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Understanding and Addressing Public Anxiety About Immigration (Transatlantic Council Statement)
July 2016

Understanding and Addressing Public Anxiety About Immigration (Transatlantic Council Statement)

Rising public anxiety about migration has manifested itself in a number of ways: the stunning decision by UK voters to leave the European Union; growing support for far-right, anti-immigration parties across Europe; and the central role immigration has played in the 2016 U.S. presidential primary campaign season, among them. Curiously, however, anti-immigration sentiment is not reliably correlated with either large-scale increases in immigration, high unemployment, or economic downturns, as is often assumed.

So what factors are fueling public unease? This Transatlantic Council on Migration Statement, which caps a series examining eroding public trust in the ability of government to manage migration, outlines and analyzes the factors that can set the stage for public anxiety about immigration—some of which have their roots outside of immigration policy per se, and are instead deeply embedded in the global, national, and local contexts within which migration occurs. The report offers policymakers a set of strategies to respond to these concerns.

Anxiety is not an inevitable or universal public reaction. How governments manage the broader concerns about social change, economic opportunities, and security issues can shape both public anxiety about immigrants and the level of trust the public has in the ability of government to manage immigration, the report concludes.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Understanding the Roots of Society's Anxiety over Immigration

A. Rapid Pace of Social Change

B. Competition for Scarce Resources

C. Threat to Public Values or Norms

D. Crime and Security

E. Lack of Control and Loss of Confidence in Governments and Elites

III. Conclusions and Recommendations: What Can Policymakers Do to Assuage Public Fears and Rebuild Trust?