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Why Country's Have an Immigration Policy | Explained

Anyone who travels internationally should be familiar with immigration policy. They need to know what this is and what it means for them and their travel.

Here’s what travelers need to know to understand immigration policies in the different countries they visit, as well as how those policies might apply to them.

What Does it Mean to Have an Immigration Policy?

An immigration policy is a set of rules regarding who can (and cannot) enter a particular country.

Different countries will have different immigration policies, though many will have rules that overlap. 

In addition, some countries piggyback their immigration policy on those of other countries. So they may say that people who can enter Country X can also enter their country, etc.

Immigration policies also determine who can work in a country and what jobs they can do, as well as whether refugees and other asylum seekers can enter a country.

Finally, immigration policy covers who can bring family members to a country and the rules by which a person becomes a permanent resident, or even a citizen, of a particular country.

Why Does Immigration Policy Exist?

Immigration policies serve to keep borders secure and countries safe.

It is the responsibility of every country’s government to keep their people as safe, healthy, and well as possible.

Part of the way they do this is to manage who can enter and leave the country and what foreign nationals can do while they are in the country. 

Another part of the way they do this is to ensure that tourists and other travelers who want to spend money in the country are allowed to enter and do so.

Immigration policy helps countries achieve all of these goals.

It helps governments strike a balance between keeping borders secure and allowing as much movement between their countries and others as is possible and healthy.

In recent years, immigration policy has focused on international terrorism. Specifically, it aims to keep potential terrorists out while still allowing in refugees and tourists. 

This can be difficult when many of these people come from the same countries of origin.

Immigration policy seeks to help as many as possible enter without bringing in dangerous people or overwhelming the country with people in need.

Current immigration policy has also focused on COVID-19. Countries want to allow travel without allowing the virus to spread too much.

Why is it Important that Countries Have an Immigration Policy?

Immigration policy serves to keep people - both citizens and travelers - safe.

This includes safety from terrorism, safety from COVID-19 and other illnesses, and the security of economic and other resources inside the country. 

While immigration policies may not do this perfectly, it’s better for a country to have a policy than to not have one.

Having an immigration policy means that a country is attempting to do it’s duty by both citizens and visitors.

Not having an immigration policy would be abandoning this duty. It would mean that the government was making no attempt to do its duty by its people and those trying to enter.

In addition, any immigration policy is likely to keep people safer than having none at all.

Even if an immigration policy is not terribly effective at stopping terrorists or other dangerous people from entering a country, it likely catches some of them.

Any time an immigration policy keeps people safer, it is better to have it than not to do so.

Many countries have very effective immigration policies. These same countries are usually working constantly to make their policies better.

These countries are doing a good job of keeping people safer than they would be without the policy.

Countries who struggle with their immigration policy may be able to model theirs off these successful ones.

How is an Immigration Policy Applied at Ports of Entry?

An immigration policy is usually applied at ports of entry by requiring travelers who want to enter the country to have permission to do so.

Depending on the country, there are a number of ways that this can work.

Some countries require all who enter to get a visa before they do so. Others only require some travelers to get visas, based on the purpose of their travel or the country they come from.

Other countries grant visas at the border, provided travelers can provide certain documents as required by the country.

Some countries ask travelers to get an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) before they arrive. This gives permission to enter the country but is not the same as getting a visa.

It is key that travelers know what documents they will need before they arrive in a country. Otherwise, they may not be able to enter as planned and may even be sent home.

Sometimes, travelers cannot even board transportation to a country without showing that they have permission to enter it.

Most of the time, Immigration officials at the border can still deny a person entry, even if they have a visa, eTA, or other travel document.

This denial can be based on a number of factors. If a person tries to bring in something illegal, or does something questionable while on their flight or in line, they may be denied entry.

Similarly, if someone’s information has changed since they applied for their travel document, they may not be able to enter the country as planned.

If they have been arrested for or convicted of a crime since they applied for travel permission, they might also be unable to enter the country they want to visit.

In some countries, other things are grounds to have travel permission revoked, too.

Most of the time, though, travelers who have the proper permission under current immigration law will be allowed to enter another country as planned.

What Government Bodies Make and Enforce Immigration Policies?

The government bodies that make and enforce immigration policy can vary based on the country in question.

There are a vast number of ways that immigration policy can be made, set up, and enforced. To some extent, every country will be different. 

All of the roles outlined here must be played. It is up to each country to decide which government body performs which role and how these bodies are related to each other.

The below is an outline based on how things are often done. 

