As the Turkish state’s position on the issue of international migration is being transformed, new questions have arisen about the state’s policies on immigration and emigration. These are two issues that have long been seen as separate in migration literature. The aim of this article is to unite these two issues in order to present a retrospective on the Turkish state’s responses to the realities of immigration and emigration. We describe the migration patterns in Turkey by focusing on four key periods: a) the two-way immigration and emigration circulation in the early period of modern Turkey; b) the emigration boom since the 1950s; c) the emergence of new migration patterns in the 1980s; and d) the new forms of migration governance employed since the 2000s. By examining these patterns and the state’s responses, we aim to analyse the diverging political rationalities of different periods.