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Understanding Integration

The patterns of migrants' lives are more complex than often assumed
©Sergej Seemann -

In this study the researchers focus on socio-cultural integration of migrants in southern Europe. Socio-cultural integration refers to behavioural and attitudinal shifts towards the norms of the receiving society, such as interaction with natives and feelings of belonging and identification. They analysed survey data of first generation African immigrants – Moroccans and Senegalese in Spain and Egyptians and Ghanaians in Italy. Unlike most previous studies, this research looks comprehensively at the determinants of integration, focusing on both pre-migration factors like prior experiences abroad, and post-migration factors like employment status. The findings suggest that both pre- and post-migration elements have a significant impact on integration. The authors suggest that policies can indeed encourage or obstruct migrants’ integration.


Not the job, but the type of job matters

Though often announced as an indicator of successful integration, employment status was not found to have an effect on socio-cultural integration. In other words, employed migrants are no more likely to be integrated than their unemployed counterparts. The authors propose that this may underline the problem of occupational segregation, as migrants tend to concentrate in specific sectors of the economy which provide limited opportunities for interacting with natives.

Conversely, occupational status relates positively and significantly with socio-cultural integration. This means that migrants with more prestigious, high-skill jobs and positions are more integrated than those in lower status jobs. This likely has to do with occupational segregation: Migrants in high status jobs are more likely to have opportunities and incentives to interact with natives at work than are migrants in lower status, segregated fields.


Differences regarding the country of origin and gender

Culture also appears to play a role in socio-cultural integration, as both the North African migrant groups studied, Moroccans and Egyptians, demonstrated higher levels of integration than those from Senegal and Ghana. Female gender is also a significant predictor of socio-cultural integration, with the female migrants surveyed being more integrated than their male counterparts. Though it is often assumed that female migrants, especially those from more traditional, patriarchal societies, tend toward the private sphere and presumably have fewer opportunities for integration, these data suggest the opposite.


Policies should recognise migrants’ skills 

The results of this study also provide new insights into what types of policies best encourage the integration of migrants, and which policies hinder it. The authors suggest that restrictive immigration policies, such as those that prevent irregular migrants from establishing legal residency, may result in increased marginalisation. It stops migrants from converting their human capital into careers that would help them to achieve upward mobility.

Based on this research, migrants who have the opportunity to establish residency and pursue professional careers are also those who exhibit the highest levels of socio-cultural integration. Therefore, the authors suggest that immigration policies should be demand-driven and benefit from migrants’ human capital, such as recognising professional qualifications from abroad and selecting migrants for their skills. In such policies, pre-migration factors and skills are recognised while encouraging and providing opportunities for migrants to further develop their skills and careers post migration.


This PopDigest is also available in French, Spanish and German.

This Population Digest has been published with financial support from the Progress Programme of the European Union in the framework of the project “Supporting a Partnership for Enhancing Europe’s Capacity to Tackle Demo­graphic and Societal Change”.

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Katherine Knaust