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Migrant integration is no longer a linear process

By Juliana Wahlgren, European Network Against Racism

Shortcomings in European Union laws and policies can lead to discriminatory treatment of migrant workers. In addition, political discourses and restrictive measures encourage the criminalisation of migrants.

In an area where much data is needed and where very little is reported, to prove that someone was discriminated against based on his/her migration status or nationality is a huge challenge. Beyond this aspect, people have different identities and any multi-dimensional representation defined by colour, religion, race and/or ethnic origin, can add an extra negative layer to the discrimination faced by any minority. Yet, the lack of support to victims of discrimination puts those suffering from different manifestations of racism in a situation of despair: a spiral effect in which structural mechanisms prevent the implementation of strong measures to ensure equal treatment and redress for discriminatory acts. This vicious cycle inhibits minorities and migrants from trusting and reporting racism to law enforcement authorities.

Beyond the reflection on how long a migrant is still a migrant, restrictive policies and practices can put third country nationals in situations of “irregularity” or “deportability” at any moment of their "integration path"

Unfortunately, nationality is the weakness of the European Union’s equality and non-discrimination legislation. Nationality and status are not equally protected as other grounds of discrimination. Only 12 out of 28 EU Member States have extended the prohibition of certain forms of discrimination, namely direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and instructions to discriminate to non-EU nationals. This fragmented approach leads to a lack of protection of third country nationals. Currently, only three types of non-EU migrant workers (family members of EU nationals, EEA nationals and long-term residents in a EU Member State) have a right to equal treatment during the full employment life cycle while other categories of non-EU migrant workers (those eligible under the Single Permit Directive, researchers, seasonal workers and highly qualified workers under the Blue Card) only enjoy this right for parts of the employment life cycle.

The EU should address these shortages by mainstreaming the principle of non-discrimination in migration and asylum packages and by fostering integration packages which could strengthen these frameworks. Indeed, a systematic approach to non-discrimination can improve these legal gaps but it does not answer "vertical" concerns that need to be enhanced by consistent policies. The recent EU Action Plan for the Integration of Third Country Nationals is a good example of how challenges and opportunities can be transformed into innovative and harmonised strategies to remove barriers in key policy areas such as education and employment. However, although efforts were made to tackle racism through social inclusion and active participation, supporting measures to facilitate access to justice for migrants who are victims of discrimination is still a missing point. Undeniably, setting standards to prevent any kind of intolerance is a good compromise but the EU needs to have a stronger response to promote the same equality in outcomes for all third country nationals.

European and national authorities must accept that the fragmented approach of anti-discrimination measures, in combination with a lack of judicial remedies, will only duplicate stereotypes and reinforce racist practices targeting migrants

Ideally, throughout the years of residence migrants should progressively have their economic mobility and social inclusion facilitated by insertion in the labour market, in the education system or by culturally engaging with the host communities. They should be able to benefit from a two-way process in which his/her contribution to society is validated by mutual accommodation of needs, values and skills. However, integration is no longer a linear process. Beyond the reflection on how long a migrant is still a migrant, restrictive policies and practices can put third country nationals in situations of “irregularity” or “deportability” at any moment of their "integration path". Sometimes terminating family ties or looking for new career challenges can lead to the cessation of residence rights. Considering that certain types of permits still link migrants to family members or to employers, anyone can find himself in a position where they can be forcibly removed from a territory.

At a time when political discourses constantly promote myths, inaccurate statements and propagate fear and anxiety, institutional restrictive measures translated into strict conditions of entry or stay serve to encourage stereotyping migrants as potential “criminals”. The criminalisation of migrants is also having an impact on human rights defenders. As recent campaigns such as “Decriminalising solidarity” have shown, the implementation of EU instruments is also legitimising sanctioning those “who intentionally assist an undocumented migrant to enter or transit across the EU” .

Policy makers should no longer live in denial. European and national authorities must accept that the fragmented approach of anti-discrimination measures, in combination with a lack of judicial remedies, will only duplicate stereotypes and reinforce racist practices targeting migrants. Third country nationals should not be treated as second-class citizens. Talents are being wasted, skills are being lost, and policy responses to shortages are not benefiting from migrants’ full potential. The diversity in Europe is a gold mine and EU leaders should highlight migrants’ contribution to European society and economy, both materially and in qualitative ways. If the ends don’t justify the means, what does?

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