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Integration from Day One

Categories: CEO's Blog

Integration from Day One

by Yva Alexandrova Meadway, Policy and Campaigns Manager, MRC. 

Integration is how we make immigration work for everyone and ensure that both migrants and their new communities can thrive. But it doesn’t just happen spontaneously. It is a process that requires energy and commitment across different sectors, including government, businesses and the community. MRC’s experience in supporting migrants for over 30 years shows that for integration this to happen effectively, the process needs to start as early as possible upon arrival.

Services that support integration, like English classes and careers advice, help people acquire the skills and knowledge needed to get involved and contribute to society.  Providing these at an early stage means people have the best chance of learning about local customs, and the rights and responsibilities they have, and become part of the community. They also know the services available to them and the rules that apply

Migrants enrich societies in different ways which include making an economic contribution, as well as adding new skills, opening new language and trading opportunities, sharing their culture, participating in the social and political life of the communities they have made their home.

Sources of integration

Early enrolment into English language classes (ESOL) are essential as they provide the basis of a common language bringing different communities and the host population together. ESOL is also a path to understanding the culture and practical integration steps. Classes should be available to all migrants and accessible for individuals that may be experiencing eligibility and accessibility barriers such as:

  • minimum length of stay in the UK – ranging between 6 months and 1 year depending on provider
  • no recourse to public funds – asylum seekers, different categories of leave to remain, lack of recognised legal status – are not allowed to access government funded ESOL classes
  • receipt of “active benefits” for eligibility – JSA/ESA/universal credit
  • lack of child care provision
  • evening and late afternoon classes can cater for the needs of migrants already working/ or those with care responsibilities.

Recognising the challenges posed by cuts to local budgets, availability of ESOL classes should be provided not on the basis of legal status but on other principles such as needs basis, vulnerability or means testing. Immigrants learning and speaking English is of value to the UK within the country, as well as if people decide to migrate elsewhere or go back to their home country. Regardless of how long they have spent in the UK, they take with them knowledge of the language, culture and contacts and social networks. This supports the UK’s influence abroad in a similar way that the work of the British Council does.

Furthermore, existing research evidence points to employment as one of the main drivers of integration. A recent survey with 246 people across the country who have direct experience of the asylum process found that 94% said that they would like to work if given permission to do so. This is important financially-for self-reliance of the asylum seeker, as well as for giving back to the UK society. The survey MRC conducted with 200 migrants and refugees recognises the work place as one of the main spaces where they can learn about the host society and where integration happens.

The general public is also supportive of this – 71% of a recent representative poll agreed that integration is important and it would help if asylum seekers are allowed to work if their claim takes more than six months to process.

There is also no evidence to support the claim that providing access to the labour market will serve as a pull factor for asylum seekers. On the contrary, those studies that do exist show that there is little to no evidence of a link between economic rights and entitlements and the destination choices of those seeking asylum.

Access to the labour market can also be facilitated through providing employment advice, advice on recognition of qualifications, computer and other classes.

Recommendations

Introducing the concept of integration from day one as a key pillar of the UK integration strategy will strengthen the chances for integration of migrants in their new communities. This will include a number of related measures:

  • Ensure that mainstream services are equally available for migrants irrespective of the different routes through which they enter the UK, be it for work, study, family reunion, applying for asylum in-country or a resettlement scheme.
  • Early enrolment into English language classes from day one of arrival needs to be established as an essential part of an integration strategy. Provision of ESOL should be made available in principle to all migrants in the UK.
  • Allowing asylum seekers and other legal categories the right to work as early as possible upon arrival and providing the support for them to overcome the exiting barriers to employment.
  • Other advice services such as employment advice and computer classes should also be available as early as possible.