Integration Means Belonging
According to the dictionary, to "belong" means to "to be attached or bound by birth, allegiance, or dependency" — a logical definition when talking about immigrant integration. But it also means "to be suitable, appropriate, or advantageous." All these nuances, applied both positively and negatively, describe integration trends in industrialized countries in 2007.
In the United States, which has no formal integration policy for family and economic migrants, communities that have become immigrant destinations only in the last 10 to 15 years care about immigration's practical effects — strains on schools and hospitals, for instance — but also about whether the culture will change and if the newcomers, particularly those from Latin America, will belong.
Issue No. 6 of Top Ten of 2007
The numerous attempts in 2007 to regulate immigration at the state and local level reflect such fears about issues of belonging as well as immigrants' mobility and fiscal costs (see Issue #7: U.S. Cities Face Legal Challenges, and All 50 States Try Their Hand at Making Immigration-related Laws).
Elsewhere, although nearly one in four Swiss residents are foreign born, Switzerland's anti-immigrant People's Party had its best showing ever, winning 29 percent of the vote in October elections. Its campaign imagery focused on fears about foreign criminals and foreigners' degradation of the Swiss way of life.
But not all policies or rhetoric around belonging were negative. In May, Canada launched the Foreign Credentials Referral Office (FCRO), which helps internationally trained individuals who want to work in Canada get their credentials assessed and recognized more quickly. By the end of 2007, FCRO services should be available at 320 Service Canada centers. The move is advantageous to both immigrants and Canada's economy, as Diane Finley, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, essentially stated.
The Dutch government, known for its rigid "norms and values" approach to integration, softened its tone this year when a new coalition took power. The coalition's agreement, entitled "Living Together, Working Together," addresses integration but focuses less on specific "problem groups" and more on general social welfare hurdles, including those facing nonimmigrants.
Germany showed that it wants to do a better job integrating its immigrants. Reforms instituted this year increased the maximum number of hours of German language instruction from 600 to 900 and imposed financial penalties for immigrants who are required to take the courses but fail to enroll. The federal government also decided to increase the integration course budget by 14 million euros to 154 million euros starting in 2008.
In July, Germany announced its National Integration Plan, which includes more than 400 measures and voluntary commitments relating to integration. Federal government officials, local authorities, associations of migrants, and numerous other nongovernmental players contributed to the plan. One notable outcome was the creation of language courses for targeted immigrant groups, including youth, women, women with children, and those with limited abilities to read and write.
Even South Korea has acknowledged that permanent migration is taking place and that the government should help them integrate. The government has proposed a 2008 budget of 22 billion won (about US$24 million) for immigrant support, a 471.8 percent increase over 2007 (see Issue #10: South Korea Opens Its Arms).
Australia's move toward belonging was, perhaps, more symbolic. In January, the government changed the "Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs" to the "Department of Immigration and Citizenship" and, later in the year, the government rolled out its new citizenship test, which includes questions on Australian values (see Issue #4: Testing Immigrants — Literally).