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Introduction: Integration as a Three-Way Process Approach?

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This chapter introduces the topic of this volume, which is the recent departure from viewing integration as a strictly two-way process (between migrants and the receiving society) to acknowledge the potential role that countries of origin might play in support of the integration process. It traces the origin of this change in policy perspective, reviewing the Europeanization of immigration and integration policy since the Tampere Programme (1999–2004). Indeed, a major shift in policy framing came in 2011, with the renewed European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals, which explicitly added the countries of origin as a third key actor in the process of immigrants’ integration, thereby introducing the three-way process in European policy. In addition to tracing the development of European policy on integration, it takes a step back to consider three broad and interconnected issues: (i) the way integration is conceptualized and studied in Europe; (ii) the way integration policies are studied and how the concept of integration is used in policy formulation and practice; and (iii) the way new perspectives and actors (e.g., those in countries of origin) are incorporated in analyses of integration processes and policies. It concludes by introducing the further structure of the volume.


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  • Asylum Seeker
  • Destination Country
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The EU Concept of Integration: From a Two-Way to a Three-Way Process

The reference to integration as a three-way process in the title of this chapter relates to the European Commission’s recent departure from viewing integration as a strictly two-way process (between migrants and the receiving society) to now acknowledge ‘that countries of origin can have a role to play in support of the integration process’ (EC 2011, 10). Where does this change in policy perspective come from? The Europeanization of immigration and integration policy has followed different rhythms. During the 5 years of the Tampere Programme (1999–2004), immigration policies dominated the agenda. Integration was defined in a rather limited way in that early phase: until 2003 EU policies started from the implicit assumption that if the legal position of immigrants was equal (in as far as possible, as the Tampere programme stipulated) to that of national citizens and if adequate instruments were in place to combat discrimination, integration processes could be left to societal forces. Thus, legal integration (= equality) was to be ensured by means of the directives on family reunification and free movement after 5 years and by comprehensive anti-discrimination directives.

In 2003 the European Commission came up with a more comprehensive view on integration policies in its Communication on Immigration, Integration and Employment (EC 2003). This defined integration as ‘a two-way process based on reciprocity of rights and obligations of third-country nationals and host societies [and foreseeing] the immigrant’s full participation’. Integration was conceived as a balance of rights and obligations, and policies took a holistic approach targeting all dimensions of integration (including economic, social, and political rights; cultural and religious diversity; and citizenship and participation).

One year later, in November 2004, the Council of Ministers responsible for integration agreed on the Common Basic Principles (CBPs) for integration as a first step towards a shared framework for a European approach to immigrant integration and a point of reference for the implementation and evaluation of current and future integration policies (Council of the EU 2004). The first article of the CBPs defines integration as ‘a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by all immigrants and residents of Member States’.

Within this common EU framework the Commission set up a quasi-open method of coordination (Geddes & Scholten 2014) based on the exchange of information on integration policies, networks of experts, and EU-wide evaluation mechanisms. National Contact Points on integration were designated by the ministries responsible for immigrant integration policy to promote information exchange, to monitor progress, and to disseminate “best practices” at the national and EU levels. With a similar purpose, the European Integration Forum was established. This EU platform of representatives of civil society and migrant organizations was a forum for consultation, exchange of expertise, and identification of policy recommendations. Even more significantly, the European Integration Fund (EIF) was put in place to finance national programmes and community actions with a total budget of €825 million from 2007 to 2013. All of these mechanisms have stimulated member states to implement the CBPs (at least, three of the priorities) in multi-annual programmes on integration. These measures clearly illustrate the EU’s efforts to build a common approach to integration through the use of ‘soft pressure’, thus outside traditional EU decision-making procedures (Carrera & Faure Atger 2011, 13).

