target groups of people according to their religion or region of origin are counter-productive. Our own research, which explains the failed integration of Muslim immigrants in France, suggests that such policies can feed into a vicious cycle that damages national security. French Islamophobia—a response to cultural difference—has encouraged Muslim immigrants to withdraw from French society, which then feeds back into French Islamophobia, thus further exacerbating Muslims’ alienation, and so on. Indeed, the failure of French security in 2015 was likely due to police tactics that intimidated rather than welcomed the children of immigrants—an approach that makes it hard to obtain crucial information from community members about potential threats."

A study of the long-run effects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States found that the post-9/11 increase in hate crimes against Muslims decreased assimilation by Muslim immigrants. Controlling for relevant factors, the authors found that "Muslim immigrants living in states with the sharpest increase in hate crimes also exhibit: greater chances of marrying within their own ethnic group; higher fertility; lower female labour force participation; and lower English proficiency." A study of Germans found that the 9/11 terror attacks contributed to greater anti-immigrant sentiments. States that experience terrorist acts on their own soil or against their own citizens are more likely to adopt stricter restrictions on asylum recognition.

Opposition to immigration by country or region


The impact of Europeans was profoundly disruptive to Aboriginal life and, though the extent of violence is debated, there was considerable conflict on the frontier. At the same time, some settlers were quite aware they were usurping the Aborigines place in Australia. In 1845, settler Charles Griffiths sought to justify this, writing; "The question comes to this; which has the better right – the savage, born in a country, which he runs over but can scarcely be said to occupy ... or the civilized man, who comes to introduce into this ... unproductive country, the industry which supports life." Many events illustrate violence and resistance as Aborigines sought to protect their lands from invasion and as settlers and pastoralists attempted to establish their presence. In May 1804, at Risdon Cove, Van Diemen's Land, perhaps 60 Aborigines were killed when they approached the town.

A sparsely-populated continental nation with a predominantly European population, Australia has long feared being overwhelmed by the heavily populated Asian countries to its north. The standard policy after 1900 was "White Australia" which encouraged immigration from Britain, was suspicious of immigrants from Germany and elsewhere in Europe, and which was quite hostile to immigrants from Asia or the Pacific islands. After World War II, most Australians agreed that the country must "populate or perish". Immigration brought people from traditional sources such as the British Isles along with, for the first time, large numbers of Southern and Central Europeans. The abolition of the so-called 'White Australia policy' during the early 1970s led to a significant increase in immigration from Asian and other non-European countries.

In the 1996 election Pauline Hanson was elected to the federal seat of Oxley. In her controversial maiden speech to the House of Representatives, she expressed her belief that Australia "was in danger of being swamped by Asians". Hanson went on to form the One Nation Party, which initially won nearly one quarter of the vote in Queensland state elections before entering a period of decline due to internal disputes. The name "One Nation" was meant to signify national unity, in contrast to what Hanson claimed to see as an increasing division in Australian society caused by government policies favouring migrants (multiculturalism) and indigenous Australians.

Some Australians reacted angrily to One Nation, as Hanson was subjected to water balloons filled with urine at public speeches, ridiculed in the media, and received so many death threats she filmed a "good-bye video" in the case of her assassination. She was imprisoned by the government on political corruption charges, which were dropped after her imprisonment. In recent years the rise of less extreme parties such as the Australian Liberty alliance and groups such as the United Patriot Front has seen anti immigration sentiments become mainstream.


Opposition to high levels of legal immigration has been associated with certain right-wing parties in the EU. The issue flared up with the European migrant crisis in 2015 with large numbers of refugees from the Middle East and Africa making dangerous trips to Europe and many deaths en route. With high levels of unemployment and partly unassimilated non-European immigrant populations already within the EU, parties opposed to immigration have improved their position in polls and elections. Right-wing parties critical to immigration have entered the government in Austria, Denmark, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Slovakia, and have become major factors in English, Swedish, German and French politics.

