Designing a pilot remote and rural migration scheme: analysis and policy options

This report sets out analysis and policy options to inform a potential pilot scheme for migration to remote and rural areas of Scotland.

Chapter 4 Integration and Settlement

All three schemes proposed in Chapter 3 would be enhanced by complementary initiatives to support and encourage integration and settlement in remote and rural areas. This approach was built into our third 'partnership' scheme; but the other two schemes would also benefit from putting in place measures to mobilise stakeholders and the wider community to support migrants and their families.

This chapter sets out some of the issues to consider in supporting and encouraging settlement and integration, and suggests how local communities can best engage in these processes.

4.1 Integration in remote and rural areas

Whatever the contours of migration policy developed for a RRMS, for it to be successful it is important to think more broadly about the wider social and cultural needs of migrant workers and what they will bring to local communities beyond simply filling gaps in the labour force, or contributing to stemming depopulation and demographic imbalances.[26] As new members of local communities, whether in the short or longer term, whether as lone migrant workers or accompanied by family members, migrants will impact more broadly on communities and will have support needs. The OSCE Local Authorities' Migrant Integration Guide states:

Successful migrant integration is key to maximizing the strength, vitality and innovation that migrant populations bring to local communities, thus benefitting society at large. … Migrant integration policies and measures should not be limited to long-term migrants, but should also respond to the needs of those staying for short terms.[27]

Like many existing guides and policy documents, the OSCE guidance draws mainly on experiences in cities and more populous urban areas, often with already ethnically diverse populations and a wide range of civic partners, including established migrant organisations, available. In remote and rural areas, numbers of migrants are likely to be relatively low (even in the context of a RRMS), and host communities may be relatively homogenous, with a limited variety of community spaces available and less obvious diversity within workforces, school communities, and so on. In such settings especially, attention needs to be paid to supporting opportunities for integration, assisting newcomers to make positive social contacts and ensuring that they have access to and knowledge of their rights and entitlements.

A recent report by Nordregio for the Nordic Welfare Centre focuses specifically on issues of everyday integration in smaller, rural and remote municipalities. This report points strongly to the importance of partnership working, albeit with a slightly different range of community partners. Local governments, employers, churches and religious organisations, volunteers and community groups can all contribute to successful integration in rural contexts, but their 'important role … can be lost when no-one has the clear responsibility for coordinating it'.[28] It will therefore be important that the RRMS be developed alongside a clearly defined integration strategy. Ideally this will offer a framework, flexible enough to be adapted to the capacities and needs of the designated areas and the groups of migrants who arrive to them, but laying out clearly the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders, and the resources available to them.

Government, at both national and local level, has an important role to play in facilitating and supporting a co-ordinated and appropriately resourced approach, avoiding duplication of effort and ensuring regular constructive evaluation is carried out. This has been recognised in Scotland through the development of the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy (2018-2022), much of which has been implemented in rural settings. Learning from and adapting this as a starting point for an integration strategy to accompany a rural migration scheme would seem a sensible approach. In developing and widening this strategy to include migrants arriving through the RRMS, thought should also be given to how it will dovetail with programmes and policies for rural development more broadly, including the replacement of European funds previously available through LEADER/CLLD. Thus, for example, if migration is to be part of a longer-term strategy to tackle demographic issues in remote rural areas, then policies to improve employment outcomes and opportunities for young people would need to take account of including young people and families from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds equally in this picture.

Successful integration requires both ensuring access to and knowledge of rights, opportunities and responsibilities and the development of a more subjective sense of welcome and subsequently belonging. As laid out in Ager and Strang's core domains which have already been used by the Scottish Government in developing the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy (2018-2022), a cross-cutting approach is required to address migrants' needs across a range of policy areas including employment, housing, education and health and social care. This should be complemented by attention to social connections and facilitators of integration.[29]

A first and crucial stage in this might involve a package of information and support both before and on arrival to ensure that potential migrants are well informed of the characteristics, opportunities and challenges offered by the area they are planning to move to. Detailed information about housing, schools, health and social services, welfare entitlements and leisure facilities could be made available to applicants as part of the selection process, ensuring a better fit, well-informed decisions, and a better prospect of retention. On arrival new residents often require additional support with orientation and assistance with the bureaucracy linked for example to registering children at school, opening bank accounts, understanding their responsibilities in relation to health insurance, driving licenses, car tax and insurance, and so on. As noted in section 2.3 above, a significant challenge in recruiting and retaining staff in remote and rural areas is finding suitable accommodation. This can be supported through, for example, employers offering good quality tied accommodation, access to social housing, or tailored schemes to assist and support matching with suitable private rentals.[30] The Orkney Gateway programme offers an example of an innovative solution in this regard. The local authority identifies empty homes to be offered as secure 12-18 month lets and matches these with new residents' needs and preferences, allowing them an initial period to get used to Island life before making a longer term commitment through, for example, purchasing property. Community refurbishment and renovation schemes also assist the owners of empty properties to prepare them for rental and/or sale, thus helping to balance housing supply and demand on the Island.[31]

There is a need for joined up policy making between the RRMS and wider rural development policies to ensure the success of both. A study on migration to rural contexts in Northern Ireland has pointed out that potential gains from migration are limited or curtailed where there are inconsistencies, for example between equality and community development policies on the one hand and economic development strategies and policies on the other.[32] More coherent policy-making might also include encouraging civic participation from new residents and fostering social connections between long-term residents and newer arrivals from the outset. This could, for example, involve encouraging and supporting the involvement of migrant populations in consultation processes on local policy issues and in community-based discussions and decision-making about local community development and planning.[33] It might also involve mentoring or befriending schemes as developed for example as part of the Nordland in-migration project in Norway, where experience showed that combatting social isolation and mutual concerns about 'cultural difference' were key to retaining migrants in rural areas.[34] A study of cases from Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Faroe Islands, USA and Canada produced similar findings about the need for well-resourced, holistic and flexible approaches to two-way integration.

Similarly, thought should be given in advance to how local authorities, service providers and other institutions will be resourced to provide support for an increased migrant population. This would help to avoid a repetition of problems experienced following EU enlargement in many parts of the UK, and perhaps especially so in more rural contexts with less existing experience of managing and supporting diverse populations, namely that, 'institutions were unable to cope with the pressures that were being placed on them due to a lack of anticipation'.[35] Dedicated staff and training programmes for other front-line staff will be needed. As such, local authorities themselves may become employers of more international staff:

Local governments may also promote the employment of migrants in the local public sector by introducing internship schemes and employment opportunities for migrants at town halls and local public institutions, and by advertising these positions as 'migrant friendly' through migrant organizations and media.[36]

4.2 Employment and employers

The existing literature on employment and integration is often focused on preventing exploitation and discrimination in the workplace and supporting migrants' fair access to the labour market.[37] This is clearly important; however, depending on the way in which a pilot scheme is developed, different priorities might come to the fore. If an employer-led or partnership scheme is envisaged whereby migrants are coming to already specified jobs, then less work may be needed on supporting employability in general and protecting migrants from precarious and informal forms of employment. However, there could be a need to work with employers in advance to ensure good practices and support for new workers, including support for initial orientation, training and career progression. As noted in Chapter 3, care will need to be taken that migrant workers are not tied to a single employer or job over a protracted period in a way that might encourage exploitation or at least work against the better integration outcomes produced when individuals are able to progress their careers successfully. On the other hand if a Scottish Visa scheme is taken as the basis for the RRMS and migrants arrive without a specific job offer, then more attention would need to be given to employability and support through a period of job search.

Since all of the proposed RRMS schemes are designed to allow and encourage migrant workers to bring family members with them, with an aim to encourage longer-term settlement of families, it will be important also to think about measures to support pathways into employment for spouses/partners and children leaving education. A recent study by SRUC of rural repopulation initiatives in Scotland and internationally found that programmes encouraging and facilitating in-migration need also to focus resource and effort on longer-term factors affecting migrant families if they are to settle successfully: 'wider factors are of major importance in ensuring sufficient opportunities exist for in-migrants, particularly in relation to economic growth and employment creation and the availability of affordable housing for young families'.[38]

This might require, for example, the development of opportunities for volunteering and internships, advice to employers on recognition of international qualifications and prior experience, and either immediate right to work or a clear pathway from spousal or dependent visas for adult family members and children leaving education. Initiatives under the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy which have promoted volunteering as well as creative approaches to language learning and employability for new arrivals to rural areas of Scotland through the Syrian Resettlement Programme would again be worth considering as a starting point for new, adapted, initiatives.[39] As noted above, these should be developed alongside and in conjunction with wider schemes for rural development and population retention.

