In Search of a New Equilibrium: Immigration Policymaking in the Newest Era of Nativist Populism: MPI

Relevant MPI report. Worth reflecting upon, even if the Canadian situation is quite different from Europe:

When faced with the growth of radical-right populism, mainstream political actors face a dilemma: respecting the democratic mandate of populists and treating them like any other political actor, or drawing a line in the sand by ostracizing and refusing to cooperate with them. Regardless, mainstream politicians need to reckon with how to respond to the forces driving support for nativist populism in the first place— deep concerns about cultural identity, rising inequality, pressure on limited public resources, deepening political polarization, and the politics of fear and resentment. In doing so, they will also need to grapple with how to build a new consensus on immigration. Points of reflection include:

  • ƒThe many benefits of running a tight ship on immigration policies. Governments need to rebuild public trust in the integrity and fairness of their migration-management system. Doing so will require minimizing immigration disorder and ensuring effective and orderly return procedures, while tipping the balance towards a more selective system that is better aligned with national economic and labor-market needs.
  • ƒThe challenges and crucial importance of communicating complexity. Policymakers need to think carefully about how to communicate their policy priorities and decisions, and the evidence that underpins them, to a concerned public. This includes speaking candidly about what the evidence does—and does not or cannot—say about hot-button issues such as immigration. This must be done in terms that can be readily understood by a wide audience of nonexperts and, when it comes to immigration, include an honest discussion of the benefits of a well-managed immigration system and the tradeoffs such a system can entail. These communications must also include concrete actions to address these emotive issues, especially in times of crisis.
  • ƒThe need to redress inequality by investing in communities. The rise of populism and nativism should serve as a wake-up call for mainstream policymakers on the importance of acknowledging and targeting disadvantage by adopting policies to redress the uneven costs of immigration, globalization, and economic crises. In striving to revitalize neglected regions, governments face tough decisions about whether to invest in costly social and economic development policies to help people stay—and attract new residents, especially immigrants— or to help people relocate to areas with more economic opportunities (at the risk of further shrinking the fiscal base of struggling regions).
  • ƒThe promise of employing a whole-of-society approach to immigration and integration issues. In an era of growing “welfare chauvinism,” with populists calling to limit access to welfare benefits to citizens, policymakers should confront head on the perception that immigrants benefit disproportionately from government programs and services. Research has also demonstrated the advantages of moving away from programs that target certain groups, such as immigrants, and towards robust services available to and flexible enough to meet the needs of all who qualify.

Ultimately, the rise of nativist populism should be understood both as a symptom and driver of political turmoil in Europe and the United States. Its rise is rooted in longstanding social and economic grievances and divisions that have been overlooked by mainstream politicians for far too long. Governments need to learn from their mistakes and respond much more proactively to manage these divisions—or risk seeing societies drift further apart and create a breeding ground for nativism and populism.


About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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