The former Conservative Prime Minister described how those coming to the UK had the "guts and the drive" to travel halfway around the globe.
Looking back at his early life, Sir John said he did not see people who had come to Britain "just to benefit from our social system".
His comments were made during an interview for the BBC Radio 4 programme Reflections with Peter Hennessy due to be broadcast tomorrow at 9am.
He told the historian: "I saw immigrants at very close quarters in the 1950s and I didn't see people who had come here just to benefit from our social system.
"I saw people with the guts and the drive to travel halfway across the world in many cases to better themselves and their families. And I think that's a very Conservative instinct."
Sir John's comments appear to strike a different note to the current Conservative rhetoric with Prime Minister David Cameron last month stating he wanted an immigration system which "puts Britain first", as he unveiled tough new measures to halve the time migrants from the European Union without serious job prospects can claim benefits in the UK.
Mr Cameron earlier said his changes would address what he claimed was the "magnetic pull" of the UK benefits system and would make clear to migrants that they cannot get "something for nothing".
During the programme, Sir John will look back on his path to Downing Street, the challenges of succeeding Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, as well as the economic woes of Black Wednesday and divisions within the Tory party over Europe among other topics.
The second series of the programme will see four senior politicians, also including Lord Hattersley, Lord Steel of Aikwood and Dame Margaret Beckett, reflect on their lives.