Good practice examples of integration of foreigners: what measures actually work?

Journalist Vladas Rožėnas

The integration of foreigners is the most important and sometimes forgotten concept in public rhetorics about refugees, economic migrants, immigration and emigration issues.

Often one of the most famous public positions is that migration is a negative phenomenon that needs to be curbed, and then it is fruitless to talk about integration. However, statistics show that migration is simply inevitable. The majority (38%) of migrants come to the European Union for family reasons. Another 17 percent. for work, 4 percent for education purposes, etc.. The world of free movement has creted conditions for people who are willing and for all good reasons want to change the states they live in.

Thus, migration to Lithuania will take place in exactly the same way as migration from Lithuania. The question is what benefits the state, its economy, culture, social life can take from migration. And this starts with strategic decisions on how to integrate foreigners into a country which is not native for newcomers.

Numerous analyzes show that tensions between local communities and immigrants depend much more not on ethnic reasons but on the existence of pre-prepared programs to establish dialogues between newcomers and local people. In other words, the relationship between local and migrant communities depends not on what sort of people encounter each other, but in what sort of way this encounter happens- whether both sides are willing and able to talk to each other.

And although many integration programs for the best result should be organized at the natonial or municipal level, non-governmental organizations, employers or even the communities themselves can make a significant contribution to foreign integration.

Language teaching

Research shows that the two most important factors in ensuring the successful integration of immigrants are finding a job and speaking the local language. These points are very closely related to each other. Employment, especially in an original profession of a foreigner, allows migrants to build social ties, but only a small part of the labor market is available to immigrants without knowing the local language. Conversely, a language is most likely to be learned when it is used in practice, making it much more difficult to acquire without work or study.

As a result, successful state immigrant integration programs often include long-lasting local language learning programs. In Australia, English is taught for free for up to 510 hours, in Norway, Norwegian for up to 250 hours, and so on.

An example is Canada’s free 14-week „Enhanced Language Training“ program. Its aim is to combine the two aspects mentioned above, not only to teach immigrants English, but also the knowledge a foreigner will need to integrate into the labor market. Such public investment helps qualified immigrants with higher education or specific knowledge in a certain field, who cannot use it due to their lack of knowledge of the local language.

In the United Kingdom, a separate English language learning system, „Reflect for ESOL“, has been set up specifically for immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers, the textbook of which can be found here. The program is designed for adult learning in groups- not by listening to the teacher, but by deciding for themselves what will be discussed in each lesson. For example, lessons about work not only teach the words of different professions, but also ask students about their experience, about their talents, about what they would like to do in the new state. The whole vocabulary is based on the ideas expressed by the students, which means that it will have practical benefits. In a very similar way, lessons for learning Lithuanian language are taught by volunteers at the Center for Community and Social Innovation free of charge.

The ability of migrants to adapt to the new labor market is no less beneficial for the state labor market itself – according to the European Union , 40% of employers do not find a sufficiently skilled workforce. In addition, statistically skilled migrants are more likely to stay in one settlement for a longer period of time, which further facilitates their integration.

Particularly successful organizations are the ones, which combine language teaching with free legal aid and access to free temporary shelter or employment, such as the Warsaw Multicultural Center.

Help making social connections

A picture by Matheus Bertelli

Although language teaching is not readily available or intensive enough in all states, many Western countries understand the benefits of these sorts of programs. The situation is different in understanding the value of fostering the connection with the local community – this problem is usually not solved at the state level and left to self-sufficiency.

The relationship of migrants with the local community falls on the shoulders of both sides. There is a number of community initiatives in the world that aim to engage in dialogue between different sections of society. In Berlin, for example, where the number of both economic migrants and refugees is high, there are initiatives to meet foreigners to cook, develop, play sports, and so on. And while none of these activities will in themselves ensure integration, they will help to establish a dialogue, as there will be a joint activity and at least one topic of interest on both sides.

There are literally thousands of similar initiatives in Europe. Berlin alone catalogs many organizations for the integration of immigrants (mostly refugees) on a separate map. However, Germany is far from being the only such country. We rarely hear about similar initiatives because they are, in principle, aimed at a small number of people and are always very local.

On the part of the local community, a wish to know the newcomers is necessary and, firstly, they need help them get to know the culture of the state, but secondly, they migaht also want to learn something from migrants themselves.

As migrant families become involved in the life of the local community, the socialization of their children is very important – when migrants’ children go to the same school with the locals, they naturally knit together closer ties between their parents too. Still, migrant parents, because they do not know the local language, often are left out on their child’s educaitonal process. Organizations such as “Men” in Germany organize workshops for children of parents of migrants so that they can adequately engage in school life and get to know teachers and other parents without needing to know the local language.

Almost all research on social inclusion indicates one common aspect: immigrants need as much pre-available information about the local community as possible. If a person comes to a country they do not know, where they do not have friends or family who can introduce them, it will be much more difficult for them to adapt to the local culture, because they simply do not know what to do – what is asked of them and what is considered unacceptable.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of community initiatives is difficult to quantify because their benefits are not clearly visible. Language courses or recruitment programs ultimately yield tangible results – trained and recruited people. And it is much more difficult to say how successful the integration of a stranger into the social life of a new community is and there can simply be no one answer.

Adapting migrants’ skills

Countries facing high immigration tend to try to offer different bonuses for immigrants from other countries so that they choose to live and integrate into the life of different regions, rather than forming a closed community with other foreigners alone. In addition, there is usually a shortage of skilled workers in smaller cities rather than in capitals.

The best examples are Swedish or Danish integration programs for foreigners, which accommodate asylum seekers in places where their education or experience can be useful. In Sweden, efforts are being made to integrate migrants into smaller settlements with declining local populations (which is happening with smaller cities in most Western countries, including Lithuania).

For example, in the port town of Lysekil, which population has been steadily declining for about two decades, migrants are employed in the service and tourism sectors. Their work begins with state-subsidized internships, which aim to teach both the specialty and the language it needs immediately.

Another clearly successful initiative is the KVINFO program in Denmark, which aims to connect local business mentors with women with refugee status who become students in the country. The organization helps to connect local people with newcomers, but they are responsible for the learning process – immigrant women, with the help of the Danes, are not looking for any kind job, but a job that matches their talents, often even encouraged to become employers themselves.

In Canada, there is a „Provincial Nominee program“ at the national level that allows businesses in smaller cities and municipalities to invite skilled migrants. One of the reasons why the program is successful is that, as in megacities around the world, renting and living in Toronto and Montreal are the most expensive, and integrating into the local community is the most difficult. Thus, employers in smaller areas are happy to welcome migrant workers, the state enjoys a more even distribution of the population, and migrants themselves receive much more flexible living conditions.

In Lithuania, free of charge integration programs and Lithuanian language courses are provided by: Currently, free Lithuanian language courses for migrants in Lithuania are organized by Caritas partners “Social-Educational Initiative Center Plus”, “Lithuanian Red Cross” and “Center for Communion and Social Innovation”.
Family integration: A joint project of „Caritas“, Arts agency „Artscape“ and „the Refugee Council of Lithuania“ to integrate immigrant families with local families „Community Bridges“. The project currently invites Lithuanian families to volunteer and become friends-mentors of foreigners granted asylum in Lithuania.