Urbanization and Immigration: Reaching Development of Big Cities through Quality Integration Policy
As we approach the Third United Nations Conference on Human Settlements in Quito, Ecuador, the subject of urbanization is obviously gaining greater visibility. That urbanization is a significant transformative force for the world economy is quite well known, however, there is one side of it which could be particularly relevant in view of the terrorist attacks occurring in some cities of importance nowadays.
Let’s have a look at different aspects of immigration and integration policies affecting prosperity and development of big cities. The very first step of legally immigrating is getting a visa. An astute observer once remarked: “All the success of the USA can be described in two words: H1B visa”. The USA is a country with one of the best visa policies in the world.
The list of people allowed to apply for American immigration visa consists of persons with extraordinary ability in science, the arts, education, business, or athletics; outstanding professors and researchers with at least three years’ experience in teaching or research, who are recognized internationally; multinational managers or executives who have been employed for at least one of the three preceding years by the overseas affiliate, parent, subsidiary, or branch of the U.S. employer; professionals holding an advanced degree (beyond a bachelor’s degree), or a bachelor’s degree and at least five years progressive experience in the profession (a job offer is required); immigrant investors. There is also a visa type for skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers with a job offer, but it is worth mentioning that employers are obliged to prove the absolute irreplaceability of their foreign employees by any of the local ones. Thus, in reality an unskilled person cannot become an employment-based immigrant. All in all, it is clear that the United States welcomes only the immigrants it needs. There is an exact idea of what society needs and how it can get it from the very beginning, so that no one who comes to the country will be left to the mercy of fate and risk ending up making a negative contribution to the well-being of the nation.
For comparison, there is France with some crucial considerations concerning immigration these days. Existence of the simplified immigration process for people from some former colonies definitely causes problems for the country. The conditions for obtaining French citizenship are notably less strict for the citizens of these countries than for others. Moreover, France is not strict about its immigration conditions in general. There are three visa types: for scientific researchers, for interns and for persons with a job offer for 4 months minimum. Qualification level is not a decisive matter in this case. In short, it is evident that this approach does not include any coherent filtering. Relative- and family-sponsored visas are not included in the above comparison.
But there is another phenomenon which cannot be ignored: clandestine immigration. Illegal immigration to France has developed as the country’s immigration policy has become less flexible. Specifically, the law of 31 December 2012 removed the illegal residence offence as a result of the decision of the European Court of Justice.
In contrast to France, the United Kingdom is a difficult country to reach as it is mostly located on one island and part of another, but traffickers in Calais, France, where one of the Eurotunnel entrances is located, have tried to smuggle illegal immigrants into the UK. During the summer of 2015, at least nine people died in attempts to reach Britain, including falling from, or being hit by, trains, and drowning in a canal at the Eurotunnel entrance. Migrants from the camps also attempt to enter trucks bound for the UK, with some truck drivers being threatened by migrants, and cargo being stolen or damaged. In response, a UK-financed fence was built along the A 216 highway in Calais. Still there are some problems with illegal immigrants in Great Britain because papers are required for immigrants only at the entrance to the country; after that, it is completely possible to live within the borders without any documents. In the United States, 52% of illegal immigrants are from Mexico. Mexican nationals have a very low cost of migration and can easily cross the border. Even if it requires more than one attempt, they have a very low probability of being detected and then deported once they have entered the country.
Furthermore, Mohamed Atta and two of his co-conspirators had expired visas when they executed the September 11 attacks. All of the attackers had U.S. government issued documents, and two of them were erroneously granted visa extensions after their deaths. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States found that the government inadequately tracked those with expired tourist or student visas. It seemed to be a good occasion to improve the fight against clandestine immigration: as of 2015, illegal immigration to the United States continued to decline in comparison to its peak in the year 2000.
The next aspect is education. Integration into society begins with communication, therefore with language learning. All of the countries attracting a lot of immigrants have quite strict requirements in terms of language skills. A diploma proving a certain level of language proficiency is always necessary to apply for a visa. Still this level may not be enough sometimes, so let’s examine to big cities now, for there are many cities offering special language courses for their newly arrived legal immigrants.
The Canadian province of Quebec is probably the best example ever: free French courses are offered to every person who enters the country as a permanent resident by the municipality of Montreal.
