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Integration does not imply cutting ties to the country of origin

27 November 2015

A new study demonstrates the diversity of cross-border economic, cultural and political activities of migrants. However, these activities are often blocked by government policies.


Is there a contradiction between activities of migrants in their country of origin and their successful integration in Austria? The new study, prepared as part of a broader comparative research project coordinated by the European University Institute (Florence, Italy) and financed by the European Integration Fund (EIF), examines various transnational activities and shows that there is no incompatibility with integration.

In the newly published report, a case study focusing on Austria, a research team at ICMPD studied how migrants organize activities across national borders. One important outcome: migrants often engage in a variety of ways and in several societies – however, to do so, they have to overcome many barriers, says Alexandra König, one of the authors of the Austrian case study.

Of late, the economic relevance of migrants to their countries of origin, like in the form of remittances or international entrepreneurship, has increasingly found recognition in the general public. Other forms of engagement, such as volunteer activities or political action, were hardly ever considered relevant.

"Thinking and acting beyond the nation state is one of the essential characteristics of the respondents," Alexandra König says of the interview partners hailing from the countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, Ukraine and Philippines. "They are involved in various ways in the political, social, cultural and economic life, in several societies at the same time. So in most cases, both Austria and the country of origin benefit."

“While migrants are often presumed to have conflicts of loyalty hindering their integration, the potential that lies in activities across national borders is politically neglected,” says König. The respondents of the study have established a life in Austria and simultaneously draw on their connections to their country of origin as a resource. Austrian policies, such as visa and residence regulations, difficult access to citizenship, lengthy recognition of qualifications, and lack of internationalization of social rights, hamper the development of these projects.

The authors emphasize that the contributions made through migrants´ engagement   may not be merely understood in economic terms. One example is Miriam Bogdanovic (name changed), a migrant of Bosnian-Herzegovinian origin: While studying in Austria, she initiated a regional reconciliation project with young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The aim was to bring together young people who have little to do with each other in everyday life, because of ethnic divisions. In Austria, Bogdanovic also engaged in anti-racist initiatives and raised awareness among the majority population with her personal refugee biography – all of this as a volunteer.

People like Miriam Bogdanovic face multiple challenges in their commitment across borders. This requires resources – time, money and knowledge – and often has to be organized in addition to a job and family life. Add to that the aforementioned hampering conditions that run counterproductively to these initiatives in various ways. "The interviews conducted in the project make it clear that it should be made a political goal to actively eliminate these barriers now, in order to strengthen the great potential of transnational links," concludes König.

Download the publication 'Integration, Transnational Mobility and Human, Social and Economic Capital Transfers: Country Report - Austria

Access other national reports and the documentary film “Ten hours from home” on the project homepage, Global Governance Programme.

Learn more about ICMPD's Research Unit

Photo by annaspies on Flickr