Are Immigrants Under a Duty to Integrate?

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Immigrants Under a Duty to Integrate?


is often assumed that immigrants are under a duty to integrate into the culture
of the country in which they now reside (Mason, 2012 p169). People often feel
immigrants have chosen to move and therefore owe it to conform to the rules of
their new society. However, in this essay it shall be argued that this is a
weak argument because it does not acknowledge the implications for future
generations of immigrants, and refugees who are forced to flee their home
countries. I will explain why I take the view that immigrants are under a duty
to integrate, but that this duty only arises when the majority population of
the receiving country makes an equal effort to adapt their own culture in
response, as a result of government action. I will use normative premises to
explain what justice should demand of immigrants, as well as empirical evidence
evidencing the successes of integration across Europe. I will focus closely on
the United Kingdom as an example of immigrant integration, and ascertain the
success of this.

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 Is integration a one way process or a two way process?

David Goodhart argues that the duty to integrate falls on
immigrants not existing citizens; it is a one way process and, beyond treating
newcomers fairly there is no obligation on existing citizens. This is because
the immigrant has chosen to join an existing society and consequently must
adapt to its ways of life (Goodhart, 2013, p130.) I would argue that this
account does not prove that immigrants have a duty to integrate, as it does not
set out a point at which successful integration can be achieved. This is
problematic; it allows for the erosion of any minority culture and verges on an
assimilationist account. If every immigrant was expected to shed any affinity
they feel for their country of birth, and any expression of this was to be
suppressed, a Eurocentric culture (Heywood, 2007, p314) would develop, and to destroy
an individual’s identity is not justifiable and thus immigrants do not have a
duty to integrate. Moreover, this account ignores second-generation immigrants who
did not have a choice in which society to develop in, and fails to show why
refugees, fleeing war or economic hardship, should take on the additional
burden of conforming to an entirely new way of life, losing their religious and
cultural identity in the process.


Madood describes integration as a two-way process, and, for the purpose of this
essay, I will agree with this. Integration is defined as a process by which both the minority and the majority populations change
their customs, practices, behaviour or values; there is mutual adaptation. He writes, “if there is a duty to integrate,
then it will bind not only minority cultural groups but also the majority and
the former cannot alone be blamed for failing to integrate.” (Modood, 2013 p48.)
However, this process account of integration is limited because it does not
specify a point at which integration is successfully achieved. Goal-based
accounts of integration are useful as they rectify this problem and I will
critically evaluate two. Firstly, the social participation account from
Elizabeth Anderson; integration ‘consists of the full participation, in terms
of equality, of socially significant groups in all domains of society.”
(Anderson, 2010, p113.) Secondly, the shared national identity account,
which has been pursued by various political leaders from countries which
experience high levels of immigration, such as the UK and Canada. This account
argues that a society is integrated when members of
different cultural and religious groups share a national identity based on
shared values. I will examine the merits of each approach to integration,
before arriving at a conclusion which will outline which I find most valuable.


The Social
Participation Account

Elizabeth Anderson’s
social participation account provides a valuable approach to integration because
it explains that if ‘socially significant’ groups are willing to participate in
this new society, then integration will occur and society will be improved
(Anderson, 2010).  Socially significant
groups refers to both immigrants and the state (two-way account) (Modood, 2013);
there is a duty on the immigrant to integrate by participating in society, and
there is a duty on the state and majority population to respect and interact
with the new features that will enter their society as a result of immigration.  When immigrants settle in a new
society, they participate not only in its existing institutions e.g. the
electoral system or welfare state, but also establish new institutions such as religious
gatherings.  The onus is on both
immigrants and the receiving population to interact with these old and new

Social participation is a valuable justification
for the duty of an immigrant to integrate into society for many reasons. Anderson’s extensive research into racial segregation in
the United States led her to conclude that that minority groups leading
separate lives can deprive them of access to opportunities, and that
integration is key to rectifying this (Anderson, 2010). Equality of opportunity
is one of the most important factors in a just society according to Rawls
(Rawls, 2005), illustrating the importance of these interactions and justifying
an immigrant’s duty to integrate. Social participation can take place at the
national, regional or local level, but it is the latter two that, I argue,
breeds the most success in providing equality of opportunity. While superficial
interactions may positively impact relations between individuals, it is at a
higher level that true integration must take place.

