‘Rich and Happy’ – Good Local Initiatives for the Integration of Migrants

January 8th, 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 immigrant sand city success.

Roland Roth
Magdeburg-Stendal University

“We are rich and happy because we have so many immigrants,” explained Wolfgang Schuster, Mayor of Stuttgart. This came as a surprise to the jury of Germany’s first national competition on local integration policy.1 The competition “Successful integration is no coincidence – Strategies for community policy” showed that cities and towns were starting to think differently about immigration. Previously, integration and migration had long been viewed as a nuisance, a peripheral issue, and, above all, as a problem. The untapped potential of immigrants and their economic and strategic significance had long been overlooked. This new positive, asset-based approach took the jury by surprise.

Following a phase of restrictive migration policy in many Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, the last few decades have seen more open immigration policies that focus on skilled labour. We are experiencing global competition for information technology professionals, creative artists and high skilled individuals upon whom to place our hopes for future prosperity. “Brain gain” rather than “brain drain” is the driving force in today’s migration policies. Since the financial crises that started in 2008, the pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite direction. Long-term demographic trends will continue to strengthen the case for immigration even after the economy cools down.

This discussion of the economic framework for migration policy requires both regional and national lenses.2 While we must not succumb to economic reductionism, economic considerations crucially influence both migration policy and key policy decisions at the national level, generally. Local communities, especially large cities, similarly cannot escape the impact of global competition for goods, services and labour, and are developing economic strategies and principles (e.g. the entrepreneurial city) and taking action directly, as the examples in this series demonstrate.3

The economic significance of metropolitan regions is gaining wider recognition. The worlds of experience offered by colourful, multicultural urban areas have drawn the attention of growing tourist industries. The informal and ethnic economies of immigrants are in full swing. The new, knowledge-based economy has long discovered cities and identified their diverse neighbourhoods and districts as hubs of skill and innovation.4 “Creative cities” are just one of the many ways in which the economic and social benefits of diversity have been expressed.5 This asset-based, human capital approach to immigration is starting to replace older, problem-oriented attitudes and approaches to immigrant integration. Cities increasingly recognize immigrant skill and potential as sources of hope.

As cities adjust to changing economic conditions, they also remain central to the social integration of immigrants across all areas of everyday life. Unlike business enterprises, cities and towns must also seek approaches that are sustainable, inclusive, ecologically sensitive and globally responsible.

Targeted economic integration strategies and immigrant recruitment initiatives therefore require broad social integration policies and must be supported by all residents in the receiving community. All local integration policy fields – ranging from education to widening of intercultural horizons to antidiscrimination and the promotion of equality – can contribute. These complementary measures are necessary for economic integration initiatives to be successful at the local level and must address local conditions and economic prospects. Even among major cities, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Good local migration and integration policy will definitely contribute to better economic integration of immigrants. You can find international examples of good local practices throughout this Municipal Leadership series6.

Looking in, looking out

Basically, two approaches are at work here. On the one hand, local governments must look inward, and invest in a diverse urban society in all its potential. On the other hand, cities and towns are also looking outward, making themselves attractive to potential immigrants and creating the conditions for investment. A welcoming culture is one that contributes by helping immigrants and their families overcome obstacles in all areas of life while also providing targeted employment and business start-up assistance. The collection of good ideas demonstrates just how innovative local governments can be in their approaches and responses across a spectrum of different city contexts and experiences.

Cities are developing founding principles that stress the economic and social rights of immigrants and opt for diversity. In doing so, they are overcoming traditional approaches that restrict urban citizenship to nationals and certain status groups of immigrants.

For example, Montreal (Canada) established a “Charter of Rights for Urban Citizens.” The Greater London Authority has joined a London Living Wage Campaign launched by the citizens’ action initiative “London Citizens.” The slogan “Making London a Living Wage City” addresses a central problem of major cities, where the cost of living is often significantly higher than the agreed minimum wage, assuming that the latter even exists. It also addresses a class of workers in which women and minorities, including immigrants, are over-represented.

Cities are recognizing immigrants as active and productive members of society, that enhance the economic prosperity of the city. Community programs and institutions are promoting immigrant employment, training immigrants for high skill sectors of the local job market and supporting fair and equitable business practices. This includes recognizing their credentials, training, experience and language skills. Many cities have initiatives that address the specific needs of immigrants.

Building on the success of Toronto’s TRIEC (Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council), highly qualified immigrants seeking employment in the Auckland Region (New Zealand) can access mentoring and training through OMEGA (Opportunities for Migrant Employment in Greater Auckland) in partnership with municipal executive staff. The local economic development agency in Turin (Italy) succeeded in defusing conflict among vendors at a local market at the Porta Palazzo by creating a regulated zone and a legal status for unlicensed merchants as

“non-commercial vendors.” In Wuppertal (Germany), the Wuppertal Participation Network works with asylum seekers in Germany during the period of time they are not permitted to work; the time is used for training that prepares them for the local labour market.

