This article argues that the politics and governance of migrants’ rights needs to be reframed. In particular, the terms “welfare chauvinism”, and deservingness should be replaced. Using a qualitative transnational case study of policymakers in Poland and the UK, we develop an alternative approach. In fine-grained and small-scale interpretive analysis, we tease out four distinct “rationales of belonging” that mark out the terms and practices of social membership, as well as relative positions of privilege and subordination. These rationales of belonging are: temporal-territorial, ethno-cultural, labourist, and welfareist. Importantly, these rationales are knitted together by different framings of the transnational contexts, within which the politics and governance of migration and social protection are given meaning. The rationales of belonging do not exist in isolation, but, in each country, they qualify each other in ways that imply different politics and governance of migrants’ rights. Taken together, these rationales of belonging generate transnational projects of social exclusion, as well as justifications for migrant inclusion stratified by class, gender and ethnicity.