Immigration is one of the central political issues in many European countries, and increasingly also at European Union level. The anti-immigration perspective is predominantly nationalist, cultural and economic. A new index measuring the level of perceived threat from immigrants has been recently proposed and applied to a data set covering 47 European countries and regions. The results show that Malta and Cyprus have the strongest perception of socio-economic threat from immigrants, followed by Austria, Great Britain (in particular England), Northern Ireland and Hungary, and that the countries/regions with the weakest perception of threat are Armenia, Sweden, Romania and Northern Cyprus. European nationalists see unassimilated immigrants as threatening their historic cultures and a violation of their rights of a land for their own peoples. The fears are compounded the fact that many immigrants in western Europe are poor, working class Muslims from the Middle East and Northern Africa. Prominent European opponents of immigration include Jean-Marie Le Pen, Thilo Sarrazin, Fjordman, the late Jörg Haider and the assassinated Pim Fortuyn. In France, the National Front opposes immigration. In the 1988 elections, 75% of supporters of its leader Jean-Marie Le Pen believed France has too many immigrants (as opposed to 35% of all voters.)



A January 2004 survey by Spanish newspaper El País showed that the "majority" of Spaniards believe immigration was too high. Small Neo-fascist parties, such as Movimiento Social Español, openly campaign using nationalist or anti-immigrant rhetoric. More recently the government has recognized the positive economic contributions of immigration and has provided permanent channels for social integration of illegal immigrants.


Portugal had little immigration until a sudden influx in the 1970s, as ex-colonists returned. Today there are Lisbon-born Africans. Rural areas have just recently begun to see many new arrivals. The country has one far-right party that supports curbs in immigration. Any resident of a Portuguese-speaking country is free to live and work in Portugal, and vice versa. In recent years, the growth of the Portuguese far-right "National Renewal Party", known as PNR, has targeted the immigration and ethnic minorities issues after years of growing support—0.09% 4,712 2002, 0.16% 9,374 2005, 0.20% 11,503 2009, 0.31% 17,548 2011—managed 0.50% 27,269 of the electorate in the 2015

United Kingdom

In the UK the British National Party made opposition to immigration one of their central policies in the 2010 general election. The anti-mass-immigration party, UKIP, have proposed setting up a Migration Control Commission, tasked with bringing down net migration. The Conservative Party pledged to bring immigration from the EU and rest of the world down to the "tens of thousands", with a range of welfare restrictions and housing restrictions.

The vote for the UK to leave the EU was successful in Britain, with a number of commentators suggesting that populist concern over immigration from the EU was a major feature of the public debate. British Prime Minister David Cameron resigned over the vote. In 2006, Cameron dismissed UKIP supporters as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly" though later conceded to hold a vote on leaving the EU, due in part to the Conservative party losing votes to UKIP.

The current Prime Minister Theresa May introduced an Immigration Skills Charge in April 2017, on companies who employ skilled non-EU immigrants, of £1000 per immigrant employee; small or charitable organizations pay a reduced amount of £364. The money is to be used to help fund apprenticeships and skills training for people from the UK and EU. In her 2017 UK General Election manifesto, the Prime Minister promised to double the Immigration Skills Charge to £2000 per employee, if re-elected. EU law prevents the charge being applied in relation to immigrants from the EU (or limiting the apprenticeships to people from the UK); the prime minister has promised that after Brexit there will also be restrictions on migration from the EU.



India has anti-immigrant parties at the state level. The most common anti-immigrant parties are there in the state of Maharashtra, where the two main anti-immigrant parties are Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Both parties share the idea of migrants from North India stealing jobs from the native Marathi people in Maharashtra. They even have a history of attacking immigrants, who they accuse of being involved in crimes around Mumbai. Shiv Sena also has a history of threatening the Pakistani cricket team from coming to Mumbai and also threatening Australian cricket players in the Indian Premier League cricket competition following the racist attacks on India students in Australia in 2009.

Even in the last few decades, there has been a rise in the anti-Immigrant attitudes in the North East Indian states like Assam, which has received illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Riots have occurred between the native tribes of Assam who are Hindus and the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, who are predominantly Muslims.


The movement for Japanese cultural isolation, sakoku (鎖国?), arose in Edo Period Japan, in response to the strong influence of Western culture, especially Slavery in Portugal. The study of (ancient) Japanese literature and culture was called kokugaku (国学?, "country study").

As of now there has been a push to increase immigration due to the country's faltering economy.



In Mexico, during the first eight months of 2005, more than 120,000 people from Central America were deported to their countries of origin. This is a much higher number than the people deported in the same period in 2002, when only 1 person was deported in the entire year. Many women from countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (most of former USSR), Asia and Central and South America are offered jobs at table dance establishments in large cities throughout the country, causing the National Institute of Migration (INM) in Mexico to raid strip clubs and deport foreigners who work without the proper documentation.