Travelers need to do their own research before they visit a new country to make sure they are working with the right government bodies and are in compliance with all immigration rules.

Making Immigraton Policy

Usually, there is a body that makes laws, including those covering immigration. This legislative body may vote on the laws, or a single rule may make these choices for the country.

Either way, this body is usually separate from the body that enforces the laws.

Enforcing Immigration Policy

Enforcement of immigration policy usually involves a number of different roles.

There may be legal professionals who determine how immigration law is applied and to whom it applies.

There are usually other people who determine what that application looks like in a practical way. For instance, they may build online platforms for applying for eTAs and other documents.

These people may also train Immigration and other officers so they know what to ask, how to ask it, and what to look for when they are dealing with people who want to enter the country.

Finally, there are the people on the ground. These are usually Immigration officers and others, who work directly with people attempting to enter the country.

Immigration Security

If there is a lot of illegal immigration in a country, there may be a police force or related body whose job it is to prevent this or to find illegal immigrants and return them to their homes.

This may or may not be related to the body that determines who can and cannot enter a country, based on their answers to questions about their background. 

It also may or may not be related to the body that enforces security at border crossings and ports of entry.

All of these are security-related roles that must be filled, though.

Becoming a Citizen

People who want to become citizens of another country may need to deal with different bodies, too.

For instance, there may be a separate body to which they apply when they believe they have met the requirements for citizenship.

This is often a different body than the one that figures out immigration policies for short-term stays, or for people who are not planning to become citizens.

This body may or may not require every long-term visitor to register upon arrival in the country.

Once again, all of these roles must be played, but the body that plays them will be different in different countries.

What is the History of Immigration Policies?

For thousands of years, there was no real immigration policy. People moved between towns, cities, and countries more or less as they wished and were able.

In these times, people usually went where they could make money or where they believed their lives would be better. For the most part, no one stopped them and there were no formal policies.

Sometimes, cities or local areas would enforce what amounted to immigration policy for a limited amount of time, usually to combat a certain type of ill.

For instance, some cities closed down during the plague. They would not allow outsiders to enter, or they did not allow citizens to leave. 

This kind of immigration policy was largely ineffective because it did not have the force of government behind it and it was very difficult to enforce.

Immigration policy as a governmental power was not generally recognized until the end of the 19th century.

For instance, it was in 1876 that the United States supreme court said that the federal government had the right to determine immigration policy.

Since that era, immigration policy has formed and reformed, based on the needs of the population at a particular time and place.

As mentioned above, immigration policy has recently had to contend with international terrorism and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Previously, immigration policy in different countries has had to deal with illegal drug smuggling, an increase in illegal immigration, and wars or unrest in nearby countries.

It has also had to develop rules and laws to handle an increase in people seeking refugee status and asylum, too.

The history of immigration policy in a country mirrors the history of that country. People make policies like these based on the problems they face at any given moment. 

A robust immigration policy usually means a relatively healthy country with a relatively stable government. 

After all, these are the governments who can invest in caring for their citizens in these particular ways.

Countries that are not healthy or stable may need to focus energy and resources on internal policies, rather than on those that deal with people coming in from outside.

Immigration Policy and Refugees or Asylum Seekers

Immigration policy that seeks to help refugees or asylum seekers needs to strike a balance. It needs to help people who really need it without overwhelming the country’s resources.

Some countries have the political, social, and financial resources to help a lot of people who need to relocate because they face danger if they remain in their home country. 

Other countries do not have these resources. If they allow a large number of refugees to resettle there, for instance, their citizens may not be able to find work or buy food.

Immigration policies also need to find a way to make sure that people who are seeking asylum truly need it.

Sometimes, this is straightforward. Other times, it can be hard to determine how much danger a person is in in their home country. 

This is even more true when people are forced to flee their homes without documentation. In these cases, they may not even be able to prove their identity.

Countries need to determine how many of their own resources they can give to tracking this kind of information down.

Finally, some countries are very open to refugees and asylum seekers, while others are not. The overall opinion on taking people in can be influenced by a number of factors. 

Countries that are more open to helping these people will allocate more resources to these projects. Those that are closed will not allocate as much.

All of this influences immigration policy as related to refugees and asylum seekers.

Immigration Policy and Short-Term Stays

There are a huge number of reasons why people might want to travel to a different country for a short amount of time.

There’s even disagreement over what qualifies as a short-term stay and what must be called a long-term visit.

Each country gets to decide for itself what a short-term stay means. In most cases, it is 6 months or less.

Most immigration policies for short-term stays require proof that a person will return home after their travel. They may be able to show that they have purchased return tickets.

