Innovative or ad hoc? Practices of migrant integration in light of COVID-19

Bendel P (2020)

Publication Language: English

Publication Type: Other publication type

Publication year: 2020

City/Town: Brüssel


The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant effects on mobility and migration trends. Challenges already existent in this area – like access to housing, health, education and employment as well as participation in social life - have exacerbated by the pandemic. Due to several vulnerabilities, migrants and particularly refugees are at a much higher risk of infection than native-born – especially those living in shared accommodation: infection risks can be at least twice as high as that of the native-born, according to the OECD (2020). They are also more affected by job loss, because they tend to work in professions that are severely hit by the crisis as well as in part-time jobs, and thus run higher risks of falling into poverty. The employment rate of non-EU born people in the EU had been steadily on the rise until 2019. It then dropped to 60.8% in the second quarter of 2020 (3.6 pps less than in the second quarter of 2019), corresponding to a decrease in absolute terms of 1.4 million people (from 16.2 million in the second quarter of 2019 to 14.8 million in the second quarter of 2020) and almost 9% in relative terms. It also has to be stated that non-EU migrants are more affected by the pandemic on the labour markets than natives (Eurostat n.y.) A lack of social contacts tends to lead to social isolation and less integration through language learning, especially for the recently arrived. Scapegoating and discrimination have been reported to rise in the Member States, as a consequence of the pandemic.
Due to its economic consequences, the COVID crisis partly undermines even innovative and comprehensive approaches that had been applied in several Member States following the stark influx of asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016. However, some Member States have taken measures, which aim primarily at tackling the most pressing negative impacts of the pandemic. The following elements and trends can be identified:
 regularise undocumented migrants, to extend work permits and visa particularly for those who work in so-called essential jobs, thus underlining their positive social and economic contribution to their receiving countries. These regularisation campaigns aim at guaranteeing migrants access to social services and adequate health care.

Several countries have also digitalised language learning and school education which, however, can also put children of migrants at a disadvantage. As integration and inclusion take place at the local level, municipalities are at the forefront of applying disaster control measures aiming at counterbalancing health risks, guaranteeing access to housing, education and work.
While these instruments did address the most pressing needs, decisions have mostly been taken on an ad hoc basis and still have to integrate into existing innovative approaches designed in the last five years and ultimately into a coherent and cohesive, integration strategy.
The author of this paper states that there is still no clear definition of what ‘innovative’ strategies consist of and suggests that those practices should be called innovative when following a holistic whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach. These practices therefore 1.) have a sustainable effect on society, 2.) aim at empowering migrants and foster their participation in host societies, 3.) mainstream migration policies (so that they do not only support one group in the host countries but work rather for a comprehensive integration for everyone), 4.) are easily accessible, i.e. either through easy language or offers in different languages and through good information practices and transparency.
Member States and the EU should encourage these innovative practices by sharing knowledge and supporting better cooperation between all the different actors responsible for integration. The EU can support innovative action on the ground through its various funding instruments, as well as the promotion of partnerships and social innovation between public, private and civil society organisations. These activities can form part of the Commission’s envisaged Action Plan on Integration and also of the EU’s recovery plans.

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How to cite


Bendel, P. (2020). Innovative or ad hoc? Practices of migrant integration in light of COVID-19. Brüssel.


Bendel, Petra. Innovative or ad hoc? Practices of migrant integration in light of COVID-19. Brüssel, 2020.

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