This article provides an alternative understanding of the substantive representation of immigrant-origin citizens compared to previous work in the ‘politics of presence’ tradition. Rather than assuming that the representational activities of members of parliaments (MPs) are underpinned by intrinsic motivations, it highlights extrinsic motives. Drawing on principal–agent theory, the article conceptualises MPs as delegates who are to act on behalf of their main principals, constituents and party bodies. This approach permits the rigorous analysis of the impact of electoral rules, candidate selection methods and legislative organisation on substantive representation. Based on an analysis of more than 20,000 written parliamentary questions tabled in the 17th German Bundestag (2009–2013), empirical findings suggest that electoral rules do not influence the relationship between MPs and their principals in relation to the substantive representation of disadvantaged immigrant groups; however, results indicate that candidate selection methods as well as powerful parliamentary party group leaderships do.