Political trust matters for citizens’ policy preferences but existing research has not fully understood how this effect depends on policy design. To advance this research area, we theorise that policy controls that limit or condition its provision can function as safeguards against uncertainty, thereby compensating for a person’s lack of trust in generating support. Focusing on public preferences for asylum and refugee policy, we conduct an original conjoint experiment in eight European countries. We find that individuals with lower levels of trust in European political institutions are less supportive of policies providing unlimited or unconditional protection and more supportive of restrictive policies. We also show that policy design features such as limits and conditions can mitigate perceived uncertainty for individuals who are less trusting in European political institutions. These findings have important implications for the theoretical understanding of how political trust pertains to citizens’ preferences.