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Governments in Europe & North America Need a New Social Contract for the Age of Spontaneous Migration
Press Release
Thursday, January 16, 2020

Governments in Europe & North America Need a New Social Contract for the Age of Spontaneous Migration

WASHINGTON — A new age of migration has been ushered in by large-scale spontaneous migration flows on both sides of the Atlantic, which have upended asylum adjudications systems and placed enormous stress on reception, housing and social services, particularly in Europe.

Paired with dramatic change in the political landscape, as nativists have capitalized on public disquiet with government’s ability to manage migration, fear has taken hold that the shared principles that govern how people live together have reached a breaking point. Several years on from the 2015-16 European migration crisis, there is an important opportunity to take stock of what has been learned and to build a new social contract for increasingly diverse societies that are confronting cycles of disruption.

A new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report, Rebuilding Community after Crisis: Striking a New Social Contract for Diverse Societies, explores how unplanned migration spikes have unsettled the main institutions of liberal democracies and exposed the limits of integration strategies that are leaving many newcomers struggling to find their place in highly organized labor markets and skill-intensive economies.

“It is time for integration policy to cast off its skin and enter a new age of maturity,” write Demetrios G. Papademetriou and Meghan Benton, as they sketch a blueprint for an adaptive, dynamic process that is oriented by skill needs rather than national origins and draws on efforts across policy portfolios.

“The future is upon us,” they write. “Natives and newcomers alike live in societies characterized by relentless and disruptive economic, social, demographic and cultural change. Helping all residents develop the skills to thrive in this environment, and helping communities develop the resilience to manage change, will reap returns that extend well beyond migration and integration.”

Addressing the deep-rooted integration challenges unearthed by large-scale migration and rapid social change will require a combination of strategies, including:

  • Investing in mainstream programs that assist not just newly arrived refugees and migrants, but all workers displaced by labor market change or left behind by globalization
  • Strengthening common values by requiring newcomers and existing residents to deliberate the rules of the road of living in diverse societies
  • Taking pressure off welfare systems by making investments that stimulate more entrepreneurship, enable intensive worker retraining and that better recognize skills across occupational and geographic boundaries
  • Fostering social inclusion, particularly for newcomer populations living on the margins in part by advancing “work-adjacent” programs such as volunteering
  • Encouraging a community-driven approach to integration services, for example private sponsorship of refugees by community groups and individuals.

“Rather than experimenting with what works for particular groups as part of a stand-alone integration strategy, governments must focus on rebuilding institutions and striking a new ‘grand bargain’,” the report concludes. “Most importantly, such a lens shows that inclusion-focused policy solutions should seek to serve everyone, and that partners need to come from each corner of government, civil society, social partners, communities and the private sector.”

This report is the final in the MPI Transatlantic Council on Migration series entitled, “Rebuilding Community after Crisis: An Updated Social Contract for a New Migration Reality.” The series includes Canadian and German case studies, as well as reports on harnessing the benefits of volunteering and combating social isolation for marginalized newcomers.

Read reports in the series here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/transatlantic-council-migration/updated-social-contract-new-migration-reality.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels. MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration is a unique deliberative body that examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes across the Atlantic community.