In this process the EU has gradually expanded its definition of immigrants’ integration. In the 2005 EU Communication A Common Agenda for Integration: Framework for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals in the European Union, the Commission states that involvement of stakeholders at all levels—migrant organizations, human rights organizations, and social partners—is essential for the success of integration policies. In 2010, the third multi-annual programme on an Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ), the so-called Stockholm Programme, insisted once more that integration requires ‘not only efforts by national, regional and local authorities but also a greater commitment by the host community and immigrants’ (EC 2010).

A major shift in policy framing came in 2011 with the renewed European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals, which added the countries of origin as a third key actor in the process of immigrants’ integration, thereby introducing the three-way process.

Countries of origin can have a role to play in support of the integration process in three ways: 1) to prepare the integration already before the migrants’ departure; 2) to support the migrants while in the EU, e.g. through support via the Embassies; 3) to prepare the migrant’s temporary or definitive return with acquired experience and knowledge (EC 2011, 10).

Several questions are raised by this shift from a two-way to a three-way process approach, which basically means a shift in focus from two actors (immigrants and host community) to three actors (immigrants, host community, and countries of origin). A first question is why this shift took place; that is, what did it respond to. The second, more fundamental question is whether the three-way process is a relevant way to look at integration. It is this question that underpins this book. Our attempt to respond to this question should be understood as an academic assessment a posteriori of a political definition that does not seem to have been directly supported by previous academic research.

In order to answer these concrete questions on EU policies, we take a step back to consider three somewhat broader and interconnected issues: (i) the way integration is conceptualized and studied in Europe; (ii) the way integration policies are studied and how the concept of integration is used in policy formulation and practice; and (iii) the way new perspectives and actors (e.g., those in countries of origin) are incorporated in analyses of integration processes and policies.

The Academic Approach to Integration and Policies

How does the development of the concept of integration in policies, as outlined above, reflect academic work on integration of newcomers in a society? Are the conceptual changes in EU policies inspired by academic approaches? Or, is the academy saddled with the task of legitimating a new concept divined by policymakers? Historically, the forerunners of integration studies, classical assimilation theories, defined settlement and incorporation as a more or less linear process in which immigrants were supposed to change almost completely to merge with the mainstream culture and society. For instance, Warner and Srole (1945), who introduced this concept at the end of the Second World War, assumed that all groups in US society would evolve towards the American way of life. While this was seen as a straight-line process, these authors noted that the pace might vary depending on factors such as cultural distance (the Anglo-conformity gap) and racial categorizations, thus mostly depending on the characteristics of immigrant groups.

The main criticisms of this one-sided perspective explain the gradual shift towards the currently dominant two-way process to integration. Safi (2011) classifies these criticisms in three categories. The first centres on the problematic nature of the notion of “mainstream”, as it implies existence of a more or less homogeneous and cohesive social environment. The second emphasizes the importance of structural inequalities (e.g., discrimination on the housing and labour markets), which could slow or even bar immigrants’ integration. The third category of criticism points to the plurality of integration processes, as they depend on collective actors (such as the state and its policies, public opinion, ethnic communities, and civil society) and contextual factors (such as the economic situation). Common to these areas of criticism is the claim that the receiving society, including civil society organizations and the state, does matter in immigrants’ integration (Unterreiner & Weinar 2014, 2).

This claim has gradually been confirmed by empirical research on immigrants’ integration. While most studies before the 1980s focused on the micro-level of individual migrants and their households, research since the 1990s has given increasing attention to the meso-level of organizations (of migrants themselves and of civil society in general) and the macro-level of structural factors (see Penninx 2013, 15). These studies coincide in concluding that the receiving society matters at three levels: that of individuals (e.g., the attitudes and behaviour of native individuals); that of organizations (which can be more or less open towards immigrants); and that of institutions, both general public institutions and institutions “of and for” immigrant groups (Penninx 2005, 2007). Cross-national comparisons that examine the same immigrant group in different national and local contexts enable researchers to assess the role of contextual factors (e.g., citizenship and welfare policies, integration policies, and labour market arrangements), adding further explanatory power for differences in immigrants’ integration outcomes.