Diversity as a productive force: promoting immigrant entrepreneurship is becoming a priority for integration policies around the world. Cities and towns are increasingly helping immigrants to start businesses, fostering small business incubation and supporting their development – from the back streets to Main Street success.

In Munich (Germany), the community-based MEM (Migrant Entrepreneurs Munich program) supports entrepreneurs with an immigrant background by providing advice, training, networking events and promoting their recognition and appreciation with an annual award for successful immigrant enterprises. Vienna (Austria) has established an elaborate welcome program for immigrant entrepreneurs. The city’s agency for entrepreneurs, MINGO (“move in and grow”), provides multilingual services for immigrant entrepreneurs in a “one-stop shop.”

Local communities are leading the way by using municipal offices, agencies and services to model good practices for diversity. Increasing cultural competencies and inclusion while improving the quality of public service has already been on municipal agendas for some time. While it is difficult to implement these policies at a time when public services are shrinking under pressure for fiscal retrenchment, these initiatives ensure the city will be accountable to its residents and competitive in the long run.

Bremen (Germany)  has set up an education and training centre for public services that specifically addresses the recruitment and training of minority youth for the public sector. Copenhagen’s Diversity Charter not only governs the development and management of local community services but also includes mandatory social clauses around procurement and supplier diversity.

Cities have taken up the issue of securing the economic rights of immigrants. They have also adopted such courses in clear pursuit of their own interests, knowing the burden of the social and economic cost of economic discrimination and financial exclusion. For the average citizen, this area includes everyday things like opening a bank account, credit and other forms of microfinance for workers who are precariously employed or without legal status, or for entrepreneurial start-ups. In times of harsh and sometimes deadly border regimes, local communities have set themselves the task of contributing to the more humane treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and non-

status immigrants that conforms with human rights. Many of the frequently well-qualified civil war refugees from Europe’s periphery also deserve better prospects on the EU labour markets.7

Bank On in San Francisco (U.S.) provides free-of-charge or low-cost accounts to low income individuals and families. In Durham (U.S.), the Latino Community Credit Union, a co-operative bank, goes one step further. On a community basis, it offers credit to immigrants with low income and runs a large number of branches to facilitate day-to-day money transactions. A similar approach in London (U.K.), Fair Finance, awards microcredits to immigrants to protect them against the extortionate rates of interest charged by private moneylenders. In New Haven (U.S.), the city issues local identification cards for all city residents, including undocumented migrants, to facilitate access to essential city services, including banking.

Today, cities fluctuate between adaptation and obstinacy when it comes to economic integration. Given the success of local efforts to adapt to economic trends and the number of policy guidelines in many cases and in many places, there remains a surprising reluctance among some cities to embrace their traditional role as places of integration. Going forward, we must continue to develop resources to support new immigrants and their integration into the urban economy so that they really can help make all of us “rich and happy.”


Roland Roth is professor of political science at Magdeburg-Stendal University, Germany.He has also served as a research fellow at the University of California at Santa Cruz and the Social Science Research Centre, Berlin, and as a visiting professor at the University of Vienna. His scholarly and political work focuses on democracy, social movements, integration, and civil and human rights. He is one of the founders of the Committee for Basic Rights and Democracy in Cologne, and serves on several advisory boards on democratic development, child and youth participation, integration and right-wing extremism.

Practice to Policy report – Related articles:


1. (Bertelsmann Stiftung/Bundesministerium des Innern (Eds.): Erfolgreiche Integration ist kein Zufall. Gütersloh 2005). Stuttgart was the winner in the category of large cities.
2. For country-specific economic requirements, see Menz, Georg. (2011). Employer Preferences for Labour Migration: Exploring “Varieties of Capitalism”-Based Contextual Conditionality in Germany and the United Kingdom. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 13, 534-550.
3. Other works in this series highlight municipal programs and policies from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. See Maytree Foundation. (2012). Good Ideas from Successful Cities: Municipal Leadership in Immigrant Integration. Toronto: Maytree Foundation. http://citiesofmigration.ca/good-ideas-in-integration/municipal
4. The works of Richard Florida were pioneering; see especially: Florida, Richard. (2005). Cities and the Creative Class. For a critical, empirically sound interim balance see Krätke, Stefan. (2011). The Creative Capital of Cities: Interactive Knowledge Creation and the Urbanization Economies of Innovation.
5. For programmatic aspects, cf. Page, Scott E. (2007). The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies.
6. Maytree Foundation. (2012). Good Ideas from Successful Cities: Municipal Leadership in Immigrant Integration. Toronto: Maytree Foundation. http://citiesofmigration.ca/good-ideas-in-integration/
7. Richey, Mason. (2012). The North African Revolutions: A Chance to Rethink European Externalization of the Handling of Non-EU Migrant Inflows. Foreign Policy Analysis, 1, 1-19.

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