The Warmth of the Welcome: On Economic and Social/Communal Integration of Immigrants in Canada

Policy and Practice Rationale

Words such as ‘immigrant underclass’, ‘ethnic enclaves’, and ‘parallel communities’ are now more often mentioned in debates on immigrants’ integration in Canada and elsewhere. Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism, for instance, recently stated: “We want to avoid the kind of ethnic enclaves or parallel communities that exist in some European countries.” The ways in which such outcomes could be avoided, however, are not fully understood. The purpose of this research is to contribute to existing knowledge on this issue.


The integration of immigrants in host societies is a multi-dimensional process. Thorough integration involves integration into three broad domains: 1) the institutional domain; 2) the economic domain; and, 3) the social/communal domain. Integration into the institutional domain refers to immigrants’ ability to become fully functional citizens, without facing systemic barriers emanating from the structure and functioning of major institutions such as education, health-care, justice, police, and so on. Integration into the economic domain refers to immigrants’ ability to enter the job market and work in capacities commensurate with their qualifications, training, and educational credentials. Integration into the social/communal domain refers to immigrants’ ability to develop social ties and have meaningful social interactions with the native-born segment of the population; such interactions could happen in neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools, etc. A well-integrated immigrant group is one which faces no institutional obstacles, no market disadvantage, and no social isolation.


The processes of integration into these three domains are not simple reflections of one another. This is to say that, at least theoretically, it is possible for immigrants to successfully integrate into one but not the other domains. Moreover, integration into any one of these three domains is not independent from integration into the others. For example, integration into an accommodating institutional environment could facilitate integration into the economic domain; an illustration of this would be the impact of ‘employment equity’ legislation on the employability of visible minority immigrants. Integration into the economic domain, by the same token, can foster a more positive view among immigrants towards Canada and native-born Canadians. Furthermore, a stronger economic profile of an immigrant group can increase their influence on the laws governing the structure and the functioning of public institutions. The purpose of this research proposal is to study the mutual influences of integration into the social/communal and economic domains.


Conceptual/Theoretical Framework

The guiding hypothesis of the study is that the stronger the degree of immigrants’ integration in each of these two domains, the stronger their integration into the other. Also, it is hypothesized that in the early years of their arrival in Canada, immigrants’ positive experiences in the economic domain – i.e., economic integration – will generate among them positive views towards Canada and the native-born population, and will raise their readiness to integrate into social/communal Canadian life. Their acceptance into the social/communal domain by the native-born, in turn, reinforces their economic integration in later years. Conversely, failure by the host society to welcome immigrants in the social/communal domain will eventually translate into immigrants suffering in the economic  domain, and may erode their willingness to integrate into Canadian social and communal life.


Integration into the social/communal domain can occur at several different levels ranging from immigrants’ full engagement in communal and civic life and the acceptance of such engagement by the host population, to social interactions in social networks consisting of both immigrants and the native-born, and an absence of negative stereotypes among each group towards the other. Economic integration, on the other hand, can vary across immigrants’ working in jobs commensurate with their qualifications, the absence of discrimination against them, and the experience of pleasant working relationships with co-workers. The questions to be addressed in this study revolve around the mutual relationships between these two sets of indicators, using an eclectic conceptual/theoretical framework which draws on recent scholarship on this issue in a wide range of disciplines, such as sociology, economics, social psychology, political science, and religious studies, among others.


Research Questions

Specifically, the following questions will be addressed in this research:

  • What relationships exist among immigrants’ social, civic, and economic integration?
  • What role do social capital and local community attachment play in economic integration?
  • What role does economic integration play in newcomers’ social integration and their sense of belonging to the local community and to Canada?
  • Do investments in newcomer social integration (e.g., community connections) have effects on other aspects of integration, including economic integration?
  • Do social, civic and economic integration play out in the same way for different ethnic, cultural and religious groups? If so, what are the factors at work and what are the program implications?
  • Are those experiences different in different cities/provinces? If they are, what factors contribute to those differences? Are there any differences between the experiences of immigrants who live in smaller versus larger cities?
  • Do social, civic, and economic integration play out differently in a minority context (e.g., Francophone communities)?
  • How could the findings be translated into policies, programs, and practices?


Description of the Project and Possible Approaches

The above research questions will be addressed using a mixed-methods approach, including both quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection. The sources of the data are: existing surveys conducted by Statistics Canada and other public and private agencies, focus groups, and face-to-face interviews with immigrants and native-born Canadians. The possible lacunae in the data identified in the first phase will then be addressed through conducting new surveys.


The project will also draw on data from other immigrant-receiving countries, such as the United States, Australia, and several countries in Western Europe. The comparative nature of the project will make it possible to identify success stories and to draw on them for the purpose of policy-making and program development.


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