Some reflections on MIPEX in German over at the NCCR blog

Together with Gianni D’Amato and Denise Efionayi-Mäder, I have written up some reflections on the new MIPEX results for Switzerland (in German):

We highlight the comparatively poor protection against discrimination in Switzerland, despite growing attention to Black Lives Matter and racism. We encourage policy comparison not to copy and past policies, but to encourage local solutions to do more.

Incidentally, the new results from MIPEX present nothing new — Swiss immigrant integration policies have been stable in the last few years (though historically they have changed much).

Should we come across as criticizing Swiss policy, let’s not forget the innovative and positive policies on health care in Switzerland (ranked “favourable” by MIPEX).

Swiss Immigration and Integration Policies since 1848

mipex1848I’m very excited to announce a new publication outlining Swiss immigration and integration policies since 1848 (yes, that’s 167 years’ worth of data). We use the latest version of the MIPEX questionnaire to trace how immigration and integration policies have developed since the inception of modern Switzerland in 1848. Policies are covered in 7 areas and a total of 148 indicators, with the situation at the national level recorded for every year.

This gives us a more accurate picture of how policies have changed over time than previous efforts, including a limited extension of the MIPEX data to 1995 undertaken as part of the SOM project.

I’m also very happy to announce that the full data are already available, including a detailed description outlining the reasoning and decisions behind the scores.

In the paper we provide a first description of the data: an assessment of Swiss immigration and integration policies at the national level in a systematic and truly historical manner. Three periods of policies are identified; we refer to these as expansive, restricting, and expanding. Indeed, if immigration and integration policies are captured in a broad and multidimensional way, we can see that the highly politicized direct democratic decisions in the past few years have not (yet) had a major impact on Swiss policy. In recent years the expansion of rights seems to have slowed, perhaps stalled, but there is no evidence of overall more restrictive policies.

Ruedin, D., Alberti, C. and D’Amato, G. (2015), Immigration and Integration Policy in Switzerland, 1848 to 2014. Swiss Political Science Review. doi: 10.1111/spsr.12144

On Immigrant Backgrounds

In the social sciences and in day-to-day politics we often operate with the concept of immigrant background. It’s a loose concept, and often used without adequate consideration. In the social sciences, we often define anyone who has at least one foreign parent as having an immigrant background. This is systematic, but not the solution.

Following this approach all “mixed” children of one native parent and one foreign parent are considered “foreign”. In some way, that’s akin the one drop of blood used to define what counts as black in the US; a reflection of concerns over purity and boundary-making rather than attempts to create an empirically useful category.

We should simply get away from the idea that a single definition fits all our concerns. Mixed children are native speakers and are fully part of the local culture. The fact that one of their parents is “foreign” is not a deficit, but something they have in addition. This is a different case from having two foreign parents where something (language, attitudes, culture) might be missing. In a different situation, however, having a single foreign parent might be equivalent to having two. For instance, if we’re looking at discrimination, one foreign parent might be a relevant negative marker making the individual more susceptible to discrimination.

Immigrant integration beyond the indicators

Working on immigration means I often come into contact with the concept of integration. Here are three things about integration that I cannot find myself to agree.

First, there are the many indicators of integration which are drawn up on an ad-hoc basis. We end up defining the concept by the indicators, never a good approach.

Second, it is repeated like a mantra that integration is a process. I simply disagree. The fact that the degree of integration can change over time does not mean that integration is a process. Temperature is not a process either, is it? Sadly, insisting on integration being a process is usually used as an excuse not to think carefully about the concept, or as an excuse to ignore the indicators just drawn up.

Third, another mantra-like position is that integration requires both sides (immigrants, mainstream society) to change. This mixes up a normative position (what we might want or prefer) with the definition we should seek. Just think about it: if one immigrant arrives in a country and completely assimilates, did integration not take place because the mainstream society didn’t budge (maybe didn’t even notice)?

Yes, it is easy to criticize. I have at least begun my homework, and offer a constructive argument as a COMPAS working paper: “Integration is conceptualized as proximity, and a distinction is drawn between the integration of groups and individuals. It is argued that integration should be understood as assimilation in relevant dimensions, whereas in other dimension significant differences are accepted.” It still lacks an outline of different visions of society, and concrete indicators.