Integration through contract?
Though European states have received increasing numbers of immigrants over the past few decades, they have failed to integrate these immigrants as successfully as traditional immigrant-receiving nations such as the United States and Canada. There are undoubtedly many factors that contribute to this differential in integration success rates, but access to education and employment may be the most important. Examining these measures, a recent OECD report found that the children of migrants living in Europe have significantly worse education and labor market outcomes than the children of migrants in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
So what then should we make of German Immigration Commissioner Maria Boehmer’s proposal to address Germany’s integration problem through contracts? Expected to be introduced during the current legislative period, these contracts will explain the services and assistance available to immigrants while requiring immigrants to learn German and avow their support for liberal values such as freedom of expression and equality of women. Dr. Boehmer acknowledges that the key to integrating immigrants is access to schooling and employment markets (the latter through recognition of qualifications from abroad).
Even assuming that the provisions relating to services and assistance encourage immigrant enrollment in schools and participation in labor markets, the contracts alone seem entirely inadequate to overcome the complex and stubborn extant barriers to access. And it seems just wishful thinking that a contract could be sufficient to enable a cultural shift in the immigrant population towards “German values”. Moreover, the few news articles I could find on this story made no mention of how these contracts would be enforced and what would be at stake. Perhaps the only value of these contracts is symbolic, but then the concern is that they might prove more alienating than welcoming. All in all, integration through contract seems an unlikely outcome.