Weberian research has often assumed that written immigration policies reveal governments’ consistent objectives. This research struggles to make sense of the finding that immigration policies are frequently inconsistent: combining or alternating between restrictive and non-restrictive measures. This study uses global data sets to reveal what proportion of immigration policies are inconsistent and develops a measure of policy inconsistency to track how immigration policy inconsistency varies across time and space. We use these techniques to generate limited empirical support for macro-political explanations of policy inconsistency, that focus on variables located at the national scale. We then use these findings and analyses to argue in favour of further research into micro-political explanations, that focus on the behaviour of ordinary officials and migrants at the local scale. Exploring the impact of micro-political factors on national immigration policies will require substantially improved dialogues between quantitative and qualitative research.