Moreover, students are remunerated for attending these courses with monthly stipends. Other big Canadian cities which are exclusively English-speaking offer similar assistance, but Quebec has this special policy because it tries to attract more immigrants in order to overtake its neighbouring provinces’ level of development.
Some western European cities use this model to. For instance, during the summer in Geneva’s parks, there are free French courses organised by the Office of integration of foreigners. Furthermore, child care is also offered for free, allowing families access to these courses. It is a magnificent opportunity which is unfortunately available only for two months in a year. Also there are some language courses for refugees organised by the Red Cross in Paris, but they are accessible to a very limited amount of people, and, as the city itself is not involved in their organisation, all the merit belongs to the Red Cross.
However, there is one prominent thing about France which should be mentioned: the higher education system. Every city has at least one university accessible for everyone and requiring almost no tuition fees (300€ per year at most). 11% of students in higher educational institutions in France are foreigners. It is considered one of the countries with both the most affordable and high-quality education in the world. In fact, a lot of countries of European Union offer quality education for very low prices unlike the USA, where average tuition fees are $30,000 per year, and Canada, with $10,000. But everything is relative, and there is no flawless system anywhere in the world. North America, on the contrary, has a quality system of children integration in schools. Most if not all public schools in the cities have special classes for children of newly arrived residents with different academic programs concentrated on adaptation and language learning at the outset. The same situation prevails in Switzerland, one of the most successful European countries in terms of immigration.
Let’s move forward to everyday life. The first thing that comes to mind is the housing situation. Large immigrant flows cause rent increases, especially in big cities. Hence the problems with dangerous neighbourhoods inhabited by immigrants with low income who cannot afford to pay high rent. There is no need to give examples, everyone is familiar with districts where even police have almost no power in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London, Berlin and other cities.
The French government created an organisation called CAF to provide financial aid to populations in need. Families with many children, students and unemployed people can benefit from this aid and get an average rent discount of 30%. All of this sounds very positive, but there are some drawbacks as well.
France offers way too high welfare payments to unemployed people which makes a lot of them have no desire to work at all knowing that they can get paid doing nothing.
For comparison we have American government which offers very little financial aid to the population to pay high amounts of taxes. I suggest letting the numbers speak for themselves: current unemployment rates in France and the USA are 10.5% and 5.5% respectively.
Another one of the most illustrative characteristics is crime rate by city. Two cities with the highest crime index in European region are Marseille, France (63.81) and Brussels, Belgium (55.04). Paris is not so far with its 52.04. The calmest of immigrant cities are the ones of Canada: Montreal and Toronto with 36.85 and 35.82 respectively. New York occupies an average position with its 47.23.
Now it is time to draw some conclusions. It is clear that the level of well-being of each city is directly related to the policies chosen and the effort made by its municipality, in terms of immigration particularly. From the very beginning, every stage of the immigration process should be well organised, there are lots of means to make it happen provided the country desires to protect itself from any negative contribution from the outside. It begins with quality visa policy when visas are delivered based on research that shows which professionals are required for the economic development of the country. Then, every city must provide opportunities of getting affordable education for each newly arrived person since integration into society often requires the possession of local diploma besides language proficiency. Education for children of immigrants is extremely important as these children will most likely assimilate and become a part of the future generation which may change the way things function in the country. Proper public school education for immigrant children should be the primary concern of the cities that welcome a lot of immigrants.
Statistics show that many cities with the biggest immigrant flows are the cities with the best quality of life in the world. For instance, Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore City, Amsterdam, Zurich, Geneva, Vienna are all at the top of both lists at the same time. However, there are also some leading immigrant cities that are not included in the list of the cities with the best quality of life, such as Mecca, Medina, Riyadh, Masqat, Dubai, Moscow, Paris, Marseille, London. The key is simple: quality integration policy. Unfortunately, nowadays all of us can observe the tragic results of leaving immigrants to the mercy of fate in some cities, such as Brussels, Paris, Nice and Munich.
Immigration gives positive results when, after spending a certain amount of time in a new country and making a certain amount of effort to settle down, people feel like they are home and not like strangers in a place where no one considers their presence important and valuable. And this feeling of being home and being a full member of society is exactly what makes immigrants work for the country and make contributions that change the world.