They are either expelled or ordered to assimilate without fuss in most pull immigration countries. The simple argument is that if immigrants assimilate to the host society, discrimination decreases, immigrants contribute better according to their abilities and life becomes smoother for everyone. The counter argument is that if immigrants assimilate, they have to relinquish their own heritage and culture in order to adopt the local. This would mean that the host society is not enriched by an infusion of new ideas.
“Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country.”
- Education, very specific with a high job-market demand
- Occupation, something that locals can’t or won’t do
- Work experience, a lot of high quality experience which generates transferrable skills
- Language ability
- Age (usually pensionable age immigrants are welcome only if they bring enough money and get pensions from elsewhere)
- British and American agriculturalists
- Belgians, Dutch, Scandinavians, Swiss, Finns, Russians, Austro-Hungarians, Germans, Ukrainians and Poles
- Italians, Southern Slavs, Greeks and Syrians were considered less suitable for assimilation
- Jews, Asians, Roma and Black people were the least desired as immigrants.
“We have a bubbling successful melting pot in this country so long as the ingredients are essentially European.”
- Economic and civic assimilation without significant cultural assimilation is rather common
- Immigrants from other rich developed countries may not be better assimilated
- Huge diversity in how different immigrant groups assimilate: best assimilators are from Vietnam, Cuba and the Philippines – all countries with previous US military occupation
- Mexican immigrants to USA show low levels of economic and civic assimilation but normal levels of cultural assimilation
“From the day he left his parents' house, Abe [Reles] had to know his father was right, that America promises everything, but he also had to know his father was wrong--America gives nothing. Those things that are promised, they cannot be worked for but must be taken, conned away with good looks, obsequiousness, mimicry; or traded for with bit of your soul or the morals of the stories your parents told; or tricked away with lies; or wrested away with brute force.”
- High crime rate
- War or sectarian violence
- Inability to cope with high corruption
- Environmental reasons – persistent drought, crop failure, too cold or too hot
- Social instability
- Limited opportunities for improving one’s lot in life through education etc.
- Low crime rate
- Greater affluence
- Significantly lower rate of corruption
- Better climate
- Social stability
- Increased opportunities for improving one’s life
- Do we have a shared understanding of assimilation? How is it different from integration and adjustment?
- What is that to which one is supposed to assimilate - Frenchness, Americanness or Chineseness such that we can measure it? If we made tests for immigrants, what happens if a large section of locals cannot pass these tests? Only 44% of Americans with a college level education pass the Citizenship test for immigrants.
- Does assimilation necessarily produce better contribution to and engagement with the host society? Or is the obverse true?
- If a high percentage of indigenous (born locally) people do not assimilate well, can they also be penalised in the same way as immigrants? Immigrants’ point of entry or deportation are usually airports, land borders or harbours, so what is the point of entry or deportation of indigenous people who do not assimilate?
Peter Salins, in his book Assimilation, American Style (1997), presents 3 criteria for assimilation:
- Immigrants must accept English as the national language
- Work and live by the protestant ethic (self-reliant, hardworking and morally upright)
- Be proud of the American identity and believe in America’s liberal democratic and egalitarian principles
- Many people also seem to de-assimilate, as they get older. They might get disillusioned with what they assimilated to and entertain a nostalgic fondness of what they imagine as having ‘lost’.
- Many people have no clear idea how such vague concepts e.g. protestant ethics really means and don’t find many locals living it either.
- The identity that the host society gives to immigrants may significantly differ from how they’d like to be seen. A person may want to be seen as a happy and singing Neapolitan rather than an Italian stereotype or as a successful engineer rather than as a Korean. An immigrant from Guatemala or Mexico does not necessarily see herself as a “Hispanic” or “Latino”.
- Does assimilation mean adopting the thinking patterns of others? I am reminded almost weekly: “You can’t think like that!” and my response always is “I just did”. Do we really think thoughts? I’d say that we just register and react to thoughts coming to the focus of our consciousness.
There is a third possibility over total assimilation or zero assimilation - selective assimilation. The immigrant assimilates to a degree that helps with living fulfilling lives yet retains aspects that enriches the new surroundings.
Recipe for successful selective assimilation:
- Quickly learn the local language and culture
- Learn to appreciate and be grateful for all the good things in the host society
- Stop finding faults with the host society like many locals do - moaning makes you boring
- Find a way to contribute, at least to someone other than yourself - make friends!
- Cherish your own culture and cultivate a deeper understanding and then communicate it to the locals who are interested in widening their horizons.
- Find something in the new culture to cheer up your daily life - have fun!