Several developments in integration studies have contributed significantly to improve understanding of the role of the receiving society in immigrants’ integration. Firstly, research has shown that policy matters, not only policy at the national level but also that at the regional and local levels. Indeed, these might differ considerably from one another, and stem from very different and even opposed policy rationales, such as priorities of immigration control and sovereignty at the national level versus the preservation of social cohesion at the local level. Secondly, while most studies focus on a specific policy dimension (e.g., the legal-political, the socio-economic, or the cultural-religious), recent research has highlighted the need to examine these different policy domains together and take into account other policies, beyond those specifically targeting immigrants and including those regulating broader societal institutions. Thirdly and finally, the shift in focus from government to governance, from policy to policymaking, allows us to conclude that what matters is not only policy frames and policy measures (i.e., policies as written on the books) but also how these policies are organized and implemented by the different actors involved (thus policies in practice) (see Penninx & Garcés-Mascareñas in this volume).

In recent years, two new approaches have incorporated the perspective of immigrants’ countries of origin: transnationalism and the migration and development framework. The first, transnationalism, transcends the assimilationist assumptions of earlier migration research (Dunn 2005) to shed light on the ties and activities developed between individual, collective, and governmental actors located in two or more countries, mostly in immigrants’ sending and destination countries. Individual activities range from remittances, investments in the homeland, and donations to migrant organizations to participation in homeland elections (see Mügge in this volume). Though the focus on the meso-level is much more limited, the literature on transnationalism also points to the growing development of linkages between local governments in sending and destination countries and more or less institutionalized forms of cooperation between civil society actors, such as immigrant organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) (see Van Ewijk & Nijenhuis in this volume). Finally, transnationalism has looked at the role of sending states, which have increasingly sought to strengthen relations with emigrant populations, facilitating emigrant return, providing overseas consular assistance, and inviting emigrant economic and political engagement from afar (see Østergaard-Nielsen in this volume).

The literature on migration and development considers the effects of migration on development and vice versa. As demonstrated by King and Collyer in this volume, a key question is whether migration stimulates development or if there is instead a reverse causal link, with development leading to migration. Or, perhaps the relationship is a recursive one, with migration leading to a virtuous circle of development. Alternatively, we could ask whether underdevelopment produces migration or migration leads to underdevelopment. Or, perhaps they reproduce one another, this time in a vicious cycle. If we focus on the effects of migration on development, other key questions arise. We might ask who or what is experiencing the effects: the receiving society, the sending society, the migrants themselves—or all three in the aspired-for “triple-win” scenario. Are these hypothesized relationships stable over time? Or, are they likely to change according to historical context, as well as the geographical setting and scale of analysis (household, community, nation, etc.)?

While both transnationalism and the migration and development framework have brought the sending countries into the picture, they have hardly considered their effects on immigrants’ integration. Similarly, the literature on immigrants’ integration has paid little attention to the theoretical developments in these two fields. This book seeks to bridge these areas of research by reviewing the existing literature on integration, integration policies, transnationalism, and the migration and development framework while considering the role of sending states in immigrants’ integration. Two key questions are posed: First, do immigrants’ transnational activities reinforce integration and, conversely, is integration facilitated by transnational links? In other words, is there a trade-off between transnational activities and integration, meaning that the more focused migrants are on their country of origin, the less they might identify with and support their country of residence and vice versa? Second, what is the role of sending states? Are their outreach policies toward emigrants abroad counterproductive to policies on migrant incorporation? Or, might they reinforce each other?

Structure of the Book

Whereas the European Commission has shifted to a three-way process approach which aims to promote the role of sending countries in immigrants’ integration, the academic literature has so far continued its almost exclusive focus on the interplay between immigrants and the receiving society. Drawing on existing studies, this book addresses this disconnect between policy and academic research by considering the extent to which the EU’s three-way process approach to integration finds legitimation in what we know about integration, integration policies, and the role of sending states in immigration and integration processes. In that sense, this book should be understood as a state-of-the-art volume that takes stock of and presents existing knowledge to assess the relevance of incorporating the sending states into analyses of immigrants’ integration processes and policies.