They may also need to show proof that they have close relationships back home, that they have good employment there, or that they have resources invested in their home country.

All of these indicate that a traveler will not overstay their short-term visa in another country, because they provide motivation for them to return home when their trip is complete.

People can travel as tourists, for business, to see family, to take a short course or class, to find a job, to present at a conference, to get medical care, to teach a class, and for other reasons.

Immigration policy must be ready to deal with each of these reasons for travel.

Some countries only offer a few types of travel permission. Each one may cover several reasons for travel, or they may be based solely on the length of the stay.

Other countries have a significant number of types of travel permissions. Visitors must figure out which one of these best describes their reasons for travel, then do what is needed to get it.

Many countries have different types of travel permission for people doing business than they do for other kinds of travel.

This occurs because countries want to know who is trying to make money in their country and what, exactly, they are doing.

This money may be taxable, and will at least need to be reported before the person leaves.

In some cases, only people doing certain types of business or who are a part of certain industries will be allowed to enter.

Short-term work visas are also often separate from other kinds. People who want to work may need to prove that they can work in certain industries or that they won’t take jobs from citizens.

These are only a few of the concerns and questions that influence immigration policy as it pertains to short-term stays in other countries.

Immigration Policy and Long-Term Stays

Some people want to travel to another country for a long-term stay. They may travel to study overseas, to take a job there, to care for family there, or for other reasons.

An effective immigration policy for long-term stays will make sure that people who need to stay in the country can, and will keep those who do not need to be there from remaining. 

Once again, there are often questions involved about who is making money in a country, how they are making it, and what they are doing with it after they make it.

Some countries severely limit the number of people who can take long-term jobs inside their borders. They want to save these jobs for citizens unless they absolutely can’t do this.

Other countries welcome outside workers, at least in certain categories. They may not have the ability to train citizens for these roles or there may not be people who want that training.

When it comes to long-term stays, there are also issues of security. Immigration policies need to provide ways of determining who is in the country for good reasons and who may be a liability.

Most countries require people who are there long-term to renew their travel permissions. This might occur every year, two years, five years, or on another schedule.

This provides the country with a chance to deny someone permission to stay if they are causing problems or are not following the rules outlined in their visa.

Immigration policy for long-term stays is complex and must balance all of these factors and more.

Immigration Policy and Permanent Residency

Permanent residency is different from a long-term stay. People who are permanent residents of a country intend to live there for the rest of their lives, not just for an extended period.

Some countries allow anyone who is a long-term resident for a certain number of years to apply for permanent residency. Others have a variety of requirements that a person must meet.

In most countries, permanent residents must have a steady job or other form of income. That way, they are less likely to need government assistance while in the country.

They also usually need to have a proven track record in the country. For instance, they need to show that they are not criminals, will not cause dissent or other problems, and are good citizens.

Permanent residents usually need to have a place to live in the country. They may also need to show that they are involved in their community in certain ways, that they pay taxes, and more.

Sometimes, the process of becoming a permanent resident is easy, once a person has been a long-term resident for a while. 

Other times, becoming a permanent resident is difficult, even for those who have lived in a country for years. It depends on the country and their particular immigration policy.

Immigration Policy and Citizenship

Becoming a citizen can be a complex process, or it may simply require filling out an application and paying a fee after living in a country for a certain number of years.

Some countries require a person who wants to be a citizen to be a permanent resident first. Others allow people to go from being long-term visa holders straight to citizenship.

Citizenship often requires taking some tests before a person is eligible. These tests may show their proficiency in the country’s language, as well as knowledge of their history, etc. 

These tests can be very difficult, particularly in countries that want to make it harder to get citizenship there. Other times, they are merely formalities. 

Some countries allow people to keep their old citizenship while also becoming citizens in their new country. Others require them to denounce their old citizenship before they can change it.

Many countries allow a faster track to citizenship for people who have relatives who are citizens. This is often true for those who marry someone who is a citizen of another country, for instance.

The requirements for citizenship vary significantly between countries.

People who want to change their citizenship will need to do extensive research to make sure they know exactly what will be required of them.

They will need to be realistic about how long the process will take, how much time and energy it will take, etc.. Then, they can decide whether or not to pursue citizenship somewhere else.


Immigration policy is incredibly complex because it does an incredibly difficult job. It balances safety vs. openness and resources vs. opportunities.

However, immigration policy is essential for a country to function well. Thus, travelers may need to do quite a bit of research before they visit a new place.

This research will pay off when they are able to enter the country of their choice and do what they want or need to do there.

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