Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Strangers No More: Immigration and the Challenges of Integration in North America and Western Europe

Strangers No More: Immigration and the Challenges of Integration in North America and Western Europe

by Richard Alba

See All Formats & Editions

Strangers No More is the first book to compare immigrant integration across key Western countries. Focusing on low-status newcomers and their children, it examines how they are making their way in four critical European countries—France, Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands—and, across the Atlantic, in the United States and Canada. This


Strangers No More is the first book to compare immigrant integration across key Western countries. Focusing on low-status newcomers and their children, it examines how they are making their way in four critical European countries—France, Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands—and, across the Atlantic, in the United States and Canada. This systematic, data-rich comparison reveals their progress and the barriers they face in an array of institutions—from labor markets and neighborhoods to educational and political systems—and considers the controversial questions of religion, race, identity, and intermarriage.

Richard Alba and Nancy Foner shed new light on questions at the heart of concerns about immigration. They analyze why immigrant religion is a more significant divide in Western Europe than in the United States, where race is a more severe obstacle. They look at why, despite fears in Europe about the rise of immigrant ghettoes, residential segregation is much less of a problem for immigrant minorities there than in the United States. They explore why everywhere, growing economic inequality and the proliferation of precarious, low-wage jobs pose dilemmas for the second generation. They also evaluate perspectives often proposed to explain the success of immigrant integration in certain countries, including nationally specific models, the political economy, and the histories of Canada and the United States as settler societies.

Strangers No More delves into issues of pivotal importance for the present and future of Western societies, where immigrants and their children form ever-larger shares of the population.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Honorable Mention for the 2017 ENMISA Distinguished Book Award, Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration Section the International Studies Association

"A welcome stocktaking of how 'low-status' immigrants have fared in North America and several Western European countries. The value added by this volume is the compact compilation of comparative data on key domains of integration, from the labor market to intermarriage."—Christian Joppke, American Journal of Sociology

"Richard Alba and Nancy Foner have written what will undoubtedly become the ''go-to' book for comparisons of immigration on both sides of the Atlantic. Clearly written, meticulously researched, and insightfully analyzed, Strangers No More: Immigration and the Challenges of Integration in North America and Western Europe helps readers easily capture the broad mechanisms driving migration and integration today."—Peggy Levitt, Contemporary Sociology

"Richard Alba and Nancy Foner took on an impossible task: to write a comprehensive, but also empirically grounded, account of the integration of people they call 'low-status' migrants, across the main distinct fields of integration, covering the experiences of the four main Western European immigration countries and the US and Canada, all within a country comparative framework. Given this high ambition with regard to substance and scope, this book stands unrivalled and unmatched as an achievement. Few scholars possess the depth of knowledge or mastery of the arts to take on such a challenge. Remarkably, the book delivers such a high degree of informed understanding across the boards that it will stand as a benchmark and reference point for leading and junior scholars, as well as advanced students and informed publics."—Paul Statham, Ethnic and Racial Studies Review

"[An] extraordinary and interesting book. . . . [This] book, a rich and nuanced view of immigration in these six countries, should be required reading for understanding how these six nations deal with immigrants and their integration into the larger society."—David M. Reimers, Journal of American Studies

"This study really is comparative immigration scholarship at its very best. It exposes best practices and successes, encourages countries to learn from each other, and contends that existing problems can be solved and integration achieved. At a time when both North America and Western Europe's diversity is too often portrayed as an insurmountable challenge, this book gives us hope."—Sarah Hackett, Patterns of Prejudice

Product Details

Princeton University Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Strangers No More

Immigration and the Challenges of Integration in North America and Western Europe

By Richard Alba, Nancy Foner


Copyright © 2015 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4008-6590-1



[??] e Challenges of Integration

Immigration is transforming Western Europe and North America. The origins of this massive inflow date back to the middle of the twentieth century, a period of recovery and expansion after the devastations of worldwide economic depression and war. The numbers are astounding. The United States has the largest foreign-born population of any country in the world, with around forty million immigrants (as of 2012), while the combined member states of the European Union are home to approximately 50 million people who have moved across borders and are living outside the country of their birth. In the United States, immigrants and their children account for nearly a quarter of the population, and the figure is even higher in Canada; in the largest Western European countries, it is generally about a fifth.

If the numbers are impressive, their implications are even more remarkable. Western Europe, on one side of the Atlantic, and the United States and Canada, on the other, all have to deal with incorporating millions of immigrants whose cultures, languages, religions, and racial backgrounds often differ starkly from those of most long-established residents. In Europe, societies that previously thought of themselves as homogeneous have seen the rise of ethnic, religious, and racial diversity. In Canada and the United States, immigration has long been part of the national story, but immigrants now hail from new places and are seen, in racial and ethnic terms, as more different than ever before.

How European and North American societies are to meet the challenges of this new diversity is one of the key issues of the twenty-first century. A central question is how to integrate immigrants and their children so that they become full members of the societies where they now live. Full membership means having the same educational and work opportunities as long-term native-born citizens, and the same chances to better their own and their children's lot. It also means having a sense of dignity and belonging that comes with acceptance and inclusion in a broad range of societal institutions. The struggle for inclusion is likely to become ever more intense in the coming decades in the context of shifting demographics in Europe and North America. There is every sign that there will be a continued demand for immigration, creating inflows of new arrivals in the years ahead, and, at the same time, young people of immigrant origin will constitute a larger and larger share of young adults.

