Hometown Associations: An Untapped Resource for Immigrant Integration?
New MPI Report Assesses Immigrant Associations’ Role in a New Light
WASHINGTON – With global migration rates at historic highs, the informal associations that immigrants create for social, economic development and political empowerment purposes are becoming more numerous and better networked. Though much of the policy and research focus on the immigrant organizations, known as hometown associations, is on their development potential for their home countries, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report concludes that the groups play an important – and underexamined – role in immigrant integration.
Government policies, both in immigrant-sending and immigrant-receiving countries, have concentrated on the economic development aspects of hometown associations (HTAs), which are typically informal, volunteer organizations.
Many hometown associations, however, play a valuable role helping immigrants integrate into their new society. In addition to disseminating information on useful support services for immigrants, many HTAs offer their members language classes, day care and citizenship education.
“Our analysis shows that policymakers should not view immigrants’ international economic development and domestic integration objectives as competing priorities,” said MPI Senior Policy Analyst Will Somerville, who authored the report with Jamie Durana and Aaron Matteo Terrazas.
The associations can be helpful mechanisms for immigrant socialization, acting as organized points of contact and coordination between the immigrants, the host government and other institutions.
Hometown associations’ immigrant-integration capacity could be strengthened with limited, collaborative interventions by government and non-government partners – for example, by offering leadership training, outreach to immigrant communities or improved government services for immigrants.
The report recommends increased utilization of HTA outreach and services. Noting the lack of data on associations’ existence and operations, the report also recommends that organizations and governments aiming to work with hometown associations undertake a collaborative data collection effort to enhance possible partnerships.
“Hometown associations help shore up and support migrant communities, who often find themselves isolated and dispersed in their host countries. They provide opportunities for migrants to come together, connect with each other and form networks, helping migrants settle and integrate into their new environment,” said Sukhvinder Kaur Stubbs, chief executive of the Barrow Cadbury Trust, which was a policy partner on the project.
With global migration on the rise, the number of HTAs appears to be increasing. The number of Mexican hometown associations located in 25 U.S. states increased from 441 in 1998 to 623 five years later. There may be as many as 3,000 Mexican HTAs operating in the United States by some estimates. The government of El Salvador has compiled a database listing more than 268 Salvadoran associations around the world. And hometown associations are emerging in communities where they did not previously exist, as immigrants increasingly move beyond traditional gateway cities, whether in the United States, England, Canada or other immigrant-destination countries.
The report is available online here.