Across Western democracies, immigration has become one of the most polarizing and salient issues, with public discourses and individual attitudes often characterized by misperceptions. This condition undermines people's ability to develop informed opinions on the matter and runs counter to the ideal of deliberative democracy. Yet, our understanding of what makes immigration so prone to misperceptions is still limited – a conundrum that this review seeks to answer in three steps. First, we take stock of the existing evidence on the nature of misperceptions about immigration. Secondly, we borrow from diverse bodies of literature to identify their motivational underpinnings and elaborate on how the protection of group identity, the defence of self-interest and security concerns can lead to distorted perceptions of immigration. Thirdly, we highlight relevant determinants of misperceptions at the level of both contextual influences and individual predispositions. We conclude that misperceptions about immigration are ubiquitous and likely to remain a key element of immigration politics.