When immigrants are
involved in the policy-making process of the host country, equal participation
with their majority-group peers will ensure that public policy will reflect the
interests of all rather than the traditionally dominant population (Heywood
2007, p319). Therefore, it is justifiable to require immigrants to integrate. When
a substantial part of a country’s actual population has no political rights,
the legitimacy of its democracy should be questioned. Even if immigrants do not
hold citizenship, there is an argument for the idea that granting them the
opportunity to participate in the political system will encourage integration. Granting
voting rights to foreign immigrants, has been implemented by a number of
countries in Europe. In Norway and Sweden, immigrants have the right to vote
and stand at a local and regional level (Spang, 2011). This is one of the
reasons why Sweden is considered as the country with the most successful
integration policies towards immigrants, with Norway in 4th (,

The social participation account of integration is valuable when
considered from the perspective of Allport’s contact hypothesis (Allport, 2008).
Allport outlined
multiple parameters which can reduce prejudice. When immigrants and the
majority population interact enough to lead to personal acquaintance, in
pursuit of shared goals, supported by institutional authorities or law, they
engage in ‘meaningful contact’ which goes beyond benign acknowledgement or
economic transactions as this does not have a positive enough outcome to be
considered successful integration (Mason, 2012, p174). When meaningful contact
occurs, this produces mutual trust and respect between immigrants and the
population of the host country, while reducing prejudice, resulting in a stable
society, which justifies asking immigrants to fulfil their duty to integrate
(Mason, p170). The Cantle report provides an empirical example to prove the
value of Allport’s hypothesis, claiming that “there is an urgent need to
promote community cohesion, based upon a greater knowledge of, contact between,
and respect for, the various cultures that make Great Britain such a diverse
nation,” (Cantle, 2001, p10).


Governments since 2001 have endeavoured to promote social participation in
order to integrate immigrants into society, to avoid repeating the disturbances
which sparked the need for the Cantle Report. These
disturbances stemmed from different ethnic groups leading ‘parallel lives’, and
Goodhart points out that this often breeds distrust in society (Goodhart, 2013,
p132). If meaningful interactions do not occur between minority groups and the
majority population, minorities can become immersed in their own culture and
only exist within these boundaries; they will only work, go out with and form
relationships with those within their racial profile, and the division between
ethnic groups will become self-reinforcing. Cameron, speaking as leader of the
opposition, criticised Labour for allowing ‘state multiculturalism’ to occur,
saying this has resulted in “the idea that we should respect different
cultures within Britain to the point of encouraging them to live separate
lives, apart from each other and the mainstream,” (Sparrow, 2008.) Continuing
divisions, particularly in boroughs of London where racial violence is common,
illustrate why immigrants have a duty to integrate in the social participation
sense, in order to adjust to their new society, and also how the state must
pursue policies of mixed schoolings and shared housing in order to further
integrate the growing immigrant population.


However, the social participation account of integration is not
flawless. A vigorous commitment to promoting integration may touch on the
possibility of assimilation by violating individual rights. Muslim schoolgirls,
for example, may be banned from wearing the traditional headdress if they are
in single or ‘no-faith’ schools. Furthermore, participation in institutions may
fail to produce an affinity towards the country immigrants now settle in,
resulting in second or third generations feeling like a stranger within their home.
Therefore, both immigrants and the host country must go beyond social
interactions, and create a shared national identity which everyone can feel part


3.     The Shared National Identity Account


Multiculturalists view culture is the core feature of our personal
and social identities, whether or not we are immigrants. As a result of this,
they often take a communitarian view of society; individuals cannot be
understood outside society, and thus our identity is embedded in the social and
cultural contexts in which we live and develop (Heywood, 2007, p317.) Therefore,
the state has a duty to promote a culture which evokes pride and celebration
from its immigrants and host populations alike. This creates a stable society
because a shared culture fosters respect and tolerance between individuals as
their lives are all impacted by a set of similar factors. In many countries,
the state attempts to achieve this by creating a shared national identity.
Immigrants must also make an effort to acknowledge that they reside in a vastly
different society to that which formed their original identity, therefore they must
compromise on certain beliefs and values. Immigrants must be willing and able
to integrate, but the receiving population must also allow them to retain an
independent cultural identity and avoid lapsing into eurocentrism. As Modood
points out, an immigrant’s duty to integrate should only arise when their
unique cultural identity is respected in kind (Modood, 2013 p48.)


