Just back from the annual IMISCOE conference, I was struck once again how often we talk about (civic) integration (of immigrants) without a clear notion what we actually mean by it. What is more, it’s become a mantra to insist on integration being a two-way process, while this is not a logical necessity. A while ago, I have written up my position in a COMPAS working paper.
I argue that integration should be understood as proximity, and suggest that we can talk about individuals being integrated as well as groups being integrated. An individual or group is considered integrated if it cannot be distinguished in relevant dimensions (the working paper is full of graphs to illustrate the argument). This is equivalent to saying that they are assimilated in relevant dimensions.
It is possible to use standard statistical methods to determine integration: it’s a matter of determining whether two groups differ in relevant dimensions, or whether the position of an individual is within the typical range of values.
By drawing a distinction between individuals and groups, we can have integrated individuals who belong to groups that are not integrated, and groups that are integrated as a whole, while some of their members are not.
Where the working paper ends is the political question: what dimensions are relevant? To answer this question, it would be necessary to map out specific visions of the society we aspire. Clearly there’s no single (objective) answer to that one.
The Sonntags Zeitung was kind enough to comment on the recent release of MIPEX data in Switzerland. Unfortunately they seem more interested in the ranking than the details. The summary is roughly correct: it speaks of the immigrant integration policy framework.
The basic argument in the newspaper is logically incoherent, though: an index that places Switzerland behind France cannot be right, because France is struggling with integrating its immigrants (while there are no open conflicts in Switzerland). The editorial asks a series of questions about actual integration (“do we manage to integrate the many immigrants that arrive?”), not the policy framework. It refers to the high levels of youth unemployment among immigrants in France, but fails to connect this number to the youth unemployment in France more generally. Unemployment levels are generally much lower in Switzerland, but even this is beyond the point as it looks at outcomes and not the policy framework — this is what MIPEX does. Once immigrant policies and outcomes are conflated, it is easy to say that “there’s something wrong with these integration indicators” — well, that’s not what they are.
The main article provides a (factual) list of the main results and the positions of the MPG which are regarded rather critically. It would have been nice to distinguish between the indicators and the interpretations thereof (the ranking, “too restrictive”, “too many hurdles”), but to be fair, the way the MIPEX is usually presented this distinction is often blurred.