What Should Successful Integration Look Like for Vulnerable Newcomers?
WASHINGTON — As host countries in Europe, North America and beyond prioritize getting refugees and other newly arrived migrants into work, another challenge has received less attention: Helping those who may never find jobs participate meaningfully in their new communities. Newcomers who are not in the workplace (particularly refugee women, migrants who are unskilled or illiterate and the elderly) are at high risk for social isolation.
The consequences for this population are far reaching and go well beyond simple economics, as a new report for the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration outlines. Yet the tools to address it are not well developed.
In Beyond Work: Reducing Social Isolation for Refugee Women and Other Marginalized Newcomers, author Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan argues that societies need to reconsider what successful integration looks like for newcomers who may never find traditional employment or who need a longer-than-average timeline to get there.
“The risks of social exclusion carry long-term consequences beyond individual well-being, including the long-term success of children of marginalized adults, for intergroup dynamics and for society as a whole,” she writes. “Yet most countries lack the policy tools to systematically address this challenge.”
The report examines interventions that have broadened the lens of integration beyond the labor market for vulnerable newcomers in a number of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The report draws some preliminary observations on what works and why among the small-scale programs implemented to date, and also asks whether more could be done to factor them into the traditional machinery of integration.
Ways to reach populations at risk of social exclusion include prioritizing “work-adjacent” activities such as volunteering, fostering economic empowerment in areas overlooked by formal employment services (including crafts, cooking and gardening) and non-work initiatives (such as sports, arts, mentorship and peer-to-peer programs) that boost social ties and connect newcomers with locals.
The balance for government officials who must make decisions about finite resources is a complex one, notes Banulescu-Bogdan, who is associate director of MPI’s international program. “It will require rethinking the value of social programs that cannot demonstrate immediate, easily quantified economic benefits. While supporting vulnerable, socially isolated groups has benefits for the whole of society, the benefits are diffuse, accrue over the longer term and may not have political support; meanwhile, the costs of investing in this area are immediate and sometimes steep.”
This report is part of a Transatlantic Council series titled, “Rebuilding Community after Crisis: An Updated Social Contract for a New Migration Reality.” Drawing from papers presented at the Council’s twentieth plenary meeting, the series examines how the fundamental tenets of integration and building strong communities have changed in response to the pressures of mixed migration flows. The series concludes next week with a Council Statement.
Today’s report can be read here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/reducing-social-isolation-refugee-women-newcomers.
And the full series is 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.