In most countries, foreign citizens are not enfranchised or regularly informed, consulted or involved in local civil society and public life.
Are immigrants granted the right and opportunity to participate in political life?
Political participation is one of the weakest areas of integration policy. Most immigrants are granted little opportunity to inform and improve the policies that affect them daily. They have limited local voting rights (non-EU citizens in the case of EU countries). They can rarely rely on strong consultative bodies or well-supported migrant organisations. Their political opportunities differ enormously from country to country. In Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe, they enjoy greater voting rights, stronger consultative bodies, more funding for immigrant organisations and greater support from mainstream organisations. With the exception of Korea, immigrants in Asian countries enjoy almost none of these rights unless they (can) naturalise. Despite European norms and promising regional practices, political participation is still absent (or almost absent) from integration strategies in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia.
Political opportunities for migrants are improving (+10 points on average since 2014). Brazil introduced the most major changes. Moldova also began to introduce processes of political participation for immigrants. Overall, countries are showing renewed interest in voting rights and creation of consultative bodies, but future reform will require greater political will or constitutional change.
- Non-EU nationals can stand as candidates and vote in local elections in seven EU countries (Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden).
- Immigrants can vote locally under major restrictions (e.g. after five years of residence, via special registration procedures or only in certain municipalities) in 12 countries.
- Overall, Nordic countries grant the most inclusive voting rights in the EU. Outside the EU, immigrants can vote and stand in local elections in five countries (Argentina, Chile, Iceland, Norway and New Zealand), vote locally in five others (Australia, Israel, Korea, Russia and Switzerland) and vote nationally in Chile and New Zealand.
- Voting rights are long fought and hard won. They were granted to migrants in Czechia in 2001; Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia in 2002; Luxembourg and Slovakia in 2003; Belgium in 2004 and again in Luxembourg in 2011. Efforts to reinstate these long-repealed rights in Canada and the US are ongoing.
- Once passed, voting rights are difficult to revoke. Greece is the first country in recent history to repeal voting rights for immigrants (2013).
- Immigrants can join political parties with no restrictions in half of MIPEX countries (27/52).
- In contrast, Central European countries, Mexico, Russia and the MIPEX Asian countries deny immigrants the basic political liberties of joining a political party or founding a political association.
- Immigrants are regularly consulted in 12 MIPEX countries (EU countries, Australia, Korea and Switzerland).
- Changes continue to be made in both old and new destination countries (recently in Cyprus, France, Malta, Moldova, Russia and Slovenia). Consultation of immigrant leaders at national level improved in Finland and Ireland, but worsened in Argentina.
- Most bodies are not strong or independent enough to create meaningful opportunities for immigrants to affect policy change. They tend to be weak, government-led, sometimes government-appointed, and too poorly funded to engage migrants and represent their diverse interests.
- Consultation bodies come and go according to whether or not a government is willing to listen to them. Those with weak standing can aggravate issues of trust, interest or professionalism for immigrants and policymakers.
- In 24 MIPEX countries, immigrant organisations can rely on funding or some form of in-kind support. The funding in 16 of these countries comes with no attached conditions beyond being a partner in consultations set by the state.
- Most funding and in-kind support is provided in North-West Europe, Australia, Canada, Korea, New Zealand, Mexico and Portugal.
- Funding for immigrant organisations usually depends on a government's priorities rather than on community needs (as seen in Argentina in 2015 when resources formerly available were removed).
Policies and integration outcomes: What do we learn from robust studies?
The fact that most policies deny immigrants the opportunity to be heard by politicians means that they are less likely to not only vote, but also to contribute to improving public life and attitudes. Policies largely determine whether or not immigrants play an equal part in public life. The importance of integration policies for democracy is well-demonstrated by over 30 independent scientific studies that use MIPEX to compare these policies to key integration policies.
Inclusive policies help to close the gap between immigrants and non-immigrants in our democracies. Under inclusive policies, immigrants are more likely to participate by voting in elections, contributing to political groups and parties and joining protests, boycotts and unconventional actions.
Over time, immigrants develop similar levels of political engagement, trust and satisfaction as the general public. And a strong dynamic emerges between these policies and public attitudes. Inclusive polices are associated with higher levels of public trust, lower feelings of economic threat and a greater sense of a common civic rather than ethnic identity.