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The Spatial Integration of Immigrants in Europe: A Cross-National Study


Throughout much of Europe, new waves of immigration have raised concerns about cultural fragmentation and disunity, interethnic conflict, and growing antipathy toward immigrants. Our goal is to provide evidence of uneven patterns of immigrant population distribution and residential integration, both within and between countries of the European Union. Our analyses focus on the spatial concentration of the foreign-born population in 27 countries and 1396 sub-regional areal units (called NUTS3), which in turn are nested within larger economic and cultural regions (i.e., NUTS2). Estimates of new forms of multiscale segregation (i.e., using the index of dissimilarity) are calculated from data drawn from Eurostat and a variety of other sources. Descriptive multivariate models of population concentration or macro-segregation center on key economic (i.e., GDP per capita), social (i.e., education), and ecological (i.e., urbanization) predictors of segregation within and between European countries. New forms of spatial segregation are expressed demographically in substantial regional heterogeneity among immigrants throughout Europe. Multivariate analyses indicate that immigrant-native patterns of population concentration and distribution vary widely between and within European countries with very different economies, demographic conditions, and histories of immigration. In almost all European countries, immigrants from outside of Europe are less spatially integrated with the native population than are immigrants from other countries within Europe. Differences in immigrant-native spatial integration are clearly reflected in the large numbers of immigrant regional “hot spots,” which are driven by public policy and idiosyncratic political considerations at the national and regional levels. Our comparative approach provides an overview of country-to-country differences in European immigrant settlement patterns and multiscale patterns of integration and segregation.

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Fig. 1

Source The World Bank

Fig. 2

Source Eurostat- Eurostat 2011

Fig. 3

Source Eurostat 2011


  1. In 2018, there are 28 EU member states, which now includes the Republic of Cyprus, the mainly Greek Cypriot part of the island of Cyprus.

  2. For Spain, newly released but unpublished data for 2017 indicate that a resurgence of new immigration (532,000) has now offset high levels of emigration (369,000). Although less dramatic, Greece similarly shifted from a net exporter to a net importer of population, largely due to a substantial surge of new immigration between 2014 and 2017 (305,000 to 532,000).

  3. The “immigrant population” is defined differently across populations, sometimes restricted to the first generation and other times not (i.e., including the children of the foreign-born). In some cases, the immigrant population, regardless of generation, are never provided a legal avenue to citizenship and remain part of the official immigrant population. The immigrant population clearly is a social construction, which we cannot address fully in this paper using official counts from Eurostat based on reports of member EU nations.

  4. In the United States, there have been recent efforts to calculate measures of the uneven distribution of racial or immigrant segregation across states, recognizing that different state policy and economic climates provide different contexts of reception for marginalized populations (Condon et al. 2016; Huo et al. 2018).

  5. Immigrant integration can be based on many other kinds of social, cultural, and economic indicators, such as language, educational attainment, and earnings. For our purposes, spatial integration is viewed as the end-product of growing economic and political integration, which is taken here to mean that immigrant and natives are becoming more alike on conventional indicators of socioeconomic status. This in turn provides a new freedom of residential mobility from segregated ethnic communities and enclaves (Waters et al. 2015).

  6. We recognize that the 2011 Census data have been supplanted by new Census data for some EU countries. Unfortunately, it is not currently possible to harmonize these new data because of boundary changes in the spatial units that define our regional and sub-regional units (see our discussion of NUTS units). For additional background information, see

  7. The NUTS3 regions are simply statistical geographies, aggregations of smaller units, by Eurostat in association with National Statistical Office to create a hierarchy of regions across European countries that can be compared. The methods used are not always transparent and critics sometimes worry that boundaries are subject to political manipulation in order to qualify for funding under EU’s regional programs.

  8. The size of the spatial accounting unit is inversely associated with the size of D. The populations of larger spatial units are, by definition, more heterogeneous than smaller units, such as blocks or neighborhoods. This empirical regularity has been documented in the United States in a multiscale segregation study by (Massey et al. 2009).

  9. If information on the foreign-born population is unavailable, the United Nation’s estimates the foreign-born population based on the size of the citizen population.

  10. In 2017, about 35% of the EU-28/EFTA foreign-born population were born in an EU28/EFTA country. The rest were born outside of the EU28/EFTA.

  11. In the case of Spain, this may reflect self-segregation of elderly European retirees who are living permanently or part-time in resort or tourist areas along the Mediterranean seaboard.

  12. In some cases, the NUTS2 unit only comprises one NUTS3 unit (e.g., Madrid, Asturias, Cantabria, Navarra, Murcia in Spain). For our purposes, we filtered the data to include the rows with D values > 0 and Percent Foreign-born in a NUTS2 >2 and Number of NUTS3 in a NUTS2 >3. This served the purpose of excluding these cases from the regression analysis.

  13. Information on education of the foreign-born (15–64 years) population for the EU in 2017 states that 28.9% of the working aging population has a tertiary education (levels 5–8). Of course, differences in education reflect differences in the native–foreign mix and age differences. In 2017, 40.6% of the native-born population aged 30–34 in the EU-28 in 2017 had a tertiary level of education, roughly the same (40.0%) as those born in another EU Member State. For migrants born outside the EU, the percentage was 34.5% (Eurostat 2018c).

  14. Government jobs often go only to citizens or to EU nationals, but there nevertheless may be larger economic and social spillovers from government growth that benefit other immigrants who originate from outside the EU. In the United States, this is frequently the case in municipalities that serveas state capitals or where universities are located.

  15. This nevertheless is a challenging research endeavor because the boundaries of NUTS2 and NUTS3 units will undoubtedly change over time, making it difficult to track population changes for the same spatial units. This is a problem that has plagued studies that monitor neighborhood change, a problem that is addressed by harmonizing boundaries by re-aggregating units that split into two units or by mathematically adjusting boundaries for over-time consistency.


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The authors acknowledge the helpful comments on this project from Helga DeValk, Rafael Costa, Bart Sleutjes, David Brown, and Neil Agent, as well as the reviewers of PRPR.

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Correspondence to Daniel T. Lichter.

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Lichter, D.T., Parisi, D. & Ambinakudige, S. The Spatial Integration of Immigrants in Europe: A Cross-National Study. Popul Res Policy Rev 39, 465–491 (2020).

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  • Immigration
  • Integration
  • Europe
  • Segregation
  • Population Redistribution