Intentionality, instruments, and investment must be present if integration is to succeed.
In the successful integration of immigrants, there are three necessary conditions: intentionality, instruments, and investment.
Every country has a choice about how it views immigration; it can view it as a liability or as an asset. If immigration is viewed as a liability, tight rules will be established to limit its impact, which will be presumed to be more bad than good. Such rules will limit immigrants to working in certain sectors or types of jobs and to living in certain places, restrict the amount of time they spend in the country, and even tie them to a single employer or organization. Thus we see temporary foreign worker programs that presume we can have only certain immigrants for defined periods of time before we send them home. A temporary foreign worker program tells immigrants that their labour will be exploited, but that they are not wanted as citizens of the country. Despite the fact that such programs don’t work, they seem increasingly popular, and in Canada the federal government has implemented a temporary foreign worker program in recent years, against all advice to the contrary.
If, on the other hand, a country sees immigration as an asset, it will do what it can to maximize the value of that asset. It will design a selection system that complements the labour market, filling jobs for today’s economy and, more importantly, creating human capital for the emerging economy of tomorrow. It will permit immigrants to enter the fields of work in which they have training and experience, rather than requiring that they qualify under the strictures of domestic certification and credentials; the proper test should be of competence rather than credentials. It will help immigrants settle in neighbourhoods with good housing and transit service and access to good schools and community amenities. It will encourage participation in the life of the community, including in the political processes, whether by joining the board of a local library or community centre or by running for election to a city, state, or national legislature. The country that is successful in integration will not leave everything to chance, but will intentionally facilitate the key elements of successful settlement and integration: finding immigrants the right job, for which they have training and experience; settling smoothly into good neighbourhoods; and participating in the regular life of the community, not in an immigrant ghetto but in a neighbourhood typical of that city or town.
So the question of intentionality is: will we give them shackles, or will we give them wings? We can choose how we treat immigrants.
Good intentions often founder on a failure to put them into operation. Successful public policy often depends on designing the right instruments or tools, which can be difficult. A good instrument takes into account the broad context in which the policy operates, and also the various interests in play. It can be impossible to satisfy every interest, and a gridlock ensues that can only be resolved by good design or leadership. The design of effective instruments is critical.
In Canada, we are developing a set of local immigrant employment councils, modelled on the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, or TRIEC. These councils have two main programs: a mentoring partnership that pairs an immigrant with a Canadian in the same line of work, so the Canadian can both coach the immigrant on job searching and job culture, and introduce the immigrant to his or her own network of contacts, which are so crucial in finding a job; and a training program for employers to help them develop human resource management skills for hiring immigrants effectively. These instruments work because they ultimately serve the interests of all the parties.
We have developed instruments for increasing the diversity of people in governance roles, both in formally elected office and on the governing bodies of agencies, boards, and commissions.DiverseCity onBoard is a program that maintains a roster of diverse candidates who we have qualified by interest, experience, and capability. Through a matching process, we can help organizations find the right candidate for their board. And we have developed School4Civics, which trains people who want to run for office or run an election campaign. In the last municipal elections in the Toronto region, 12 School4Civics graduates ran for office and dozens more volunteered on campaigns.
Another Toronto-based program works with foreign-born authors to help them develop their craft and find a market in Canada. Diaspora Dialogues is in its seventh year and has a roster of established Canadian authors to mentor immigrant authors. The purpose is two-fold: to help immigrant authors establish themselves in Toronto, and to reflect to Canadian readers the diverse face of Canada, a diversity of culture and point of view.
Enabling immigrants to settle in neighbourhoods is made easier by creating access to mortgages, for which most immigrants don’t qualify because they lack a domestic credit history. One of Canada’s most successful companies, Home Trust, offers mortgages to home buyers who don’t qualify for traditional mortgages because they have insufficient other assets to meet the coverage required by lenders. Home Trust makes sure the value of the home exceeds the value of the mortgage by doing a careful assessment of the property. The mortgage business has proven to be a profitable enterprise when conducted with proper discipline, and immigrants create a whole new market. A government – municipal or state – could work with such careful lenders to provide a set of mortgage products that would enable immigrants to purchase homes.
In Chicago, the Chicago Federal Reserve has created financial instruments to help conservative Muslims with home ownership and small business investment while still observing sharia law restrictions on borrowing money. The reserve has identified three types of Islamic loans, each existing somewhere between rental and ownership. The first option is essentially a staged transfer of ownership, the second a lease-purchase, and the third a more classical shared equity loan of the type common for affordable housing in the U.K. Without such instruments, Muslims who want to buy a home have to save hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase it outright, get loans from family and friends, or put aside their religious beliefs and take out a conventional mortgage.
Without investment, good intentions and well designed instruments won’t work. Whether a government or society is willing to put money on the line is a critical test of whether they want immigration to work.
It is not a question only of money but often of a more precious kind of capital: political capital. In most countries there are those in the political spectrum only too willing to demonize “the other,” to raise fears of the threat of people from different countries, cultures, and religions. Such fear can create a powerful political tide, sweeping up all before it. In Toronto, we saw it in the recent election of a mayor who spoke against immigration. And Canada’s federal government has proven xenophobic when incidents like the recent arrival of a boatload of economic migrants from Asia occur.
There are not enough leaders prepared to make the case for immigration and to infuse their country with intentionality and instruments backed by the needed investment. Most of us know the arguments for immigration: economic prosperity, cultural diversity, new ideas and perspectives, and fresh energy. We also know the importance of getting integration right, of making it happen in a short time-frame and with as little human cost as possible. There is no sense in making it hard, because it becomes hard for everyone.
And we know that immigration is an investment that will pay a big return, sometimes in the first generation through the quick uptake of skilled immigrants, and certainly in the longer term as ensuing generations become educated and engaged citizens.
But we need our leaders to articulate that message, and beyond that to create and support instruments of inclusion. One that we have been trying to get our leaders in Canada to embrace is the idea of allowing non-citizens to vote in municipal elections. The argument for this is that it is a useful instrument of inclusion, of engaging immigrants in the life of the community quickly, particularly at the level of government closest to the people through the provision of everyday services. We call the campaign I Vote Toronto, and we are gradually building support for it, but we still need some key leaders to come on board. We need them to invest some political capital.
As we look around the world, we can identify countries that engage fully with the three I’s of immigrant integration, and countries that engage with fewer than three. But all three – intentionality, instruments, and investment – must be present if integration is to succeed.
(Originally published in The Mark.)