Immigration Essay

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Immigration is the arrival of citizens from one nation-state who plan on taking or do take up long-term or permanent residence in another country. Thus it is secondary to the preceding migration. subsequent generations of these immigrants either assimilate and become invisible or maintain features distinguishing them from other members of society as identifiable ethnic, racial, cultural, or religious (minority) groups. Given the historical continuum of global migration, immigration too has a historical continuum, probably observable at any point in history. The concept of immigration, however, is relatively new and corresponds to the emergence of modern nation-states. Nations are founded on various principles, such as blood, culture, fate and destiny, history, or other characteristics supposedly shared by members of a nation. Belonging has either a political or a natural definition, thus making it a matter of choice or of birthright. Therefore, the arrivals of other social or political groups not perceived as holding these commonly shared characteristics make them, in the minds of the natives, either aliens, foreigners, immigrants, or simply “the others.”

Immigration, first studied by the Chicago School during the 1920s, raises various issues. These are usually identified with or related to reception, insertion, incorporation (or at times non-incorporation), integration, adaptation, assimilation, and related processes of belonging and identity. Each concept couples with specific beliefs, theories, or policies. While conventional and assimilationist research only examines how immigrants adapt or fail to do so, progressive research also studies the adaptation of host societies. The sociological questions arising are what happens to newcomers and what happens to receiving societies; what is the relationship between indigenous populations, previous immigrants, and newcomers; and what are the social, economic, political, and cultural consequences to all? And the political questions are what is the legal status of new arrivals; which political, civil, and social rights do they have; and how can these rights be acquired?

Integration is an interactive process involving individuals and collectives from both mobile and sedentary populations. The character of the relations, their power relations, their structural positions in society, and their communication processes are crucial. The integration of immigrants into the host society is either a one-way process (the immigrants adapt to the host society) or a two-way process (both parties change). In civic and liberal nations, belonging is a matter of choice: Integration can be negotiated and subsequent belonging acquired, as in the United States or the United Kingdom. In ethnic nations where belonging is related to descent—as, for instance, in Germany, Turkey, Greece, and Japan—this is hardly possible.

Migration and immigration are major forces of global human transformation, alongside globalization and aging. Global migration, defined as the increasing global mobility of people and immigration, significantly increases heterogeneity of ethnic composition and of cultural values and practices. The consequences are manifold: (a) It might or might not increase the size of the population of a host society, depending on net migration, that balance between emigration and immigration; (b) it changes the composition of a host society’s population in terms of culture, language, religion, or ethnicity and potentially changes the fabric of a host society; and (c) immigrants increase the labor force, contribute to the economy and tax and social funds, and are consumers and service users. Issues of concern are labor market competition, overcrowding (e.g., in the housing market), drain on public services, and conflicts between indigenous and immigrant cultures. observers pay specific attention to immigrants who simultaneously hold loyalty to their country of origin and their host country and who are engaged economically, politically, and culturally in both. These are transnational migrants and represent an increasingly relevant group. Another specific challenge relates to those who only temporarily integrate because they intend to return or move on to other destinations, which affects efforts made by both parties.

Three major models and policies of inclusion can be identified: (1) multiculturalism (e.g., in Canada and Australia) and its successors interculturalism and transculturalism, based on diversity, social equality, and participation and emphasizing social integration; (2) integration (e.g., in Germany and the Netherlands), emphasizing its structural aspects and based on social equality, participation, and adaptation to a host society; and (3) assimilation into a host society (e.g., France), based on (republican) ideas of homogeneity. The difference lies in the level of mutuality in the adaptation process, ranging from one-way assimilation to limited mutuality in integration and high levels of mutuality in multiculturalism.

Antonyms of integration are social marginalization and social or spatial segregation. All currently practiced models of integration are considered imperfect, at least with respect to implementation: All can lead to alienation, segregation, and (self-)exclusion, which undermine solidarity and social cohesion. While some, such as multiculturalism, pay due respect to mutuality in integration processes, implementation is insufficient because there still is a dominant community. Recent trends show that states prefer skilled immigrants with high levels of human capital and language proficiency, understood as preconditions to successful integration.

Both indigenous populations and immigrants contribute barriers to integration. In most receiving countries, immigrants experience discrimination, often on grounds of racism; hence they are legally, structurally, or socially treated unequally. Consequently, they suffer from such social inequalities as unemployment, poor education, substandard housing, political under-representation, overpolicing, and racial violence. Immigrants too might exclude themselves from a host society, and even confront a liberal society with illiberal beliefs, for example, with respect to gender relations. Instead, they might create or integrate into already existing immigrant and ethnic minority communities. These, however, could also be a response to prior rejection by the host society.

Although immigration represents a major challenge to society and community, no coherent theories and policies on integration exist. From the perspective of social scientists, present practices of political organization of humanity are not well equipped to accommodate mobile populations.


  1. Castles, Stephen and Alistair Davidson. 2000. Citizenship and Migration: Globalization and the Politics of Belonging. London: Macmillan.
  2. Schmitter-Heissler, Barbara. 2000. “The Sociology of Immigration.” Pp. 77-96 in Migration Theory: Talking across Disciplines, edited by C. Brettell and J. F. Hollifield. New York: Routledge.

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