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The Study of Integration Policies

A Definition of the Concept

The study of policies is fundamentally different from the study of integration processes. The essence of policies is the intention to guide and steer processes in society, in our case, integration processes of immigrants. Explicit integration policies are part of a normative political process in which the issue of integration is formulated as a problem, the problem is given a normative framing, and concrete policy measures are designed and implemented to achieve a desired outcome. Other generic policies not specifically targeting immigrants (such as the education and health care systems, housing, the labour market, and the public regulation of religion) may exert strong influence (positive or negative) on integration processes of immigrants. Therefore, a systematic analysis of integration policies should go beyond integration policies in the strict sense.


When studying integration policies, the first question to be analysed is how different political and social actors perceive immigrant integration in terms of policy frames and policy shifts. A frame is a reconstruction of the problem definition of a policy issue, including the underlying assumptions of the problem's causes and possible remedies for it. This means looking at how the problem is actually defined and explained and at what is thought could and should be done about it. The problem definition takes into consideration how immigration is perceived: Is it seen as a problem or as opportunity? Who has the moral or legal right to be or become an immigrant? Who are the wanted immigrants, and who are the unwanted? For those immigrants already present in the host society, a basic question is whether they are seen as “foreigners”, as “temporary guests”, or as permanent members of society for whom the state accepts the same responsibilities as for native citizens, guaranteeing the same rights and providing the same facilities.

Once the problem has been defined, the next step is considering what should be done. In some cases, a state or a city may choose to ignore immigrants' presence and therefore avoid any special responsibility for them. This choice for a non-policy response should be understood as a policy in itself (see Hammar 1985, 277–278; Alexander 2007, 37 ff). In other cases, new policies may be formulated to cater for certain immigrants' needs but under specific conditions due to the alleged temporary nature of their stay. Under this guest worker approach immigrants' otherness may be “tolerated” and even encouraged though their residence rights may be curtailed in the long run. Finally, if immigrants are perceived as permanent residents, inclusion is the main response. This takes different forms, however. Coinciding with the model on integration policies proposed by Entzinger (2000), integration policies may differ significantly with regard to the three dimensions of immigrants' integration identified earlier; that is, the legal-political dimension, the socio-economic dimension, and the cultural-religious dimension.

In terms of the first dimension, legal recognition and political participation, policies may recognize immigrants as permanent foreign residents (the so-called “denizens”), thus incorporating them socially but limiting their political rights, or immigrants may be accepted as full citizens, thus removing all barriers for and even promoting naturalization. In terms of equality, the socio-economic dimension, specific policy measures may be devised catering for immigrants' interests and needs, or policies may merely address the common interests of citizens in general. Finally, in terms of diversity, the cultural-religious dimension, policies may be designed under two very different premises. The first is that integration demands the adaptation and learning of immigrants but also significant changes in access to and the working of institutional structures of the host society. The second is that societal rules and structures, including underlying norms and values, should be taken as a given and immigrants should (voluntarily or even as a mandatory task) adapt to them.

Finally, the third question to be addressed is for whom are integration policies meant. Migrant integration policies that designate specific groups of immigrants as target groups are different from policies that focus on all immigrants and are even more distinct from policies targeting all individuals regardless of their origin or targeting natives, established civil society, and the general institutions of society. In practice, these different approaches result in very different policies, again with regard to the three dimensions of integration: Political rights can be granted to immigrants as individuals, for instance, by granting voting rights, or as groups, which often means the creation of representative bodies. Policies may seek to promote equal opportunities for all citizens, meaning equal access to housing, education, health care, and the labour market, or they may seek to promote an equal share in access to these goods and services. Finally, cultural diversity can be promoted as an individual or group right, the latter often implying state support to immigrants' own organizations and institutions.

Frames cannot always be analysed directly; they often have to be reconstructed from policy documents and political discourse. When a policy is defined, it generally includes an explicit formulation of the perceived problem and the desired outcome of the specific efforts encompassed by the policy. Thus, politically debated statements in and about policy documents contain the essential elements of policy frames. The most important elements to be studied and compared are the general assumptions and orientations about the causes of the problem and remedies as well as basic concepts used (or explicitly rejected); the general aims of policies and dimensions of integration addressed; and the definition of the main target groups.

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