E.g., 10/01/2023
E.g., 10/01/2023
Rethinking National Identity in the Age of Migration

Rethinking National Identity in the Age of Migration

November 2011 Meeting

Large-scale immigration has led to unprecedented levels of diversity and rapid demographic change, transforming communities across the Atlantic in fundamental ways and challenging closely held notions of national identity, particularly in an era of economic uncertainty. Against this backdrop, a significant backlash against immigration has occurred. The seventh plenary meeting of the Transatlantic Council on Migration focused on what policymakers can do to mitigate the destabilizing effects of rapid societal change — especially changes tied or perceived to be tied to immigration — in order to create stronger and more cohesive societies. 

Read the Council Statement issued following the meeting.

Rethinking National Identity in the Age of Migration
In countries across the Atlantic, large-scale migration has brought about unprecedented levels of diversity, transforming communities in fundamental ways, while realigning closely held notions of national identity and belonging. This shift has recently coincided with significant challenges and public fears brought on by the economic downturn and ensuing Great Recession, which has caused enormous anxiety and the need to hold tight to identity, language, culture, and values. In response, many state have advanced cultural conformity and narrowed the rights of migrants to residence and citizenship, isolating and in some cases penalizing those who fall outside country norms.

This book is a compilation of the papers presented at the Council's meeting in November of 2011.

Individual papers presented at the Council’s meeting are available below:

The Netherlands: From National Identity to Plural Identificationst
National identity has become a highly politicized issue in the Netherlands in the past decade, with many public figures voicing different opinions on what it means to be “Dutch.” Both right-wing and mainstream parties have adopted political rhetoric that appeals to the public’s growing anxiety about immigrants and their effect on local communities, and many have proposed policies designed to mitigate these fears. This new dialogue has marked a turn away from multiculturalism and a turn toward “culturalized citizenship” — the idea that being Dutch means adhering to a certain set of cultural and social norms and practices.

Immigration and National Identity in Norway
The number of immigrants and their descendants in Norway almost tripled between 1995 and 2011, resulting in increased debates about integration, immigration policy, multiculturalism, and national identity in recent years. The atrocities of July 2011 revealed an active, militantly anti-immigrant (particularly anti-Muslim) fringe that sees government’s acceptance of cultural pluralism as treacherous. This report assesses the connection between the recent rise of resentment against immigration and broader trends in Norwegian nationalism, and proposes a few policy recommendations with the aim of minimizing this rift in Norwegian society.

Identity and (Muslim) Integration in Germany
Germany has become a country of immigration in recent decades, with one-fifth of its population comprised of immigrants and their children. Yet a dominant perception in public discourse and media is that of a homogenous German society in which those with a migration background cannot fully belong. This country case study explores how immigration influences national identity in Germany and the reciprocal influence that German national identity has on immigrants.

Exceptional in Europe? Spain’s Experience with Immigration and Integration
Spain’s immigrant population increased from less than 4 percent of the country’s overall population to almost 14 percent in the span of one short decade. Unlike other European countries, however, Spain has not experienced a significant backlash against immigration, even amid an economic crisis that has hit the country hard and led to high levels of unemployment. This country case study from MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration explains Spain’s enduring openness to immigration and immigrants.

Contested Ground: Immigration in the United States
Though historically a country of immigrants, the United States has seen its demographic landscape altered in new and important ways as a result of the changing nature of immigration flows. In recent decades, immigration has come increasingly from Latin America and significant numbers of immigrants are unauthorized. The spread of immigration beyond traditional immigrant destinations to communities with little prior experience of migration has sparked anxiety among the American public. This report, part of a Transatlantic Council on Migration series on national identity in the age of migration, traces public sentiment and immigration policy developments of recent decades.

Understanding ‘Canadian Exceptionalism’ in Immigration and Pluralism Policy
Canada is far more open to, and optimistic about, immigration than the United States and countries in Europe, despite having a greater proportion of immigrants in its population than other Western countries. A frequently cited reason for this Canadian exceptionalism is Canada’s selection of most immigrants through a points system that admits people based on skills thought to contribute to the economy. Economic selection and a geography that discourages illegal immigration are not the only factors explaining Canada’s unique experience, however. This report, part of a Transatlantic Council on Migration series on national identity, examines Canadian national identity, public opinion,  immigration and immigrant integration policy, and multiculturalism.

French National Identity and Integration: Who Belongs to the National Community?
Since the mid-1980s, France has faced a contentious debate of crucial importance for immigrants and their descendents — defining what it means to be French. Though countries with rich histories of immigration have long accepted “dual belonging,” this concept has been criticized and perceived as at odds with a person’s commitment to French identity. A recent survey of French immigrants, however, shows that multiple allegiances are not an impediment to integration; it is possible to “feel French” and maintain links with a country of origin. However, because of external perceptions, native French citizens are far less likely to accept this adoption of French identity. 

The Relationship Between Immigration and Nativism in Europe and North America
Far-right parties across Europe are gaining momentum, as witnessed by their recent successes at the ballot box in Greece, France, and elsewhere. While immigration is thought to be a major factor fueling the parties’ rise, this report finds that although there is clearly a relationship, the connection is not as straightforward as is often assumed. The report examines the electoral performance of far-right parties in Europe and North America since 1980, finding that high levels of immigration do not automatically lead to more votes for radical-right parties.

Building a British Model of Integration in an Era of Immigration: Policy Lessons for Government
Despite experiencing large-scale immigration flows and settlement over the past half century, the United Kingdom has not developed a formal integration program. Few public policies have specifically sought to advance immigrant integration, and the political debates surrounding immigrant integration have often been fraught and destabilizing, reflecting deep-seated ambivalence in British society about immigrants and immigration. The authors offer a menu of policy options and actions the government should consider to achieve a well-thought-out approach.

Multiculturalism: Success, Failure, and the Future
Despite substantial evidence to the contrary, a chorus of political leaders in Europe has declared multiculturalism policies a failure – in effect mischaracterizing the multiculturalism experiment, its future prospects, and its progress over the past three decades. This report challenges the recent rhetoric and addresses the advancement of policy areas for countries, examining factors that impede or facilitate successful the implementation of multiculturalism.   

The Role of the State in Cultural Integration: Trends, Challenges, and Ways Ahead
For more than a decade, states have experimented with a range of civic integration policies that require immigrants to learn the official language of their host country and acknowledge its basic norms and values — or risk losing social benefits and sometimes even residence permits. The challenge for liberal states is to strike the right balance between policies that are aggressive enough to further social cohesion, yet restrained enough to respect the moral autonomy of immigrants. This is especially difficult when it comes to regulating sensitive identity issues, particularly with respect to religion.

The Centrality of Employment in Immigrant Integration in Europe
The two sides of the debate on immigration and integration in Europe share an underlying assumption that the problem is cultural, while disagreeing on whether it is the result of too much or too little respect for cultural differences. Both get the issue wrong, this report contends, calling attention to the inability of policies to ensure immigrants acquire and retain work. Employment, not culture, must be the basis for immigration policy in Europe, the author suggests.

Transatlantic Council Statement: Rethinking National Identity in the Age of Migration
Large-scale immigration has led to unprecedented levels of diversity and demographic change, transforming communities across the Atlantic in fundamental ways and challenging closely held notions of national identity, particularly amid heightened economic insecurity. The Transatlantic Council convened to consider these issues of national identity, social cohesion, and the backlash against multiculturalism; this Council Statement examines the roots of society’s anxiety over immigration and outlines ten steps for fostering greater cohesiveness.