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Time and Generations

The heuristic model developed and explained above may be used as a tool to describe and analyse the position of individual immigrants and groups of immigrants at a certain point in time. But an important element in the logic of integration processes is the time factor. Integration of newcomers is a long-term process by its very nature. This immediately becomes apparent if we look through the lens of newcomers. At the individual level, adult immigrants may adapt cognitively and adjust their behaviour when they learn how things are done, by whom, and so on. This part is relatively easy and pays off quickly. However, their adaptation in the aesthetic (relating to the five senses) and normative realms takes more time. Feelings, likes, dislikes, and perceptions of good and evil remain rather persistent over a lifetime. Though this may be a general pattern for all human beings, it becomes especially manifest in those who have changed their environment through migration (for an overview of these aspects of the adaptation process see Van Amersfoort 1982, 35 ff.).

The situation of the descendants of immigrants generally differs in this respect. Although they do become familiarized with the immigrant community and possibly its pre-migration background through their primary relations in family and immigrant community networks, they simultaneously become thoroughly acquainted with the culture and language of the society of settlement, not only through informal neighbourhood contacts starting in early childhood but especially through their participation in mainstream institutions, particularly the education system. If such a double process of socialization takes place under favourable conditions (in which policies can play an important role), these second-generation young people develop a way of life and lifestyle that integrates the roles, identities, and loyalties of these different worlds and situations. Because the ways of doing this are manifold, more and more differentiation develops within the original immigrant group. At the group level, this means that the litmus test for integration as an end result (being an accepted part of society)—and hence for the success or failure of policies in this field—lies in the situation of the second generation in the host society.

In principle we can grasp the time factor by carrying out and comparing descriptive analyses of individuals and groups of immigrants at different points in time. In doing this, we should be cognizant of findings of previous historical comparative analyses. First, research indicates that integration processes are neither linear nor unidirectional. Although we have indicated before that the situation of migrants (first generation) differs significantly from that of their children and grandchildren, this does not imply that integration is the inevitable eventual outcome. On the contrary, the literature shows that setbacks may occur. Second, we should keep in mind that integration may progress at different paces in the three dimensions and even within a single dimension—for example, labour market integration may take longer than integration in the health care system. Third, we should not forget the receiving society, which changes with immigration and has to adapt its institutions to immigrants' needs. For societies without a recent history of immigration or diversity, the process may be more demanding and therefore require more time than in immigration societies.

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