Promoting integration in this sense faces a dilemma; the values
constituting this identity can be ‘thin’ or ‘thick.’ Thin values allow for only
broad shared values to form an identity, such as liberty and freedom (Paris,
1991.) These are simple values for immigrants to identify with but lack
substance and will fail to instil any true sense of patriotism. A thicker set
of values may include sharing a language or educational system. These values
create a stronger sense of identity but run the risk of becoming
assimilationist, which is an unjust expectation to place on immigrants as they
risk being denied the right to express their own cultural identity.


In the UK, negative stereotypes towards
immigrants persist. 37.6% of people believe that Muslims perceive terrorists as
heroes, while 62.2% believe there are too many immigrants in the UK (Zick,
Küpper and Hövermann, 2011, p 54.) The findings of the report concluded that “recognising
inequality means appreciating cultural diversity and difference and applying
the same standards to all groups without distinction,” (Zick, Küpper and
Hövermann, 2011, p158.) David Cameron attempted to reduce mistrust between
immigrants and British nationals by focussing much of his rhetoric on the
promotion of “British values.”  This is
important for the political leaders of every country due to the rise of right-wing
extremism and populism; these ideologies see immigrants as inferior and do not
believe they deserve equal status with the majority populations (Zick, Küpper
and Hövermann, 2011.) At the Munich Security Conference, Cameron pointed out
that the lack of integration for young Muslim men had pushed them towards
extremism, and that efforts should be made to create a British identity which immigrants
could identify with (, 2011.) The dilemma faced over the creation of a
shared British identity stems from the fact that British values are vague and
difficult for immigrants to identify with.


Goodhart provides a partial solution to
this problem. He proposes to make St. George’s Day a bank holiday to celebrate
what it means to be English as well as compulsory citizenship where young
people from all religions work together on common projects; this would fulfil
both immigrant and the host populations’ duties to integrate together
(Goodhart, 2013, p449-450.) Britain, and England in particular, has failed to
produce a national identity which accommodates both ethnic minorities and the
identity of the majority. This contrasts with Ireland, where the division
between minorities and majorities has been overcome and a sense of national
pride is seen positively, through St. Patricks’ Day celebrations and sporting
events, rather than the lingering sense in England that patriotism is a dirty word,
synonymous with nationalist. These values are thick enough to provide a true
sense of affinity for immigrants toward the host country, yet thin enough to
not place unrealistic constraints on their individual identity.


However, the problem with this account of
integration is obvious. It fails to recognise the need for equal respect and
dignity between immigrants and the majority population, and results in domination
of the majority culture over the immigrants’ culture. I argue that a diverse
culture should be celebrated and protected in every society. It is unjust to
expect immigrants to shed values that have been embedded into their identity
through history, in order to integrate into a society which may be the polar
opposite of their home, especially in the case of refugees. A sense of
belonging between residents of a country should be cultivated in order to
foster trust, but this should not result in the erosion of any minority
culture. Freedom of expression should actively be protected, alongside attempts
to shape a national identity which immigrants can, and should seek to integrate



This is far from an exhaustive
justification of why immigrants only have a partial duty to integrate into
society. Areas for further study include closer empirical analysis of the
attempts across Europe to integrate immigrants in society, and a more
comparative approach between countries. I have endeavoured to prove why the
social participation account of integration is the most valuable account of
justice, but it should be pursued in conjunction with a shared national
identity in mind. Social participation is a valuable approach to integration as
shown by the Swedish example because it fosters mutual respect and trust
between immigrants and the majority population. The host country has a duty to
integrate immigrants because often these are western superpowers with the
greatest quality of life, and should endeavour to integrate immigrants, many of
whom may be refugees, as each individual deserves equal opportunity and access
to resources in a just society. However, immigrants also have a duty to
integrate; this takes the form of participating in the institutions of the host
country and also cultivating a greater sense of identity from this new culture,
while still retaining the values and beliefs instilled by their native country. 


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