In line with recent approaches to the concept of integration, Chap. 2 by Penninx and Garcés-Mascareñas sets up an analytical framework for the study of integration processes and policies. The first part focuses on the concept of integration, introducing an open, non-normative analytical definition and identifying the main dimensions, parties involved, levels of analysis, and other relevant factors such as time and generations. The second part defines integration policies and proposes a distinction between policy frames and concrete policy measures as well as a shift from government to governance so as to account for the complex, multilayered and often contradictory character of integration policies. In the broader context of this book, the analytical framework proposed in this chapter leads us to a twofold conclusion: the concept of integration and integration policies is made dramatically more complex, in particular, by taking a disaggregated approach that considers not only multiple reference populations but also distinct processes occurring in different dimensions and domains. At the same time, immigrants’ integration continues to be seen essentially as a two-way process involving the immigrants themselves and the receiving society.

In Chap. 3, Van Mol and De Valk provide a general background to help us to understand the first key actor of the abovementioned binomial, that is, the immigrants themselves. In particular, the authors analyse the main socio-demographic changes in migration patterns towards and within Europe since the 1950s. Making use of secondary literature and available statistical data, they first describe the main phases in immigration, its backgrounds and determinants, depending on immigrants’ origins and reasons to migrate and with regard to different European regions. In the second part of the chapter, the authors narrow the focus to the specificities of recent patterns of mobility within Europe. Analysing both migration flows and the residing migrant population across Europe, they distinguish different socio-demographic characteristics of migrants depending on countries of origin and destination. For instance, while Polish migration to Germany seems to be dominated by men aged between 20 and 50 years old, Polish immigrants in the Netherlands are significantly younger and more equally balanced in terms of gender. The analysis of intra-European mobility shows that in North-Western Europe (e.g., in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands) intra-European migrants account for more than the half of total immigration, meaning that a substantial proportion of new immigrants falls outside those categorized as target groups of EU integration policies.

The subsequent three chapters focus on the second actor of the binomial, that is, the receiving society, particularly the characteristics and main developments of immigration and integration policies. In Chap. 4, Doomernik and Bruquetas-Callejo distinguish between different immigration and integration policy regimes in Europe. The first is that of North-Western European countries, which evolved from guest worker policies that considered immigrants only as temporary workers to national integration policies that recognize them as permanent citizens and, more recently, to policies that promote and even increasingly demand immigrants’ cultural assimilation. The second integration regime is that of the Southern European countries, characterized mainly by labour considerations with much lesser welfare provisions and a limited number of bottom-up integration initiatives implemented mostly at the local level. The third regime is that of most Eastern European countries, with their very low immigration flows and nascent integration policies resulting from the availability of EU funds rather than from any real societal or political demand. Finally, the authors refer to a fourth model developed for asylum seekers at the EU level. Here, there is a clear disconnect between the immigration and integration regimes. While the EU is developing a common approach to asylum seekers, reception facilities and integration policies differ considerably among member states. This chapter’s historical and comparative overview of immigration and integration regimes in Europe allows the authors to conclude that the reception context can change tremendously depending on the historical and national contexts.

Chapter 5 by Mügge and Van der Haar focuses on the basic mechanism of categorization in policymaking and implementation. They show how laws and policies construct explicit and implicit categories by distinguishing, for instance, between “wanted” and “unwanted” immigrants or between immigrants “in need of integration” and immigrants “already integrated” or “beyond integration”. Interestingly, the chapter concludes that whereas laws and policies distinguish between European citizens and third-country nationals (TCNs), important hierarchies exist within each category based on a combination of identity markers such as gender, class, and ethnicity. Under what conditions do these policy categories and terms render stereotypes, prejudices, and potential discrimination, and how does this impact immigration and integration trajectories? Based on several concrete cases, the authors propose that immigrants’ integration is shaped not only by explicit integration policies (e.g., more or less access to welfare provisions) but also by the way policies explicitly and implicitly perceive, problematize, and categorize immigrants. This leads, among other things, to significantly different categorizations of who is in need of integration at different policy levels (i.e., the EU, national, and local).

