Immigrants to multilingual federations can have different identities to choose from

Immigrants to Spain who settle in Catalonia and immigrants to Canada who land in Quebec are likely to find that their new legal and cultural identities are much different from immigrants settling in other parts of their new country.

This was one of the conclusions of a workshop on immigrant integration held in Berlin by the Forum of Federations and the Expert Council of German Foundations on Migration and Integration on Feb. 22, 2010.

The workshop brought together authors from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Spain and the United States. They are collaborating on a book about immigrant integration in federal countries, a forthcoming publication of the Forum.

The book will also explore the degree to which policies and responsibilities have changed as the issue of immigrant integration has risen on the public agenda during the past decade. The book will compare admission and naturalization programs, language training and education and integration into the community.

A common pattern observed across most of the federations is that admission of immigrants and naturalization of newcomers most often fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government. However, there are exceptions – for example, in Switzerland the federal government, canton and local governments all play a role in the naturalization process. A second common pattern is that most social and economic aid measures are offered at the subnational level (although the involvement of local government varies considerably).

Some of the differences among federations can be traced to their linguistic and cultural composition. In federal countries with several languages that are dominant in certain regions, such as Canada, Belgium and Spain, immigration issues have often been linked to the assertion of cultural autonomy. This means that subnational governments may have a greater say than in federations, such as the United States, where minorities are dispersed and do not have access to structures of government they consider ‘their own.’

A more controversial point was the degree to which immigrant integration is approached differently in the federations that have a long history as a destination for migrants – such as Canada, the United States and Australia – compared to the European federations where large-scale immigration began only in the mid-20th century. It was suggested that this difference may explain why, in the past decade or so, some of the European federations have adopted immigrant integration measures that place significant pressure, and may even impose legal requirements, on migrants’ acceptance of the country’s core values and practices.

It was clear from the workshop that focusing on the impact of federalism is an innovative way of looking at the important subject of immigrant integration. The chapters of the book will offer insights into the relationship between governance structures and the policies and programs of individual governments.

The collaborators on the project are:

  • Co-directors: Christian Joppke (American University of Paris) and Leslie Seidle (Senior Policy Advisor, Forum of Federations);
  • Australia: Lesleyanne Hawthorne, University of Melbourne;
  • Belgium: Marco Martiniello, University of Liège;
  • Canada: Keith Banting, Queen’s University;
  • Germany: Michael Bommes, University of Osnabrück/Holger Kolb, Sachverstaendigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration [Expert Council of German Foundations on Migration and Integration];
  • Switzerland: Gianni D’Amato, University of Neuchâtel;
  • Spain: Ricard Zapata-Barrera, Universitat Pompeu Fabra;
  • United States: Gary Freeman/Stuart Tendler, University of Texas at Austin.
Back to Events