Discrimination and policies of immigrant selection in liberal states

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


How should liberal societies select prospective members? A conventional reading of immigration history posits that whereas ascriptive characteristics drove immigration policy in the past, contemporary policy is based on the principle of nondiscrimination. Yet a closer look at the characteristics of those admitted reveals systematic group biases that run counter to liberalism’s core moral commitments. This article first discusses liberal states’ basic moral obligation to treat their citizens with equal respect. It then identifies ways in which the group biases produced by immigration policy violate that principle, when states either deprive their citizens of fundamental rights or stigmatize them through hierarchical constructions of citizenship. Three mechanisms are presented-structural bias, profiling, and positive selection-by which seemingly liberal admissions policies produce illiberal outcomes. The empirical analysis explores the resulting discriminatory group biases in the context of language and income conditionalities on family migration, excessive demand restrictions against economic migrants, and visa waivers for international travelers. We conclude that immigration reforms that mitigate, if not erase, these morally problematic patterns are within the reach of liberal states.


External organisations
  • University of British Columbia
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • International Migration and Ethnic Relations


  • Discrimination, Equal respect, Family immigration, Immigrant selection, Medical inadmissibility restrictions, Visa waiver programs
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-116
Number of pages30
JournalPolitics and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch