These thoughts are inspired by reading a 2 Feb 13 Economist article, The Ins and the Outs, about immigration in the Nordic countries. This article talks about the fact that most immigrants that have come to the Nordic states have come because of economic hardship and violence in their homelands. The insight to me was this is not the same as coming to a new land for better employment.
Giving this more thought, I now break immigration into three general categories. (with the caveat that immigration, like most other human activities, is actually more diverse than what I’m describing.)
o immigrating to get a better paying job
o immigrating to get away from poverty and violence
o immigrating as part of a nomad cycle
These three motivations lead to very different thinking on the part of the immigrants when they set up shop in their new community.
The immigrant who moves to get a new job is mentally prepared for a lot of change and ready to accept “when in Rome”-style changes to his or her lifestyle. This person’s attention is focused on doing something valuable for the community they have moved into and getting paid very tangibly for their efforts. Because they have made a lot of personal sacrifice in terms of culture shock, they are usually doing something responsible with their hard-earned wages, such as saving it to improve their lifestyle in the future, or sending it back to needy family members in the home country. If these people can come and go — immigration policies don’t require them to do a lot of hoop-jumping — they will.
The immigrant who moves because someone in a remote place thinks they are living a terrible life comes to the new land with a different mindset. (This is the kind of immigrant the article describes as common in the Nordic countries.) They are not thinking much about working, and they haven’t really given up on their homeland lifestyle, so they are not as accommodating of “When in Rome”-style changes to how they must do things. The result is these style of immigrants are much more likely to sustain “ghetto”-style living conditions in their new land, and stay outside the new land cultural mainstream.
The nomadic immigrant is even more likely to stay outside the cultural mainstream of the new land. The current typical example of this style is the Roma wandering around Europe. Neither they nor their ancestors had any great desire to settle down and get with the local program. What these people are interested in is learning how to deal with locals without becoming locals. This leads to goals and lifestyles that are quite different from either the working immigrants or the hardship immigrants.
In sum, dealing with immigration and trying to develop immigration policies needs to recognize that immigration comes in a lot of flavors, and the goals and tolerance levels for picking up local’s ways of doing things is different for each flavor.