States should capitalize on pandemic-driven innovations in immigrant integration service delivery in Europe and North America
BRUSSELS — Barely recovered from disruptions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, immigrant integration service providers and policymakers in Europe and North America have had to quickly respond to the recent displacement from Ukraine and Afghanistan. Even as these integration actors face the challenge of rapidly providing services at a sometimes-unprecedented scale, a new Migration Policy Institute Europe report argues it is important for them to take stock of the lessons that can be learned from the forced shift to online services and innovations that were sparked by the pandemic. Doing so can help states build more emergency-proof and cost-effective migrant integration systems.
Unable to provide services in-person early in the pandemic yet with migrants and refugees facing disproportionate health and economic effects, integration practitioners and policymakers had to rapidly rethink their way of doing business. The digital shift has been central to the innovations seen in European and North American integration programs and policymaking, as well as the involvement of new non-governmental and governmental actors.
The report, The COVID-19 Catalyst: Learning from pandemic-driven innovations in immigrant integration policy, examines how government strategies, practices and policies evolved at local, national and EU levels to assure effective and agile responses. Drawing on interviews with senior policymakers and other experts in North America and Europe, it points to lessons that could promote cost-effective, inclusive and crisis-ready policies to enhance immigrant integration governance, and ultimately promote the integration of migrants and refugees moving forward.
"Immigrant integration policies are often forged in the heat of crisis," writes MPI Europe Senior Policy Analyst Jasmijn Slootjes. "Taking a step back to reflect and build on crisis-induced innovation after the emergency has passed is challenging, especially when resources are stretched thin and stakeholders have begun to move on to address new challenges. Yet, without efforts to learn from previous innovations, important lessons may get lost."
While the shift to online services brought many challenges, including the risk of excluding those lacking digital access or know-how, the digital transition also had notable benefits, for example unexpectedly increasing participation in integration courses and diversifying offerings and participant voices. Leveraging online language and integration courses developed during the pandemic will be key in promoting the integration of displaced people from Ukraine and Afghanistan.
Beyond evaluating and scaling up promising innovations developed during this period of forced adaptation, governments should formalize partnerships with new actors that sprang up at many levels, including public-private and cross-sectoral ones. They also should build on pandemic investments in multilingual information provision, innovative outreach methods, more emergency-proof funding frameworks and community partnerships, keeping in mind the need to strike a balance between digital and in-person communication and outreach to ensure all target groups can access vital information.
"Taking these steps to scale up and build on promising practices that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic will help extend the lessons learned and may promote more effective, inclusive and emergency-proof immigrant integration systems in the future," the report notes.
Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/pandemic-innovations-integration.
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