Citizens of the world
To what extent should newcomers integrate? And how far should they be encouraged to keep their own distinctive cultures? Margaret Davis discusses these hot topics in “New beginnings”, Business Spotlight 1/2011, and invites you to join in our debate on integration here online.
“Multiculturalism has failed,” says Angela Merkel. Multicultural societies are cold and heartless, a Bavarian premier claims, adding that immigrants have a duty to integrate and to accept the German Leitkultur. Germany in the autumn of 2010? Well, no, actually. These comments were made six years ago, in November 2004. Angela Merkel was not yet chancellor, and Edmund Stoiber, not Horst Seehofer, was still the premier of Bavaria.
Immigration and integration are perennial hot topics — even in Canada, my native country, which owes its existence to immigrants. Earlier this year, The Globe and Mail, a national newspaper published in Toronto, ran a series of articles and videos about multiculturalism. In an editorial, the newspaper suggested that the word "multiculturalism" should be erased from the national vocabulary and replaced with "pluralism".
Multiculturalism? Pluralism? As far as I’m concerned, this is nothing more than semantics, but perhaps that’s because I grew up with the national multiculturalism policy, which was introduced in the early 1970s, and because I have now lived for two decades in Germany, a country that is still struggling with the concept of citizen versus foreigner.
Loyal Canadian though I am, I would never claim that Canada is perfect. But in one respect, it is superior to Germany, and that is in its immigration policy. Quite simply, long-term foreign residents are expected to become citizens, and children born in the country automatically become Canadians. A similar policy would not solve Germany’s problems, of course. But it would end the absurd situation that children born in Germany remain Turkish, Italian, Greek, Nigerian or whatever other nationality their parents hold.
As for integration, there’s nothing wrong with requiring that immigrants learn the official language of their new country. It’s just common sense. Canada, for example, now makes it compulsory for immigrants to take a test of their competence in either English or French. The province of Quebec, which chooses its own immigrants, states unequivocally that learning French is a necessity. Anyone planning to live long-term in Germany — let alone become a citizen — needs to know the German language. Not to learn it means exclusion from daily life, everything from going to the doctor to understanding news reports or simply having casual conversations with the neighbours.
A common argument against immigration is that newcomers will take jobs away from the native population. This fear is understandable and is sometimes exploited by politicians, including the current Bavarian premier. Again, there’s nothing wrong with giving qualified (German) citizens priority on the job market, a policy that also exists in Canada.
As a student, I worked in the personnel department of a large department store. My job was to interview job applicants and to recommend them for job openings. One day, a lovely Nigerian university student came in. She was bright, friendly and would have been perfect for almost any job. I recommended her highly to my boss, who told me we would have to turn her down. “But why?” I asked. The answer was that the young woman was not a Canadian citizen, and in order to hire her, we would have had to prove that there was not a Canadian available to do the job — clearly an impossible proposition. Sadly, I had to tell the disappointed student we weren’t able to offer her a job, and to explain why.
But not every Canadian (or German) is qualified for certain highly skilled jobs, and this is where immigrants may be needed. German business organizations have begun calling for higher levels of immigration. In Canada, some provinces and towns are actively seeking new citizens. The New York Times recently highlighted the situation in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where the owner of a furniture factory suggested that the province should offer to take some of the 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the US. “I’m sure many of those people would make perfectly wonderful citizens of Canada,” the man said. “I think we should go and get them.”
Germany will be competing with other industrialized countries, including Canada, to attract skilled immigrants. At the moment, many of these immigrants, as well as temporary foreign workers, are coming from developing countries. Recently I spoke to Diana MacKay of the Conference Board of Canada, who noted that widespread immigration is robbing developing countries of the skilled young people they need (more comments from Diana MacKay in Business Spotlight 1/2011).
In an interview in Die Zeit, Doris Schröder-Köpf, wife of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, also commented on the problems of immigrants, especially women, who are forced to leave their children behind when they come to work in western Europe. Schröder-Köpf calls on European politicians to deal with this problem, specifically to allow families to come with the working parent.
Diana MacKay would doubtless agree. “Instead of talking so much about global competition for workers, maybe it’s time for a healthy international dialogue about appropriate strategic allocation of talent, because the developing countries are also in desperate need of top talent,” she says. Clearly, the immigration debate will continue to occupy us in one form or another for many years to come. What do you think? We’d love to hear your views.
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