In Atlanta, an Export Agenda for Immigrant Inclusion

June 7th, 2016

Atlanta Welcoming InteractiveAs cities around the world get more diverse, city builders are asking: How inclusive are we? And, how do we get better?

There’s a growing roster of cities of migration, old and new, to learn from. Old hands like Toronto, New York and London. And new diversity labs like Mannheim, Macomb County, Anchorage, and Atlanta.

Here in Atlanta, the birthplace of Martin Luther King, participants from across the United States, Germany, and beyond convened to exchange experience and ideas on immigrant inclusion at a Welcoming Interactive hosted by Welcoming America. We heard about good practice in use of statistics, employer partnerships, economic planning, and other levers to welcome and include newcomers.

A task before anyone exchanging good practice is knowing the limits of learning from each other. Some cities operate as near perfect opposites. Take for example the integration of unaccompanied youth in Germany and the United States. German cities are required by law to take charge of migrant youth and have infrastructure and resources for integration, while American cities are non-players because exclusive jurisdiction rests with the federal government until youth turn 18. On this file, American cities cannot easily borrow from their German counterparts, which are able to steer a long-term integration process.

But for all of the diversity of local contexts – in policy frameworks or demographics – there is surprising commonality in the integration challenges facing cities. Because of that shared experience, some solutions in diversity and inclusion can be highly exportable.

Here are a few solutions that can travel, that we heard in Atlanta:

Outstanding solutions

From the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, home to one-fifth of refugees to Germany, a network of large employers convened to offer 150 paid internships each to skilled refugees. They are working with the University of Duisburg-Essen to identify a pipeline of qualified candidates. The deliberate approach to sourcing talent recognizes that refugees face big challenges to accessing the job market in Germany, despite having skills that employers need.

In Australia, where migration is a political wedge, a small team decided to speak to “middle Australia” and translate Australian values into welcome for newcomers. They created Welcome to Australia, and developed a communications strategy to communicate messages of welcome and inclusion simply, rationally and compassionately.

In Germany, a nation-wide network of service providers called the IQ Network is funded to collect data on refugee skills, certifications and experience. The data is critical for local-level services planning, and quicker and more granular than more formal data collection methods allow.

In the Italian town of Reggio Emilia, 18 per cent of the population is non-Italian, and a large share are children and youth. After immigrant parents saw their children rejecting Arabic identity, or embracing a dangerous form of it, they approached the City to integrate Arabic culture more formally into public education. The collaboration seeks to mainstream and celebrate Arabic culture – music, art, science, cuisine, and language – benefitting Arabic and Italian residents.

In the United States, Walmart sees the development of its workforce as a business imperative, and in some cities, a priority skill for advancement and retention is improved English language. Walmart is currently piloting a sector-specific English language program to increase English language skills among retail workers in Houston, Miami and New York. The program goes beyond company limits, with partners in the pilot including Kroger and Publix grocery stores.

Outstanding questions

Not every integration question has an answer yet. The Welcoming Interactive brought great minds together to share challenges too. These questions provide insight into some of the emerging migration trends, policies and programming ahead.

Paul Stein, an independent consultant in Denver working on asset development and integration, explained the importance of access to private capital for newcomers. He said, “capital can be as welcoming and inclusive as a volunteer.” The question is how to ensure access, in practice, across the financial sector including banks and other community lending institutions. How do we implement, in Stein’s words, a “no wrong door approach to capital”?

Speaking to the number of refugees entering Germany, Claus Preissler, in charge of integration for the City of Mannheim, challenged the view of the crisis as one of scale. “It’s not a high number,” he said. “This is a political question … this is a crisis of EU institutions.” If the migration crisis in Europe is as much political as operational, how does that change the role of cities? What local levers are available to diffuse or at least rationalize national politics?

Sticking with asylum and undocumented migrants, Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute highlighted a problem in approach in the United States with consequences for healthy integration. Authorities at the federal level view undocumented movement of people as an enforcement problem, not a humanitarian problem, despite some clear humanitarian dimensions. Which institutions might be able to shift this approach? And can change in practice happen without change in law?

Indexing the ability of cities to integrate and include newcomers has been on the agenda of city builders for some time. A number of tools exist to measure migration management at the national level: MIPEX, or the IOM’s new MGI, for example. But how do cities fare? Welcoming America is now developing an immigrant inclusion standard, raising its own questions about impact. As Welcoming America’s Rachel Peric asked, is there a role for certification of welcoming? And will immigrant talent vote with their feet, opting in to welcoming communities?

Many of the questions aired in Atlanta are intensely local. But they too have elements in common to many cities of migration. Just like good ideas can travel, good questions can and should travel too.


Dana Wagner GDXDana Wagner is the Project Manager of the Hire Immigrants program of the Global Diversity Exchange (GDX) at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management. She has worked in Toronto, Ottawa, Hanoi and Nairobi. Previously, she worked with the Maytree Foundation, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, and the International Organization for Migration. Dana is co-founder of the nonpartisan political fact-checking site FactsCan. She is co-author of Flight and Freedom: Stories of Escape to Canada, an Open Book Toronto best book of 2015.



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