KNOMAD  > Thematic working groups >  Integration issues in host communities

Integration issues in host communities

Managing the integration of migrants into the host society has become an increasingly visible and politically fraught challenge.  Migrants seeking employment often face language and credential barriers, discrimination, underemployment, and exploitation. Market failures in this regard yield tremendous inefficiencies in the migration system, with underutilized talent increasing burden on national welfare systems.  Not only are economic benefits below potential for both the host and the country of origin (through remittances), but host country populations lose confidence in immigration as a benefit and in their government’s ability to manage it. 

Adding to these economic concerns are equally difficult matters of the social effects of migration.  Social integration has become a political flashpoint in many countries throughout the world as large numbers of migrants bring with them a diversity of ethnicity, race, religion, and culture that host populations can find uncomfortable, especially as minority populations grow.  Citizens of host countries may demand that their governments protect historical national cultures and identities, and take measures to ensure that migrants conform to national cultural norms.

Contemporary features of globalization have come to mitigate government integration efforts as modern communications strengthen migrant-homeland ties and enclave formation. Transnationalism has become a standard feature of modern migration and this challenges integration efforts and thinking about citizenship. Failures to integrate newcomers can result in strong anti-immigrant attitudes amongst the public and electoral setbacks for governments.

The work carried out under this theme will be designed to help governments and other stakeholders better understand the context for integration, and highlight effective means to enable integration that brings different groups of migrants into the host economy and establishes social harmony among diverse groups in society.

 Perceptions among policy-makers, politicians and the general public tend to assume a ‘zero-sum game’ between processes of immigrant integration (in all its social, economic and cultural forms) and transnationalism (the multiple modes of connection that migrants maintain with their homelands). According to this view, the ‘more integrated’ a migrant becomes, the less s/he will engage in transnational practices such as remitting money, voting in homeland elections, and taking part in socio-cultural activities.  Many integration policies and goals are based on this view – culminating in an approach to citizenship/naturalization in which the immigrant is to be wholly oriented to his/her adopted country.  A number of studies demonstrate, however, that the opposite is often the case, where the ‘most integrated’ (in terms of citizenship, language acquisition, voting practices and other political activity, employment, and entrepreneurship) are also the ‘most transnational’ (for example, remitting more money, and engaging in business and politics in the home-land).  Policies around long-term residence and citizenship, or short-term stays need to reflect the changing and varied desires of migrants. 

Key Questions

  1. Which categories of migrants should be targeted by integration policies: permanent, temporary or other migrants; first generation, second generation or other individuals; economic migrants and refugees; and/or high- skilled / low- skilled migrants?
  2. How should integration policies reflect the views and interests of different sectors, including sending and hosting communities, as well as migrants themselves?
  3. How can integration policies ensure adequate room for cultural diversity and freedom?
  4. What policies are appropriate when migrants are the majority?
  5. How can public perceptions in receiving communities of migrants and their integration be improved?
  6. How does integration affect development, both in migrant-sending countries through remittances, trade, employment creation, business development and investment, and in host countries through enhanced labor force participation, innovation, and entrepreneurship, as well as political, social, and cultural contributions of migrants?

Planned Activities

Year 1:

  • Develop a network of experts, detail responsibilities, and identify the primary audience for initiatives under this thematic working group.
  • Bring together experts through meetings, teleconferences, and other events.
  • Identify key data and information sources.
  • Commission surveys and guided interviews of representatives from integration departments/ministries, NGOs, and migrant groups.
  • Prepare papers to disseminate survey results and review work on the relationship between integration and transnationalism.
  • Identify policy-relevant research priorities.
  • Begin to populate the KNOMAD website.

Year 2:

  • Develop indicators of successful integration and collect examples of good practices, in order to help underpin the compilation of policy options. Add this material to the KNOMAD website.
  • Establish a peer-review process and identify potential peer reviewers.
  • Identify sources of funds for new research, synthesis, and analysis.
  • Hold workshops exploring the integration theme to engage with various national, urban and NGO policy networks. 
  • Undertake a series of experimental ‘search conferences’ (facilitated discussions aimed at finding common ground), which will bring members of national and urban integration departments together with members of diaspora-related ministries of sending countries.

Year 3:

  • Prepare papers and briefs identifying policy options.
  • Disseminate the findings through in-person meetings, seminars, conferences, and roundtables.
  • Launch pilot projects and initiate additional research.
  • Prepare a paper summarizing the findings and activities to date under this thematic working group.