Recommendations for Local Governments and Community Partners

January 9th, 2013

In Practice to Policy: Lessons from Local Leadership on Immigrant Integration (full report, pdf), we look at what good practices can tell us about the role of local governments in immigrant integration. Four international experts contribute analysis and policy insights on the range of municipal levers available to promote both immigrants and city success.


Recommendations for Local Governments

As the essays in this report demonstrate, local governments in leading cities are taking action to encourage conditions that welcome and integrate immigrants into economic, social and political life. Drawing on these analyses, Cities of Migration recommends the following principles guide the immigrant integration efforts of local governments:

1. Recognize the important role that you play in immigrant integration.

Too often, conversations around immigration and integration focus on national policymakers. Local governments, however, have an enormous stake in the settlement outcomes of immigrants. As the level of government closest to the people, you have the best view of how immigrants are integrating, the challenges they face, how to facilitate their success and how to ensure that the city benefits from that success. While it is important that local governments engage with national and sub-national levels of government to inform broad immigration strategies, you must also focus on taking action on immigrant integration across all policy areas that are within local authority.

2. Develop immigration and integration strategies that recognize your city is competing for immigrants.

Even established immigrant gateways cannot assume that they will remain a destination of choice for today’s highly skilled and highly mobile immigrants. The number of new and emerging destination cities means that today’s immigrants have choice. They use a variety of criteria to choose a new city to call their home. A broad range of factors inform these decisions, and cities can aim to attract immigrants by investing in these areas. When immigrants are welcomed and supported to integrate socially and economically, they will spread word of their success to other potential immigrants.

3. Embed the principles of diversity and equality in all city policies and activities. Put measures in place to hold yourself accountable.

Many cities adopt charters that explicitly value diverse and immigrant residents, and confirm that immigration is an asset to the community, not a problem to be solved. These charters demonstrate a commitment to the integration and participation of all city residents. These principles should also form the basis of action taken by local governments across policies, services and programs. Accountability measures can help ensure that principles do in fact influence city activities.

4. Encourage the mayor to become a public champion for immigrant integration.

Mayors are public symbols of the values and aspirations of a city; their leadership sets the tone for the city’s policies and activities. Mayors can show leadership by publicly stating their support for immigration, building broad political consensus and multi-partisan cooperation among elected representatives, and supporting non-political city staff in their immigrant integration efforts.

5. Ensure that immigrants, including non-citizens, can participate in democratic processes. Establish multiple ways for all residents to participate in city governance, and advocate for the right to vote for all city residents.

In many cities, immigrants and especially non-citizens have limited opportunities to participate in the local decision-making that affects them daily. Local governments can include immigrants and non-citizens on councils, boards and consultative bodies to ensure that you hear the voices of immigrant communities. Extending the right to vote to non-citizens ensures that these residents can make their voices heard, and demonstrates your commitment to immigrant residents.

6. Replicate or adapt approaches that have proven successful other cities, including new, smaller and emerging immigrant gateways.

Long-standing immigrant gateway cities have developed and tested strategies over their histories of receiving immigrants, and emerging gateway cities have the benefit of starting fresh with new and innovative practices. Take good ideas from each and adapt them to suit your city’s needs and conditions.

7. Target initiatives to multiple demographic groups with similar needs and experiences.

Policy and program initiatives can achieve multiple objectives simultaneously. For example, employment programs that support new businesses might be suitable for both young entrepreneurs and immigrant entrepreneurs who are unfamiliar with local laws and regulations. Similarly, poverty reduction initiatives aimed at low-income workers might also benefit marginalized immigrant and refugee communities, through targeted outreach or a tailored stream of programming.

8. Adopt good client service practices from the private and community sectors.

The desire to access new domestic and international markets has driven many private sector companies to improve their ways of doing business. Leading businesses create specialized products or services for specific client groups and target their marketing accordingly. They also adapt customer service processes to meet the needs of specific groups – for example, by providing multilingual services. Community organizations have intimate knowledge of their client groups and can be a good source of responsive practices.

9. Provide city services in many languages.

City residents who do not speak or read the majority language well will face barriers accessing city programs and services. Local governments can provide services in many languages – by translating written materials, providing telephone or in-person interpretation, and by hiring employees who speak immigrant languages – and ensure that city staff have the cultural competencies needed to serve all residents.

10. Lead by example and set the new standard for inclusive hiring practices.

As major employers, local governments should implement and innovate inclusive hiring and promotion practices. As the competition for skills and labour increases, inclusive hiring practices will ensure that you continue to access talented employees. Further, a diverse workforce enhances your ability to serve the public and create sound policy that reflects your constituents.

11. Use your procurement power to facilitate opportunities for immigrant business owners and immigrant-friendly businesses.

Local governments are also major purchasers of services and supplies, and thus wield considerable procurement power. Establish a procurement policy that values suppliers with immigrant ownership and/or good immigrant employment practices and outcomes. Similarly, the procurement policy can be used to encourage demographically diverse (in gender, age, ability and so on) suppliers more generally.