Mexico has very strict laws pertaining to both illegal and legal immigrants. The Mexican constitution restricts non-citizens or foreign-born persons from participating in politics, holding office, acting as a member of the clergy, or serving on the crews of Mexican-flagged ships or airplanes. Certain legal rights are waived, such as the right to a deportation hearing or other legal motions. In cases of flagrante delicto, any person may make a citizen's arrest on the offender and his accomplices, turning them over without delay to the nearest authorities.

Many immigration restrictionists in the United States have accused the Mexican government of hypocrisy in its immigration policy, noting that while the Government of Mexico and Mexican Americans are demanding looser immigration laws in the United States and oppose the 2010 Arizona Immigration Bill, at the same time Mexico is imposing even tighter restrictions on immigration into Mexico from Central America and other places than the Arizona law.

United States

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Donald Trump campaigned for president in 2016 promising to build a wall on the border of Mexico and the United States "as the centerpiece of his immigration plan".
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Anti-illegal immigrant car sticker in Colorado

In countries where the majority of the population is of immigrant descent, such as the United States, opposition to immigration sometimes takes the form of nativism.

In the United States, opposition to immigration has a long history, starting in the late 1790s, in reaction to an influx of political refugees from France and Ireland. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 restricted the rights of immigrants. Nativism first gained a name and affected politics in the mid-19th century United States because of the large inflows of immigrants from cultures that were markedly different from the existing Protestant culture. Nativists objected primarily to Roman Catholics, especially Irish Americans. Nativist movements included the American Party of the mid-19th Century (formed by members of the Know-Nothing movement), the Immigration Restriction League of the early 20th Century, and the anti-Asian movements in the west, resulting in the Chinese Exclusion Act and the so-called "Gentlemen's Agreement" which was aimed at the Japanese. Major restrictions became law in the 1920s and sharply cut the inflow until 1965, when they ended. The federal government took charge of finding and deporting illegal aliens, which it still does.

Immigration again became a major issue from the 1990s onward, with burgeoning illegal immigration, particularly by Mexicans crossing the Southern border, and others who overstayed their visitor visas.The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 provided an amnesty which was described as the amnesty to end all amnesties but it had no lasting impact on the flow of illegal immigrants.

By 2014, the Tea Party movement narrowed its focus away from economic issues, spending and Obamacare to President Barack Obama's immigration policies. They see his immigration policies as threatening to transform American society. They tried but failed to defeat leading Republicans who supported immigration programs, such as Senator John McCain. A typical slogan appeared in the Tea Party Tribune: “Amnesty for Millions, Tyranny for All.” The New York Times reported:

What started five years ago as a groundswell of conservatives committed to curtailing the reach of the federal government, cutting the deficit and countering the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party has become a movement largely against immigration overhaul. The politicians, intellectual leaders and activists who consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement have redirected their energy from fiscal austerity and small government to stopping any changes that would legitimize people who are here illegally, either through granting them citizenship or legal status.

As of 2014, there were over 42.4 million immigrants living in the United States. This was about 13.3% of the entire United States population at that time.

The American Federation of Labor (AFL), a coalition of labor unions formed in the 1880s, vigorously opposed unrestricted immigration from Europe for moral, cultural, and racial reasons. The issue unified the workers who feared that an influx of new workers would flood the labor market and lower wages. Nativism was not a factor because upwards of half the union members were themselves immigrants or the sons of immigrants from Ireland, Germany and Britain. However, nativism was a factor when the AFL even more strenuously opposed all immigration from Asia because it represented (to its Euro-American members) an alien culture that could not be assimilated into American society. The AFL intensified its opposition after 1906 and was instrumental in passing immigration restriction bills from the 1890s to the 1920s, such as the 1921 Emergency Quota Act and the Immigration Act of 1924, and seeing that they were strictly enforced.

Mink (1986) concludes that the link between the AFL and the Democratic Party rested in part on immigration issues, noting the large corporations, which supported the Republicans, wanted more immigration to augment their labor force.


South Africa

Several periods of violent riots against migrants have occurred in South Africa in the past decade, some resulting in fatalities. Countries from which the migrants targeted originated include Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

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