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Incorporating immigrants into society

Immigrants are often pushed to the bottom of their host country's class system, usually because of their low levels of material wealth and (perceived) human capital. For those staying long term, a better incorporation requires better jobs, more skills, access to services and less segregation. Most long-term policies for their incorporation include those dealing with basic rights and fighting discrimination noted earlier. They also generally apply to all workers in the economy, not only immigrants; this is especially true with respect to public services for informal workers. But a few key objectives can specifically help their incorporation, without taking anything away from locals.

The first is to facilitate job-matching between host and home country. This ensures that immigrants are not deceived by rumours and word-of-mouth demand, but are drawn by actual job offers. This can be quite effective for seasonal work, particularly when home and host country institutions work efficiently together.

In the second place, and for those staying for the longer term, access to education for immigrant children can hasten integration and understanding, through spillovers of language and culture. For adults specific hands-on and vocational training for jobs in high demand in the country can boost the matching mechanism.

The third element is a facilitation of housing arrangements and avoidance of the creation of ghettos by immigrants crowding together. Ensuring that formal restrictions for immigrants to access housing are lowered partially ensures that they do not end up in ghettos.

However, the policies above constitute pieces in a larger puzzle. Box 5.1 provides an example of how South Africa turned a potentially disastrous situation into a net gain for the country by taking a comprehensive approach to immigrant integration.

Box 5.1. Migration policy and social cohesion in South Africa

In May 2008, a series of riots against immigrants from nearby countries in a township of Johannesburg spread to the cities of Gauteng, Western Cape, Cape Town, Durban and other provinces. By the end, 62 immigrants had been killed, several hundred injured, thousands displaced and many properties looted and destroyed. The wave of violence occurred at a time of rising immigration (especially from Zimbabwe) and a general deterioration of socio-economic conditions in the most deprived areas of South Africa.

The government immediately condemned the xenophobic attacks and deployed police to restore order and arrest suspects. It also created temporary camps and implemented re-integration plans. Following the wave of violence, social cohesion and integration policies became a matter of concern for the government and a central subject of study, and in August 2008 the "Migration and Social Cohesion" Project was launched by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA), an independent public interest organisation. It aims to fight the negative perception of migration as a threat to social cohesion and to communicate the ways in which migrants can be positively incorporated into society. It follows two principal assumptions: that integration enhances the contribution of migrants to the economic, social, cultural and political development of the host society, and that diversity is an opportunity and a source of enrichment.

To foster the participation of migrants in South African society, the project promotes research and publication. After gathering policy-relevant information, the team organises workshops for policy makers, so that they can implement proactive programmes and change the legal framework. The project also encourages collaborative engagement and mutually reinforcing relationships between migrants and locals. Finally, it improves public awareness of the role, status and contribution of immigrants.

One significant lesson derived from the experience of the project has been the importance of beginning at the local level, where the process of integration occurs primarily. City projects have thus been implemented in Cape Town, with the establishment of a loan and savings scheme, and in Johannesburg, through a migrants' help desk. Such initiatives ease integration by encouraging interaction between immigrants and citizens. A second way to enhance social cohesion is through partnerships between the government and other stakeholders and the involvement of a large range of actors at all levels. The IDASA project also argues for legislation as the preferred tool to guarantee equality and non-discrimination and to fight against exploitation and abuse of migrants (in particular women, children and undocumented migrants).

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