One area that may need particularly careful consideration is in relation to under-employment and the longer-term career prospects of migrants with relatively high human capital. Analysis carried out by the EAG drawing on the 2011 census data confirms that existing migrants in rural areas of Scotland are well-educated (more likely to hold a university degree than Scottish born residents, as per Figure 4.1). But they are also most likely to be employed in manufacturing, agriculture, hospitality and tourism and least likely to be employed in white collar work or the public service sector (Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.1: Proportion of individuals with a degree by migrant status, 2011
Graphs showing the proportion of individuals with a tertiary degree, by place of birth, and by migrant status (recent migrants and lifetime migrants), in Scotland in 2011

Recent migrants

Lifetime migrants

Source: The 2011 census microdata (a five-percent sample)

Notes: 'Recent migrants' are individuals who arrived in Scotland between April 2010 and April 2011. 'Lifetime migrants' were born outside Scotland. The following groups are distinguished: non-migrants in Scotland, migrants from the rest of the UK and from overseas for recent migrants; the Scottish-born population (83%), migrants from the rest of the UK and Ireland (10%), from continental Europe (2.8%) and from the rest of the world (3.7%) for lifetime migrants. For the sake of simplicity confidence intervals are omitted.

Figure 4.2 Migrants and non-migrants in Scotland by sector, 2011
Graphs showing the proportion of individuals by sector of employment, by place of birth, and by migrant status (recent migrants and lifetime migrants), in Scotland in 2011

Recent migrants

Lifetime migrants

Source: The 2011 census microdata (a five-percent sample).

Notes: Χ2 = 156.1, df=6, p<0.01; Χ2 = 1100.0, df=12, p<0.01.

Whilst lower level vacancies in these sectors may be a desirable part of an RRMS, our analysis has also highlighted shortages in higher-level roles, for example senior managerial and operational posts in tourism and food and drink manufacturing as well as in health and social care sectors. Matching applicants through an RRMS as closely as possible with jobs which are either commensurate with or have the prospect of promotion to roles commensurate with their levels of education and skill is particularly important where successful longer-term settlement and integration is a desired outcome.

The partnership scheme set out in Chapter 3 envisages a proactive role for employers as partners and stakeholders supporting integration. Such an approach would also be crucial for the other two schemes. Previous research with migrants from central and eastern European countries who entered after EU enlargement and were employed in agriculture, care work, retail and hospitality in rural Scotland, found that having a 'good' employer made a huge difference to migrant experiences.[40] Migrants were most positive where they had an employer who was supportive and knowledgeable about the bureaucratic processes migrant workers face, their needs for assistance in securing reasonable accommodation and signposting in relation to local services, facilities and sources of further information, and understanding of their need to maintain transnational ties, for example through flexible leave arrangements to allow for trips 'back home'.[41]

EAG analysis shows that significant numbers of migrants have been living and working in rural areas of Scotland for prolonged periods (Figure 4.3) and many have been clustered in particular sectors (Figure 4.2 above), often with particular employers, so there is the potential for learning from and sharing of existing best practice and positive experiences. Local authorities might, for example, work with employers and migrants as well as drawing in more detail on existing research, such as COSLA's Migration Matters Scotland database, to develop information and training packs for employers prior to the arrival of new migrant workers. Examples of best practice could usefully be shared across designated areas, perhaps with co-ordination from COSLA. The Scottish Government could develop a system to recognise and incentivise excellence, modelled for example on the living wage employer mark.

Figure 4.3: Lifetime migrants from Europe and the rest of the world in Scotland by time since arrival in the UK and place of residence, 2011
Graphs showing the proportion of lifetime migrants from Europe and the rest of the world, by time since arrival in the UK and by four-fold urban-rural classification, in Scotland in 2011


Rest of the world

Source: The 2011 census microdata (a five-percent sample).

