Radboud University: Migrants with a higher socio-economic position actually feel less connected with the Netherlands

Western European societies, such as the Netherlands, aim at a rapid integration for migrants. Furthermore, we expect integration to be easier for migrants with a higher socio-economic position. However, these migrants actually feel a lower sense of belonging to the Netherlands than migrants with a lower socio-economic position. In her PhD thesis, Nella Geurts illustrates why this so-called integration paradox is less paradoxical than it seems.

For a long time, research on integration was dominated by the theory that integration in one domain automatically leads to integration in other domains. In other words: if a migrant learns the language and gets a paid job, the rest follows automatically. A related idea is therefore that migrants with a higher socio-economic position find it easier to integrate. In practice, it is precisely this latter group that feels with a lower sense of belonging to the Netherlands. This is the conclusion reached by Geurts on the basis of questionnaires among first-generation migrants who have lived in the Netherlands for 20 to 30 years and recent migrants, as well as in-depth interviews with highly educated Turkish migrants.

Invalid diploma
This limited sense of belonging is primarily due to the experience of social exclusion. “This can vary from discrimination and not being accepted as a group, to personal exclusion despite good intentions,” says Geurts. “Not being invited to a barbecue with colleagues because people expect that you don’t drink any alcohol. Or being enthusiastically shown the office prayer room, even though you’re not a Muslim. These kinds of experiences can get in the way of a sense of belonging.” Recent migrants present a special group in this context, emphasises Geurts. “They’re faced with the prejudices and expectations of both Dutch natives and second-generation migrants with a Turkish background. A hairdresser who asks why you left Erdoğan’s country, for example.”

In addition to processes of social exclusion, expectations concerning life after migration may also contribute to a weaker sense of belonging. “People can have pretty high expectations of life in the Netherlands, and migrants become disappointed when these expectations fail to materialise. For example, one of the interviewees explained that he was a dentist in Istanbul, but once in the Netherlands his diploma turned out to be invalid, and he had to look for alternatives.”

World citizens
A third explanation for the integration paradox is that some people see themselves more as world citizens, and therefore have a lower sense of belonging with a specific country. Geurts: “This can be due to migrants realising that they will never be able to feel completely Dutch, but in other cases people were already more internationally oriented before they emigrated. For those people, it is not necessarily problematic to not feel strongly connected to the Netherlands.” Incidentally, there are also many non-migrants who don’t feel strongly connected to the Netherlands and the Dutch for similar reasons.

Integration processes are like a complex puzzle, where the integration paradox is one of the pieces. To gain more insight into the matter, Geurts hopes for more cross-national research in future. “I have looked at the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent Germany and Denmark, but these are three comparable Western European countries. What about Eastern European countries, for example, or countries on other continents? Do migrants face similar circumstances there, or not at all? This can teach us a lot about how we as a society deal with and include migrants, and how this affects integration processes.”

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