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Managing Migration

Article by Foreign Policy Centre

September 15, 2006

Despite the media frenzy that followed, the 2002 nationality White Paper was a step in the right direction. The paper dealt with some of the most pressing issues surrounding the immigration debate – the trappings of citizenship, the plugging of skills shortages through targeted work permit schemes and the delivery of basic services for asylum seekers.

Sadly the paper failed to tackle the sensitive issues about how we can help newcomers become full members of our society and how we can harness their skills; in other words, how we promote their ‘integration’.

Partly to blame is our entrenched inability to come to terms with what is still viewed as a dirty word in the UK, laden with assimilationist implications – immigrants made to sacrifice culture, language or creed to become ‘Westernised’. The furore that followed the announcements regarding citizenship classes, oaths of allegiance and measures to curb arranged marriages was a reflection of the extent to which the integration debate has failed to take root in this country.

The government is right to insist that in order to have a successful immigration system good management is paramount. What it fails to address is that if we are to have a successful immigration system, we need to put in place the tools of integration. If not, we will continue facing a double failure. On the one hand a loss of faith in the immigration system which today verges on hysteria. The public overwhelmingly perceive immigrants and immigration as a problem – ‘scroungers’ and ‘burdens’. More, for example, are concerned about immigrants than about education, the economy or drug abuse.

On the other hand a pool of wasted talent. 70% of refugees are unemployed according to Home Office figures, and 60% of those who had worked as managers and trained professionals at home cannot get jobs here. And this is despite the fact that those applying for refugee status are young and keen to find work: two thirds are aged between 21 and 34.

Countries like Canada and Holland have looked these problems in the eye for many years. Not only have they been selectively recruiting people from abroad, but they have also set up managed integration programmes which help develop language skills, make people feel welcome, introduce them to the ways of their hosts, and make sure that they have all the help they need to enter the job market.

These countries have recognised that for integration to work it needs to be a two way process, a bargain where the host helps create an open and welcoming environment and provides the relevant services to facilitate integration and where the newcomer agrees to participate in the process openly and responsibly.

In Canada new citizens are asked to sign up to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in Holland refugees sign a contract committing themselves to a certain number of hours of language classes. Their experiences show that these integration strategies can and do work. In the Netherlands, for example, only 17% of the population objects to the presence of refugees within their borders and Canadians generally agree that their multicultural make-up is “the best thing about the country”. Compare that to UK figures – 80% think that the government does too
much to help refugees and almost half think that Britain should stop welcoming asylum seekers.

Similarly, in Canada, unemployment levels among immigrants stand at 10%, the same rates as those of their Canadian-born counterparts. In Holland ambitious structured programmes have had
impressive results: 20,000 refugee jobs have been created in small- and medium-sized enterprises, and ethnic minority unemployment figures are down from 16% to 10%.

Immigration is now firmly on the government agenda. The old-timers in the immigration debate often observe how reforms in the UK seem to come in three-year cycles. The question for the next three years should be: can we have integration well as immigration?

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