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Immigration policy specifies the laws and practices that allow persons to move permanently to other countries and petition for citizenship or to enter and stay for delimited lengths of time without the right to apply for citizenship. In developed countries, such policies include not only voluntary work and occupation-based and family-based migration but also the admission of refugees and the acceptance of asylum seekers. In its most comprehensive form, immigration policy not only involves the admission of immigrants, but also endeavors to coordinate labor needs with the control of migrant flows, affect international policies that might alleviate the need for some migration, and integrate newcomers into the socioeconomic fabric of the destination society. Immigration policies also often cover non-immigrants, such as those who cross borders to travel, conduct business, work temporarily, visit, or study. Such policies also extend to the treatment of unauthorized immigrants, or those who enter a country without a visa or who overstay a visa, although the presence of such persons in the country does not directly result from admissions policies.
Immigration policies vary across countries, although relatively few countries receive many international migrants and have formal migration policies in place. Traditional migrant-receiving countries such as the United States or Canada have tended to try to control who enters their borders through visa systems. Continental countries, such as Germany, that had not considered themselves migrant destinations despite decades of in-migration, have tended over the years to control migration through residence and work permits, the parameters of which might become more favorable the longer migrants stayed. While such distinctions of policy emphasis have blurred in recent years, policy conceptions between the traditional immigrant-receiving countries still perceive policy differently from new immigrant destinations.
Until the late nineteenth century, none of the major immigrant-receiving countries sought to adopt laws and practices to regulate migration, nor did they mount substantial efforts to control the magnitude of immigrant flows. To a considerable extent, this owed to the relative absence of political forces compelling such restriction. Nativism was a relatively small cultural current in early nineteenth-century America; most Americans at the time — as well as Canadians and Australians — understood that they needed to populate and settle their countries. After decades of flows of settlers, however, anti-immigrant activity began to arise in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, first against Catholics, particularly the Irish but also the Germans; then against Asians, starting with the Chinese and moving on to Japanese and Filipinos; and then against all immigrants, particularly as immigrant flows were increasing from southern and eastern Europe.
- Cornelius, W., Martin, P., & Hollifield, J. (eds.) (2004) Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.
- Lynch, J. P. & Simon, R. J. (2003) Immigration the World Over: Statutes, Policies, and Practices. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD.