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Integration Regimes: Who Is to Integrate into What and by Which Means

Integration Policies in North-Western Europe

Since postcolonial immigration was generally understood as a collective inheritance and to comprise members of the nation, most North-Western European countries did not develop policies for the integration of migrants from the colonies[1]. Nevertheless, in countries like the Netherlands, migrants were exposed to fierce re-education programmes aimed at acculturating them into the mainstream.

Migrants arriving within post-war recruitment schemes were seen as “guest workers” and therefore ideas about integrating them into society hardly surfaced. When they did, national reactions differed considerably. States varied in their basic conception of citizenship, which shapes the rules of belonging to the community. In Germany and other countries where membership to the nation is defined by descent (ius sanguinis), permanent settlement of non-Germans was politically daunting and, on the part of the migrant, required many years of patience and almost complete assimilation into society. Countries having a political definition of the nation provided easier admission of new members to the polity, as long as newcomers adhered to the constitution, laws, and political rules. Among the countries that applied such an approach to integration, some, including France, required more cultural adaptation, while others, such as Sweden, the UK, and the Netherlands, tolerated or even promoted a higher degree of cultural and ethnic diversity. Newcomers in France were considered 'individuals who had to disappear into the pre-defined political model by renouncing their own attributes—cultural, religious or otherwise—in the public sphere' (Wihtol de Wenden 2011, 67). In the UK, on the contrary, integration was officially defined as 'not a flattening process of uniformity but as cultural diversity coupled with equal opportunity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance' (Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, cited in Rex 1995, 248). According to different ways of understanding citizenship and nationhood, European countries developed integration policies that have been coined “differential exclusionist”, “assimilationist”, or “pluralist”[2].

The timing of the development of integration policies has also been influenced by such conceptions of citizenship. For states in North-Western Europe that relied on exclusive notions of nationhood, it took a very long time to acknowledge the permanent character of migration. In Germany, for instance, the presence of nonGerman immigrants remained ignored until 2001, when a government-appointed committee concluded that migration henceforth should be actively promoted. Other countries in the region recognized relatively early on that what had seemed to be temporary migration had turned into long-term settlement. They, hence, developed integration policies and sought to limit discriminatory effects of immigration law by offering ways towards rapid naturalization. Two countries that had formulated early responses towards the settlement of non-nationals were the Netherlands and Sweden. In the Dutch case, from 1980 onward the government pursued an active integration policy whereby the precise definition of who was targeted by the policy evolved in sync with overall societal evolution. Elsewhere, realization of the permanent character of migrant settlement did not lead to formal integration policy; rather, integration was addressed under general welfare policies or shaped by less formalized arrangements and implemented by non-state actors.

Even in states that adopted explicit integration policies, the general institutional framework shaped the socio-economic integration of immigrants. Particularly, the welfare regime (and the corresponding economic-industrial configuration and type of labour market) together with immigration law have proven crucial for the position of immigrants. While the residential and legal status of immigrants determines, directly and indirectly, their access to public welfare and to the labour market as long as they remain foreigners, the distinct welfare regime in place shapes both the opportunity of access and the form and extent of benefits (Dorr and Faist 1997; Morissens and Sainsbury 2005). The systems that provide more extensive coverage for immigrants are the universal ones that include the whole residential population, like those in Scandinavian countries and, in some policy areas, in other countries (such as old-age pensions in the Netherlands and health care in Spain and the UK). Insurance systems based on contributions during times of regular employment, typical of conservative-corporatist welfare states like Germany, France, and the Benelux, tend to exclude some migrant categories from benefits. Among the selective security systems typical of liberal welfare states, such as the UK and Ireland, coverage for immigrants very much depends on the degree of governmental regulation of the market.

With time, some states that had previously excluded migrants from formal (i.e., legal) participation opened up by offering ius soli and relaxed conditions for naturalization, whereas others that were previously relatively open, started to become less inclusive in legal terms, matched by more assimilationist conceptions of “integration”. Obtaining permanent residency status has in some cases been made conditional on fulfilling such integration requirements. The Dutch pioneered testing of language skills before a visa is granted to spouses seeking to join their husband or wife in the Netherlands. Upon arrival, substantial language proficiency must be demonstrated. Mandatory integration courses and contractual obligations to acquire basic language and cultural skills, first developed by Denmark and the Netherlands, have become widespread in this part of Europe (e.g., in France, Germany, and Austria), albeit not always aimed at the same segment of the immigrant population. In effect, admission and integration have increasingly become intertwined.

In spite of the relevance of the national level, local authorities and local actors across North-Western Europe have been and still are key in the formulation and implementation of integration policies. Even in the countries that developed highly centralized schemes, like the Netherlands and Sweden, the importance of the local level is undeniable, bringing about a distinctive view on integration oriented by rather pragmatic goals. This has sometimes led to open discontinuities or opposition between national and local policies.

  • [1] The UK, for instance, in 1965 created the Race Relations Act which outlawed racial discrimination.
  • [2] Castles and Miller's (1993) classification of conceptions of citizenship as “republican”, “ethnic”, or “multicultural” is one of the most frequently cited. Recent criticisms challenge the usefulness of such national integration models (Thränhardt and Bommes 2010).
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