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Introduction: Developing and Testing a Generalizable Model of Immigrant Integration

From: Canadian Ethnic Studies
Volume 45, Number 3, 2013
pp. 1-7 | 10.1353/ces.2013.0038

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Developing and Testing a Generalizable Model of Immigrant Integration

Integration is often touted as the ‘gold standard’ in the settlement of newcomers. It forms the basis of many government policies on settlement and integration. Programs developed by social service providers use integration as a central formulating concept. Integration is the optimal goal for any society to ensure that all of its members play an active role and feel a part of their community. As readers of Canadian Ethnic Studies already know, integration is a reciprocal process where newcomers are incorporated into a new society. During the process, both the newcomer and host society change as a result of interaction with one another. This change is mutually beneficial; the immigrant makes alterations to their behaviour to “fit in”, while the host society changes as a result of the incorporation of newcomers. The passage of time ensures that the newcomers and their children begin to adapt and reconcile their cultural practices, language and religion towards the prevailing culture of the host society. But work must be done to ensure the host society is ready and amenable to accepting the arrival of newcomers as integration takes place at the community level (Bommes 2012).

As researchers of immigration already know, the integration process is not linear, since many newcomers report that for every step forward, they take two steps back. Nor is the process balanced. Newcomers may be fully integrated into their employment and occupation yet at the same time, they may feel ostracized by their community. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a fully integrated ethnic group. We cannot say one group is more or less integrated than another. Individuals from the same ethnic group, living in the same community and even living in the same family, report different integration experiences. Mothers may integrate faster than fathers or children, despite the fact that all arrived at the same time. Age differences in the pace at which integration are reported are also prevalent. While it may be true that most children adapt faster than their parents, primarily because school is an institution where all pupils learn and are introduced to their society, this is not always the case. Furthermore, entrance class has an effect on integration. While those arriving in the family class may integrate faster into their communities, those arriving in the business and skilled worker classes tend to integrate faster into employment and economic arenas than others. Still other migrants, namely temporary [End Page 1] workers, are not meant to integrate at all. They are supposed to work and return quietly to their country of origin, unless they work in very particular jobs and live in provinces that encourage permanent migration among their temporary migrants. We can thus summarize integration as a non-linear process with multiple outcomes for all newcomers. It is an uneven process that can result in significant success in some institutions, but failure in others.

The largely unobtainable ideal of integration, however, is that both the newcomer and the host society change, mostly for the better. The process is not without its problems, the chief one being that inevitably, the majority of the changes are done by the newcomers and virtually none by the host society. Castles and Miller (2009, 35) argue that “virtually all democratic states—and some not so democratic as well—have fast growing immigrant populations” which are tied largely to economic growth. It means that the host society’s interest lies mainly in jobs, investment, and employment creation, rather than in the social or cultural aspects of integration. This focus on economic integration over other aspects of integration is understandable. Without a steady income, newcomer families will suffer poverty and the associated issues such as poor health and educational outcomes for themselves and their offspring. However, societies that focus solely or mainly on economic outcomes soon face problems of social and cultural integration. Two solitudes are created: one which is predominated by the majority/host society culture and the other which is excluded and marginalized due to cultural, social, religious and/or linguistic differences.

Societies that fail to be inclusive of their newcomer populations face significant issues, particularly over...