Notes: Χ2 = 214.6, df=9, p<0.01; Χ2 = 703.4, df=9, p<0.01.

4.3 Language learning and ESOL provision.

Acquisition and proficiency in the host language is widely seen as playing a key role in migrant integration, and in generating improved and fuller experiences of life in a new context for migrants (Cooke and Simpson 2009). Increased proficiency in the host language has been shown to be a key means by which migrants achieve greater equality through improved opportunities for employment, education and participation in public life (Zhou 1997; Ager and Strang 2008). It is also crucial to facilitating social contacts and exchanges and the possibility of establishing networks and friendships beyond a co-linguistic community. Existing research with recent migrants to rural areas of Scotland has shown that many have struggled to access sufficient support for their language learning needs and have experienced considerable social isolation, a lack of opportunities for progression in employment, and difficulties accessing their rights as a result.[42] Even were a pilot scheme to assume that applicants would be required to have a certain level of language ability prior to entry, for example as part of a points-based scheme, migrants may still need assistance and support to adapt their language skills to understand and communicate in local accents, including elements of Scots dialects, and/or to operate in contexts which may include communities of Gaelic speakers. Furthermore, any points-based requirement would only apply to the lead applicant, and family members would likely still require language learning support for their successful integration into education and employment as well as social settings.

Therefore, whatever the precise parameters of the RRMS, thought and planning must be given to provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). The recent history of migration to rural areas of Scotland has driven an increase in demand for and provision of ESOL across Scotland, including a reasonable network of ESOL classes and providers in rural, and even some remote rural areas. The ring-fencing of ESOL budgets in Scotland since 2012 has protected this provision from some of the more severe cuts seen in other parts of the UK, but nonetheless funding has fallen in real terms and the impacts of changing governance and funding streams since 2019 is not yet known.

Existing research with EU migrants in rural areas has highlighted the importance of language learning, but also a range of difficulties in accessing classes, even where provision may look generous at first glance.[43] The timing and location of classes has been an important element of this, and provision linked to an RRMS should give careful consideration to local geographies - distances to learning centres, access to public transport - as well as to working patterns and other commitments (for example caring roles within migrant families).

Alongside formal ESOL provision, rural areas of Scotland have also seen a variety of community-based and creative language learning initiatives in recent years. These have been instigated both through projects aimed at linking migrant learners and native speakers through community development and integration initiatives[44] and through the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy[45] and there has in practice been some overlap, or at least shared learning and practice, between the two strands.

These community-based approaches have deliberately combined language learning with activities to facilitate knowledge of local structures, introductions to the area (through trips and excursions), forging connections through the involvement of volunteers and native speakers, and buddying and befriending schemes. Whilst not a replacement for more formal language classes, such initiatives can be an excellent complement, helping to facilitate a sense of two-way integration as volunteers, buddies and befrienders also learn about and from the language learners. This rich recent experience within Scotland's rural areas would provide a valuable resource for the development of language learning schemes to support the RRMS in designated areas.[46]

4.4 Supporting long-term settlement and two-way integration

A prominent critique of integration as a concept guiding policy has been that it is often used in a way that effectively externalises migrants, making them the objects of policy making and requiring them to assimilate into what is assumed as a homogenous and unproblematic social milieu.[47] Since the underlying rationale for the RRMS is a recognition of the problems faced by populations in remote rural areas, it seems all the more pertinent to insist on an approach to integration as a two-way process of mutual learning and coming together to solve problems thar are faced by all residents. The Nordland in-migration project offers one good example of how this might be approached through mentoring and befriending programmes. The project found that 'local-level initiatives which link in-migrants and Norwegians in meaningful ways are critical for long term retention of in-migrants in rural areas'.[48] Such person-to-person linkages, especially if well supported through training and facilitation can significantly contribute to two-way processes of learning and cultural exchange.

