To understand why some areas are more successful in accommodating migration and promoting social cohesion within diverse communities than others, the project addressed the role and scope of migration policies at the local level in Belgian municipalities.
While many migration policies are decided at the national level, substantial within-country variation exists in how immigrants integrate in the receiving communities and how the native population perceives immigration. On the one hand, local economy, demographic conditions and historic legacies strongly influence the type of incoming migrants, shape their integration paths, and attitudes of the native population. On the other hand, local authorities and stakeholders can differently implement national policies and design their own programmes affecting immigrant economic and social outcomes and perceptions of the native population. This project investigated the role and scope of migration policies at the local level. Controlling for observable economic and demographic local characteristics, the researchers explored why some areas are more successful in accommodating migration and promoting social cohesion within diverse communities than others.
The setting for the analysis was Belgium. As of 2017, 16.5% (or 1.9 million) of the Belgian population were foreign-born, among them about 50% came from countries outside the EU. In relative terms, the size of the Belgian foreign-born population is comparable to the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and France. Similarly to many other EU member states, Belgium faces difficulties integrating its non-EU immigrant community and has witnessed the rise of the right-wing parties. At the same time, Belgium represents a particularly interesting case study because of its multilevel governance and high degree of autonomy at the regional and municipal levels.
The research project employs quantitative and qualitative methods. The data from the Belgian Crossroad Bank for Social Security (CBSS), VDAB/Forem, the Belgian Statistical Office, and the results of the local elections illustrate substantial variation in immigrants’ economic integration as well as political preferences across Belgian municipalities, even conditional on a municipality’s economic development, demographics, and ethnic diversity. This analysis is complemented by semi-structured interviews with the city mayors, representatives of the regional and local integration centres (such as Agentschap, In-Gent, BAPA VIA, BON, CRIC, CRIPEL) and local social partners working on integration.