By Manjula Luthria, Senior Economist, World Bank, and program leader for the International Mobility Program of the MENA region’s Human Development network. This is the second of three articles on arrival cities.
For those of us who spend long hours on airplanes, these words are uplifting aren’t they? They could be equally uplifting to those of us who worry about the bleak prospects of improving the discourse around more migration, if we descend from the national perspective at 10,000 feet to the local perspective at ground level.
At the national level, talking to ministries of immigration leaves us pessimistic about any further opening of international labor markets. One look at the aggregate national polling data on immigration, and it’s enough to lose hope altogether. But coming down from the national level to examine policies on the ground, a much more practical, even fascinatingly positive approach to migration emerges which not only focuses on attracting and welcoming migrants, but also in helping them settle in.
Since migrants frequently move to urban centers, it is in these transitional, arrival spaces that integration can fail, leading to isolation and even violence; or succeed, transforming new arrivals into vibrant economic assets. Tilting outcomes towards the latter requires local leaders willing to pay special attention to inclusion in various spaces – economic and social – by identifying and tackling the impediments to migrant participation in these arenas. Fortunately, many city leaders around the globe have got this message, taken careful notice and embarked on innovative action.
These innovative actions have tried to address problems head on: to tackle overall perceptions and stereotypes of migrants, to tackle specific bias in the insertion of migrants into the labor market, and to foster inclusion in other markets into the host society.
Barcelona’s City Council tackled the high prevalence of prejudice against migrants by launching an anti-rumor campaign. After identifying the most damaging misconceptions—that migrants “receive more in benefits,” or “more often live in public housing than native Spaniards,”—authorities recruited and trained “anti-rumor agents” to gently but firmly refute these erroneous claims with facts about migrant realities (ie. “Actually, only 1 in 20 migrants lives in public housing”). Realizing that shifting popular perceptions would require strategic dissemination as well as careful framing, the city relied upon more than 80 local organizations to train agents and spread this message.
The German city of Celle has chosen to focus on the initial stage of hiring where evidence shows that equitable treatment of migrants falls short. On account of a series of early interventions into the job application process, the Mayor of Celle was able to conclude that, “Many people who we’ve hired wouldn’t have been chosen before.
And all of them have succeeded.” This idea is now spreading across German states.
Canada’s Scotiabank has one eye on expanding its customer base and another on removing the obstacles to migrants’ financial inclusion. Before a migrant even leaves his or her country of origin, the bank will set up a bank account, build your credit history, facilitate delivery of a credit card and even organize a mortgage! With this program, immigrants can increase their resilience to adjustment shocks by acquiring a sense of confidence and institutional connection upon arrival. And upon arrival in the city of Calgary, for instance, trained bank employees will welcome you in 42 languages. Overall enlightened leadership on the inclusion of migrants into Canada’s labor market has contributed to their Mayor, Naheed Nunshi being awarded the World Mayor Prize.
Even in contexts where specific interventions are lacking, examining the role of cities in shaping public opinion is informative. In Switzerland, where 2014 saw narrow approval of anti-immigration legislation, a second look at the voting figures reveals a stark split between the urban west and the rural east. All of Switzerland’s major urban regions, from Geneva, Lausanne, Berne, Basel, through to Zurich and Winterthur, voted to maintain open borders. Don Flynn’s analysis provides an insight. “People living in regions where migration has made only a marginal impact are more likely to register fears than those in the places where it has actually happened and the business of living with diversity has become a part of daily life.”
These urban innovations are the experiences we need to celebrate, learn from, and help disseminate—not merely to prepare and cope with more migration, but to ensure that societies continue to prosper from this enormous economic opportunity.
To do so, the Labor Mobility Community of Practice within the World Bank’s Social Protection and Labor Global Practice, together with the Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) have teamed up with municipal leaders, community-focused foundations and urban planners. Our goal is to identify and elevate good local innovative practices that can help break down the barriers to migrant inclusion and contribute to shaping a better discourse on labor mobility all around.
Want to get really local? Come hear about the different approaches to migrant inclusion taken in nearby Herndon and Wheaton on March 11th during Opening Doors and Minds: Urban Migrant Integration in Policy and Practice a conversation between Maitreyi Das and Doug Saunders by Xiaoqing Yu.
This is the second of three articles on arrival cities by Manjula Luthria. See also, “All About the Bias, So Subtle.“
Manjula Luthria is Senior Economist and program leader for the International Mobility Program of the MENA region’s Human Development network. She is based at the Center for Mediterranean Integration in Marseille, France and can be contacted by email at: mluthria(at)worldbank.org.