In Europe, migration has highlighted deep dilemmas over the compatibility of social protection and free movement (Schierup, Hansen and Castles 2006) and on the social boundaries of welfare (Ferrera 2006), with rapidly polarising opinions (Streeck 2017; MacKenzie and Martinez-Lucio 2019). Such dilemmas have also resulted in political crisis with the referends against freedom of movement in Switzerland in 2014 and against the EU in the UK in 2016, as well as the rise of populist anti-immigration parties in several countries. The issue of ‘control’ has been a constant in these debates, if combined with other ones (e.g. cultural identity). In these political shifts, the electoral behaviour of manual/low skilled workers who used to be, largely, natural electorate of the Left has played a crucial role, and it is expected that, in an increasingly polarised public opinion, it will keep play a decisive role. For this group, employment considerations around immigration are among the most important concerns.
The paper investigates the direct and indirect effects of migration and labour market regulations on public opinion and especially working class’ attitudes to migration. It compares countries that have moved from migration control to free movement with strict labour market regulations, with Canada that, by contrast, combines a liberal labour market with increased migration control, and the UK where there is a particularly tense policy debate over free movement. Through an analysis of labour market trends, public opinion data, and social actors’ preferences, the paper provides an insight on the different meanings of ‘migration control’ and a distinction between quantitative and qualitative forms of control.