Which led to immigration laws

The limits of a restrictive immigration policy

London / Vienna - You can win election campaigns with the topic of migration. And in the next few years - just think of the climate refugees in view of the heat - it will remain a hot problem area. Austria's immigration policy has long been one of the most restrictive in Europe: the government continues to work on tightening it - thanks to the EU presidency, it is also increasingly at the European level.

The basic assumption on which such a strict policy is based - regardless of whether it is from the Trump administration in the USA or from Kurz in Austria - is clear: immigration regulations that are as strict as possible should ideally reduce the number of economic migrants, in particular, to zero.

Illegal instead of legal migration?

But can those willing to migrate in their countries of origin really be deterred by strict visa regulations? In fact, many experts assume that a particularly strict policy essentially only leads to a further increase in illegal immigration.

In truth, however, both politicians and experts are largely in the dark on this issue: Despite the importance of the topic - and the conviction with which politicians rely on deterrent effects - there are very few empirical studies on it. This is not least due to the fact that the basic assumption is somewhat impossible to empirically verify.

That is in the nature of things, confirms Cassilde Schwartz: "It is very difficult to investigate illegal migration because it takes place in secret and can hardly be observed empirically." Together with Miranda Simon and other colleagues from University College London and the University of Birmingham, she has now determined reasonably reliable figures on this key question of migration policy, which paint a differentiated picture.

Processed data from Jamaica

For their study published in the prestigious "PNAS" journal, the researchers created so-called agent-based computer simulations based on data from the traditional emigration country Jamaica - depending on the visa policy of the destination country and in particular for three groups of people: students and highly qualified specialists, unskilled workers and Family stragglers.

The scientists assume that the figures can be transferred to other countries with a similar economic situation as Jamaica.

Overall, it was found that even with a liberal visa policy in the destination country with comparatively low requirements, only around 44 percent of those willing to migrate actually emigrate. According to the researchers' calculations, if the visa regulations are tightened, the rate of legal migrants will decrease.

Fewer migrants, more illegals

On the other hand, with their new methods, they were able to determine that a little less than 20 percent would use illegal channels to emigrate. In other words, the number of emigrants with a strict visa policy will decrease overall, but will be partially offset by illegal entry.

There were clear differences depending on the group: Highly qualified specialists and, in particular, family migrants are much more motivated to accept illegal immigration despite all the restrictions in the destination countries. Accordingly, co-author David Hudson sums up: "Our research clearly shows that a restrictive visa policy leads to an increase in illegal immigration flows. And that in turn makes more expensive border controls necessary." (Klaus Taschwer, August 7th, 2018)

Abstract of the study

More scientific information on migration