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Public perceptions of migration: The fear of the other is more nuanced than we think

Kirsten Schuettler's picture

In observance of the International Migrants Day, Dec 18

All over the world, there are strong negative attitudes towards migrants and migration. According to the IOM-Gallup 2012-2014 poll, a third of respondents worldwide would like to see immigration levels in their countries decrease. Susan Fiske’s research shows that worldwide immigrants are stereotyped as low on the two fundamental dimensions of the stereotype map: warmth (friendly, sincere) and competence (capable, skilled). When subtypes of migrants are included, however, different types of migrants are perceived differently. In the US samples, for example, European and Asian immigrants are ranked differently from Latino and African immigrants.

Different opinion polls also capture these nuances. In general, people tend to be more negative about the concept of immigration than they are about specific groups of migrants.

As the latest ECA Economic Update of the World Bank summarized, there is more support for immigration by groups that are considered similar. Europeans are more positive about immigration from other European Union (EU) member states than from outside the EU. In the latest Eurobarometer, over half of those surveyed have negative feelings about immigration from outside the EU but only around one third are negative about immigration from inside the EU. The Transatlantic Trends survey showed similar results. The European Social Survey found more support for admitting migrants from the same race or ethnic group as the majority than other groups of migrants. In the Russian Federation, attitudes toward immigrants from the South Caucasus or Central Asia are more negative than toward migrants from Ukraine, Belarus, and other regions with a predominantly Russian population.

How close migrants are to you also matters. The new Gallup Migration Acceptance Index shows that respondents’ support for immigrants living in their country is higher (54%), than for immigrants becoming their neighbor (50%), or marrying a close relative (44%). Support also depends on the type of migrant (refugee or other) and there seems to be a preference for those arriving through legal channels, more skilled and able to contribute to the economy.

We need to understand more about these nuances in public perceptions, what drives and influences them. More data, methodological discussions and research, notably in developing countries, is needed. A better understanding of public perceptions is key to be able to recommend, design and communicate migration policies accordingly.