12. Promote immigrant entrepreneurship as a route to economic integration and to prosperity for all city residents.

Self-employment and business ownership are viable paths to economic integration for many immigrants, including those who were entrepreneurs in their country of origin. Local level policies affect the ability of immigrants to build successful businesses. For example, review planning and zoning regulations to ensure that immigrant entrepreneurs do not face unfair barriers to starting businesses that will contribute to the economy and employ other residents.

13. Look to public spaces as facilitators and indicators of integration.

People come together in public spaces such as parks, streets, libraries, community centres, and public transportation – areas that are typically governed by local governments. These public spaces are the stage where integration can happen, and can also indicate how city residents interact with each other. Ideally, programs and services that centre on public spaces benefit a wide variety of residents who are welcomed and included in those spaces.

14. Set targets and measure the impact of your programs and services, using international benchmarks where appropriate. Couple this with reliable, longitudinal data that you or other levels of government collect. Analyze and share this information.

Measuring the impact of programs and services will help to allocate resources effectively. Tools such as the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) and the Global Cities Indicators Facility (GCIF) provide international benchmarks and comparators that you can use to measure your progress against other cities of your size and character. Together with longitudinal population data, this information will inform policy and program development and indicate how well large scale or long-term measures are working. Further, sharing the information and analysis allow the community and private sectors to target their activities as well.


Recommendations for Community Partners

While this series focuses on the role of local governments in immigrant integration, community sector organizations can play an important role in influencing local policy by working with local governments. To this end, Cities of Migration recommends that the following principles should guide organizations’ efforts to work with local governments on immigrant integration:

1. Understand how local government works, and their role in immigrant integration.

Local governments can be large, complex organizations. Identify the departments that are most relevant to your work, and the individuals who influence decision-making in this area. This will help you target the different channels or pathways to access them. Further, understanding which policy areas come under local jurisdiction, how funding is allocated, and the processes and timelines that they use to make decisions will help you to effectively tailor your work and relations with your local government.

2. Identify champions within local government.

Individuals who understand and support your work can give you insight into decision-making processes, as well as access to decision-makers. Champions who are in senior positions and/or are well-regarded can also give your organization credibility.

3. Tell your story using evidence and anecdotes.

Many groups and issues are competing for attention from local government. To bring your issue to the forefront, tell a compelling story using evidence and anecdotes. Evidence can include research or statistics that demonstrate the importance of immigration in your city or country, the need for and outcomes of your own work, and successful initiatives from other sectors or jurisdictions. Anecdotes demonstrate how your work affects individual city residents. Your story should clearly demonstrate what you bring to immigrant integration.

4. Aim to influence local governments on their agenda and priorities.

Local governments have different methods of taking input from community sector organizations when planning and setting priorities for their work. If you can provide input during these processes, you can help to put immigrant integration on the agenda that affects all city activities. Even if you are not yet able to influence the development of the city’s agenda, positioning your work within their existing agenda could open opportunities for them to support or partner with you on your work.

5. Propose solutions and plans to implement them.

Local governments must take action to serve city residents. Too often, community organizations focus only on describing problems. This leaves local governments with the task of trying to solve the problems. Instead, draw on your knowledge and expertise in immigrant integration to propose programs, services or policy changes that could help to solve these problems. In addition, propose realistic plans for what local governments could do themselves, or how they could partner with or fund other organizations to do the work.

6. Articulate what the local government can do to support you in your work.

Consider the different ways that the local government could support your work. For example, it might fund programs, provide information or data, convene stakeholders or other levels of government that you want to talk to, participate as an employer in employment programs, and so on. Determine what the most valuable and realistic contributions would be, and ask for them.

7. Articulate what you can do to support your local government’s work.

Often, community groups approach government only to make requests. However, you have much to offer your local government – for example, intimate knowledge of the community you serve, innovative ideas, the ability to carry out programs outside of the city’s infrastructure, and so on. Knowing what assets you bring to the table can help you to position yourself as a partner in achieving mutual objectives. This can also encourage a collaborative, reciprocal relationship and lead to formal partnerships with the local government.

8. Put forward your greatest asset: the community and clients you work with.

Although they are the level of government closest to the people, local governments tend to lack the direct, trusted and open access that community organizations often have with the people they serve. By facilitating access between the two groups, you can help local governments hear the voices of their constituents, and provide opportunities for community members to use their power as civic actors. For example, you might be able to help connect local governments with community members to serve on public agencies, boards or commissions.

9. Encourage the local government to promote and value the civic engagement of immigrant residents.

Civic and political engagement is a cornerstone of immigrant integration. Local governments and institutions benefit from hearing the voices of all residents. By supporting immigrant residents to engage with local civic processes – for example, school boards decisions, local elections and so on – you help local government develop sound and responsive policies and help immigrant residents shape their community.

10. Develop a strategy for government relations; set goals and measure your progress.

As with all of your programs and activities, think strategically about your relationship with your local government and develop a plan to achieve your goals. Measure your progress and adjust your approach as needed.

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