How Elections Shape Immigration Policy: Analysing the Impact of Political Shifts

Christine Sullivan (partner) and Ana Sofia Walsh (director) of Fragomen discuss the effect of elections on a country’s immigration policy.

Published on 17 June 2024
Christine Sullivan, Fragomen, partner, Expert Focus contributor
Christine Sullivan
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Ana Sofia Walsh, Fragomen, Director, Exper Focus contributor
Ana Sofia Walsh
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A total of 76 countries are holding or have already held elections this year, affecting citizens from eight of the world’s ten most populous countries and more than half the world’s population. In addition to concerns about inflation, the economy and other pressing issues, the topic of immigration permeates across all these elections and the outcomes will profoundly shape the global political landscape.

election timeline graphic, Fragomen, Expert Focus
Fragomen Election TImeline

2024 Elections

The United States presidential election is certainly one of the most closely watched both inside the US and around the world, as its results could have a significant and reverberating impact on immigration policy.

Mexico has elected its first female president, who plans to continue with current immigration policies, including maintaining co-operation with the US on border security and immigration management, especially as USMCA (NAFTA) is up for negotiation in 2025.

Asia will be no less pivotal, with India's general elections held between 19 April and 1 June 2024 (at the time of writing, the results are not yet known). Consensus projections have Prime Minister Modi and his BJP Party retaining power. India provides much of the world's tech talent, with highly educated nationals often highly competitive in merit- and points-based systems.

In South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) lost its majority for the first time in 30 years. It will need coalition partners to form a majority, underscoring a global move for change and stability amid economic uncertainties and socio-political upheavals.

Across Europe, there are several key elections, including the European Parliament in June, which will determine the composition of the transnational legislative body representing European Union (EU) member states and influence EU policies on many issues, including migration. The European People’s Party (EPP) is expected to remain the largest group and maintain its agenda-setting power, including the power to choose the next European Commission President.

Belgium will also go to the polls in June. The increase in asylum applications in 2023 fuelled concern over migration management and saw a rise in Flemish far-right nationalist parties. The federal government election is expected to result in a deadlock with a combination of the current coalition in power – a tenuous seven-party coalition, which has struggled to reach consensus. Europe is also closely watching the United Kingdom election in July, in which many predict a win for the Labour Party.

These elections reflect broader trends in European politics, including rising populism, the impact of economic policies, and the ongoing response to geopolitical challenges such as the war in Ukraine and energy security.

Immigration as Part of the Debate

Immigration has emerged as a significant issue in most 2024 elections, reflecting broader concerns about integration, security and ongoing economic impacts after the COVID-19 pandemic. It is routinely leveraged by political parties and is subject to swings in public sentiment and political trends. Many election outcomes will pave the way for consequential changes in immigration policy, whereas delays in immigration processing and policy development are expected in countries where government formation is slow.

Impact for Employers of Foreign Workers

Businesses should be aware that immigration policy is likely to remain in flux, which requires employers to understand the impact of elections and the full breadth of forthcoming changes to best inform workforce planning and talent acquisition strategies. Agile and adaptable hiring practices will be required to safeguard against a changing regulatory environment.

Stricter regulatory controls

Employers may face more stringent regulations and bureaucratic hurdles when hiring foreign workers. This could include tougher visa requirements or increased document requirements, increased scrutiny and longer processing times. The introduction of or changes to work permit quotas and restrictions could limit the availability of foreign workers.

Labour shortages

Stricter immigration policies could exacerbate labour shortages in sectors heavily reliant on foreign workers, such as healthcare, agriculture, construction and technology. This might lead to increased competition for domestic labour and higher wage demands.

Increased costs

Enhanced regulatory compliance and administrative processes could lead to higher operational costs for businesses. Employers might need to allocate more resources for legal assistance, compliance management and HR processes related to hiring foreign workers.

Impact on diversity

Changes in immigration policies could affect workplace diversity. A reduction in foreign workers might impact cultural diversity and inclusiveness, potentially affecting workplace innovation and global business perspectives.

However, it is not all bad news. Some electoral developments could be business friendly, such as the following.

Creation of sector-specific policies

Certain sectors might experience targeted policies either facilitating or restricting foreign worker employment. For example, tech industries may see policies encouraging high-skilled immigration, while other sectors might face tighter restrictions. As a result of EU Blue Card amendments transposition, years of professional experience are now accepted in many EU countries in lieu of formal qualifications for individuals employed in the information technology sector.

Performative hostility

In some cases, the elected party will significantly tone down its positions after an election, in a phenomenon coined as “performative hostility”, where governments quietly backtrack on tough positions once in power. For instance, Italy’s Giorgia Meloni campaigned on anti-immigration rhetoric in 2022, yet since then her government has pushed through multiple immigration-friendly policies. In the Netherlands, poll results were surprisingly right-wing, but in the ensuing government formation some extreme positions on immigration topics, such as reducing the expat tax benefit, have been walked back under pressure from business.

Looking Ahead

Immigration policy plays a critical role in shaping the workforce and competitiveness of businesses. For employers, these policies can determine the availability of skilled labour, influence operational costs, and affect the overall economic environment. Significant skills and labour shortages are expected to compel many governments – even those theoretically opposed to immigration – to implement more lenient immigration policies. Consequently, the global trend towards liberalising immigration pathways for low-skilled, technically skilled and highly skilled migrants is likely to persist. Ultimately, balanced and fair immigration policies not only benefit employers but also contribute to the broader economic health and social fabric of a nation.


Fragomen, Expert Focus contributor
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