Successful two-way integration goes beyond interpersonal contacts and friendships however. From a policy-making perspective, such an approach demands that migrants are from the moment of arrival viewed as part of existing communities and their needs and perspectives must be taken account of as a dimension of equality and diversity in resolving social issues locally. As noted above, this would imply that where policies are being developed for example to deal with housing issues for young families, tackling issues of connectivity and transport, combatting poverty and providing support to low wage earners, encouraging civic engagement or increasing the availability of accessible community spaces, and combatting social isolation, specific thought should be given to including migrants needs and perspectives, not as a separate group but as part of the local population. Such an approach is also helpful in recognising, a priori, that many of the more negative experiences and barriers or disincentives to settlement faced by migrants, are also problems for the wider local population. Tackling them in a more holistic way can help to prevent negative perceptions of 'favouritism' and competition for resources between groups. To be successful this requires the targets of integration policies and initiatives and their expected outcomes to be clear and addressed not only to migrants but also to front-line staff, employers and host communities.

The RRMS provides an opportunity to plan in advance how this might best be achieved and to monitor its effectiveness with a relatively limited number of migrants in a relatively small number of designated areas.

Such forward planning should also pay attention to preparing public opinion, laying the foundations for positive community relations and countering a negative politicisation of migration, which may have had slightly less traction in Scotland than other parts of the UK, but has without doubt contributed to negative perceptions and fears of migration in Scotland also. The OSCE guide for local authorities warns that community relations are much harder to mend after conflicts have set in, and calls for 'close co-operation with local media to ensure that the public receives clear information about migration and the steps taken … to ensure appropriate public services and public order, as well as to build a positive image of newcomers and create a welcoming climate for them'.[49] In Scotland's recent experience of preparing communities for the arrival of individuals and families under the Syrian Resettlement Programme this aspect of informing local people in advance and preparing the ground for a positive experience was given considerable attention.

In the context of an RRMS similar work would need to be done in advance, so that host communities were aware of the specific issues the RRMS seeks to mitigate in their area, and the benefits and advantages the programme might bring in both the more immediate and longer term. Recent research by British Future into attitudes to and fears regarding migration across the UK found that demographic arguments for migration were particularly poorly understood or acknowledged by the general population.[50] This underpinning rationale and the focus on strategic mitigation rather than population replacement within the RRMS should therefore be well communicated and discussed, undergirded with clear and relatable locally-grounded examples (e.g. local services under threat of closure due to lack of people), prior to its implementation.

That family migration and longer-term settlement are a specific goal of the RRMS is likely to be helpful in this respect. Studies of migration to rural areas in many parts of Europe have found that opportunities for family migration and migrants' perceptions of the prospects for their children in a new setting are crucial to decision-making about longer term stays. Importantly, it is also noted that such longer-term migration and the lasting, and beneficial, social change it brings may be more palatable to other residents than the constant churn of more temporary schemes. A study of labour migration to rural Greece found that:

Locals show greater acceptance of migrants living permanently in one region together with their families, as opposed to seasonal and irregular labourers travelling without families… Migrants and the local populations have overlapping opinions about the prospects for integration. Both groups believe that the prospects for integration are much better for migrants who live legally with their families in the countryside.[51]

Studies of international migration have found that family migration and particularly the presence of children can help to promote integration because children engage more in the local milieu than their parents,[52] through school attendance, after school activities, friendship circles and so on. However, children of migrant families also need support, and this requires input from, but also resources and information for, schools and social and leisure organisations (for example sports clubs, or scouts/guides). Children may need additional language support and help adapting to the national curriculum at school as well as forging friendships and connections. Children also bring benefits to the school community, especially when integration is viewed as a two-way process of learning and adaptation, where locally-born children benefit considerably from the different experiences, language skills, insights and cultural perspectives of international peers.[53]

Whilst we acknowledge that local authorities will likely have limited resources available to support a pilot scheme in designated areas, the RRMS also offers a potentially unique opportunity to develop a holistic approach to migration, adapted to the needs and resources available within specific areas, thinking about migrants' needs and experiences as a key aspect of developing a successful approach. Of the three approaches suggested, a partnership scheme would have specific advantages in this respect, especially if partners, including local community groups and representatives are involved from the outset in thinking about ways to make available locally specific 'cultural, historical and civic knowledge to help migrants adapt to their host society',[54] and to develop flexible approaches to facilitate the forging of local connections and two-way processes of learning.



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