Whereas Chaps. 4 and 5 mainly focus on national policies, Chap. 6 by Scholten and Penninx analyses migration and integration as multilevel policy issues and explores the consequences in terms of multilevel governance. The fact that both migration and integration are increasingly becoming multilevel policy issues has brought opportunities as well as significant challenges, such as the constant struggle between national governments and the EU about the amount of discretion that states have in interpreting EU directives and, more recently, involvement of local and regional governments in debates about intra-EU migration and migrant integration. With these questions in mind, this chapter offers an analysis of the evolution of migration and integration policies at various levels over the last decades. This equips us to understand the factors that drive policies, the extent to which these create convergence or divergence, and how we can better describe and categorize the relations between different levels of government.

The last four chapters shift the focus to the sending states and their relationship with immigrants’ integration. Chap. 7 by Mügge provides a state-of-the-art exposition of European scholarship on the transnationalism–integration nexus. In particular, it examines how the existing literature views the relation between immigrants’ transnational activities and ties to the country of origin, on one hand, and immigrants’ integration in the receiving country, on the other. The literature review is guided by a popular political question: Can transnationalism and integration coexist, or is it a zero-sum relation?

In Chap. 8, Van Ewijk and Nijenhuis examine the link between local governments in sending and destination countries and the role of immigrant organizations in translocal connections and activities. Drawing on existing research, the chapter is guided by three interconnected questions: (i) What kinds of relations can be observed between local governments and immigrant organizations? (ii) What are the main driving factors for these relations? (iii) What is the impact of these relations on sending and receiving societies?

Focusing on sending-country policies, in Chap. 9 Østergaard-Nielsen explores the twin central questions of how and why countries of origin reach out to their expatriate populations. This is done, first, by outlining the basic concepts and typologies of sending-country policies with a particular focus on some of the key countries of origin of migrants settled within the EU and, second, by reviewing core explanations for the emergence of sending-country policies. The last part of the chapter discusses the nexus between sending-country policies and immigrants’ integration.

Finally, Chap. 10 by King and Collyer looks at the relationship between migration, development, and integration. Focusing on remittances, return migration, and diaspora involvement, these authors describe analysis of the migration and development nexus as having swung between positive and negative interpretations over the seven decades of the European post-war era. Then the conceptual lens of migration and development is redefined: first by refocusing migration and return to encompass a diversity of transnational mobilities, second by reconceptualizing development as being less about economic measures and more about human wellbeing, and third by broadening the analysis of remittances from financial transfers to include social, cultural, and political elements. The final part of the chapter evaluates the relation between the migration and development frame and the integration frame. In so doing, it asks how the multifaceted process of integration impacts migrants’ capacities to stimulate development in their home countries and communities. For those migrants who return or who lead multi-sited transnational lives, what challenges does integration present for their reintegration in their countries of origin?

On the basis of the main findings presented on the role of immigrants, the receiving society, and the sending countries, the concluding chapter returns to the main issues addressed by this book: (i) how is integration conceptualized and studied in Europe; (ii) how are integration policies studied, and how is the concept of integration used in policy formulation and practice; (iii) and how are new perspectives and actors incorporated in analyses of integration processes and policies. The answers to these more general questions provide us the background to understand the shift from a two-way to a three-way process approach in EU policies.Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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Garcés-Mascareñas, B., Penninx, R. (2016). Introduction: Integration as a Three-Way Process Approach?. In: Garcés-Mascareñas, B., Penninx, R. (eds) Integration Processes and Policies in Europe. IMISCOE Research Series. Springer, Cham.

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