The challenges of integration are complicated by the widespread resistance of natives to immigrants and their children. There are anxieties about whether the newcomers will fit in and fears that they will undermine the basic foundations of established ways of life. These concerns are prominent in popular writings and the media. They are evident in opinion polls. They feature in some academic writings. And they have been voiced and exploited by politicians.

A widely acclaimed 2009 book by journalist Christopher Caldwell, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, argues that immigration there is exacting a "steep price in freedom" and bringing "disorder, penury, and crime." Princeton Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis has said that by the end of this century Europe will be "part of the Arab West, the Maghreb." On the other side of the Atlantic, massive waves of Hispanic immigration, according to the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, are eroding America's national identity, and, if continued, will turn the United States into a country of two languages, two cultures, and two peoples without a shared historic cultural core. In the American media, Mexican immigrants and their children are often portrayed as unwilling to integrate—"unassimilable separatists"—and as a threat to existing institutions.

National opinion polls reveal a high level of concern. About half of Americans and Europeans polled in a 2011 survey said that immigration is more of a problem than an opportunity. Anxieties about newcomers' ability to integrate have spilled over into the political sphere as well. In Europe, anti-immigrant rhetoric is a staple of right-wing politicians and political parties. In 2014, France's xenophobic National Front came in a head of all the country's other parties in the European Parliament elections with a quarter of the vote. The Netherlands' Geert Wilders, who has called for an end to Muslim immigration and the banning of the Koran, was voted the second most popular politician in his country in two national polls in 2009; and his Party for Freedom topped the polls four years later. In the United States, nativistic fears have been pivotal in many state and local elections, especially in places like Arizona, at or near the border with Mexico.

This book gets behind the rhetoric, exaggerations, and fear-mongering to examine what is really happening and why. The core issue is the integration of immigrants and their children. We approach this issue through a comparative—transatlantic—perspective.

As one might expect, the comparison reveals parallels as well as differences in how immigrants and their children are faring in Europe and North America and in the opportunities provided within different institutional arenas. But it does more than this. The value of comparing societies is that it enables us to spot where integration seems to be proceeding successfully and where it is not. Systematic comparison is essential, we believe, if lessons are to be drawn from the experience with immigration in diverse societies. Indeed, comparison lends itself to exploring ideas about borrowings, or features of institutions in one or more societies that appear worthy of emulation in another.

Comparisons cast differences into sharper relief; in particular, they bring out the distinctive ways that societies meet similar challenges of integration and shed light on unexpected outcomes. As a consequence, they give us new perspectives on each country and can offer new insights into each country's own internal dynamics. To paraphrase sociologist Reinhard Bendix, a comparative lens increases the visibility of processes and structures in one society by highlighting similarities and differences with another. It can reveal features that, because they are more or less "constant" within a society, like its political system, might otherwise be ignored or taken for granted. A comparative approach, as historian George Fredrickson observes, thereby enlarges our understanding of the institutions and processes being compared.

Comparing the European and North American immigrant experiences highlights an array of historically rooted and durable social, political, and economic structures and institutions—from educational and political systems to legal frameworks and religious arrangements—that create barriers, as well as possible bridges, to integration for immigrants and their descendants in different societies. It points, as well, to the impact of other factors, including characteristics of the immigrant flows to each country, the nature of specific government policies, and a range of current social and economic trends. While there are definite transatlantic contrasts, no simple and consistent North America-Europe divide emerges; national differences within Europe and within North America matter. At the same time, there are some remarkable similarities among countries with very different institutional structures and immigration histories. To put it another way, there are no clear-cut winners or losers: each society fails and succeeds in different ways. Our goal is to identify the factors that impede or facilitate integration and to understand how they operate—and why—in distinctive national contexts.

Our comparison encompasses six key countries. On the North American side, one is the United States. This is hardly surprising given its size and importance as an immigration society and that we are U.S.-based sociologists who have spent much of our careers exploring immigration's impact there. We also include Canada, which, like the United States, is a classic settler society, but with significant contrasts, including different integration and admissions policies. Canada is often touted as a model of successful integration so that adding it to the mix helps to better understand the dynamics of immigrant inclusion and evaluate claims about immigrant integration there.

In Western Europe, the countries in our study are Britain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. All four have received huge numbers of immigrants since the end of World War II. Indeed, taken together, they are home to half of the European Union's foreign born. The four countries represent a range of institutional approaches to immigration, and a substantial literature is available about immigrants and their children in each of them. An added advantage is that one of us has done research on immigrants and their children in France and Germany, the other has written about immigration in Britain and the Netherlands.

In each country, our focus is mainly on groups we describe as "low status" such as Mexicans in the United States, North Africans in France, and Turks in Germany. The immigration flows to most countries, of course, are diverse and include groups with considerable human capital, whose members often take well-paid and prestigious positions, for example, in medicine and engineering. (One of every three immigrants to the United States is university educated; and a number of professions, such as those in science and engineering, are disproportionately staffed by these immigrants, who come mostly from Asia.) But many immigrant groups are dominated by individuals arriving with low levels of education, who typically end up in poorly paid, sometimes off-the-books jobs that are frequently dirty and sometimes dangerous and demeaning. These immigrants are also stigmatized because of their ethnicity or race; they stand out because they look different in the eyes of the native majority and because they have different cultural backgrounds and, in some cases, religions. Members of low-status groups face the greatest barriers to integration in both the immigrant and the second generations. Our focus on these groups takes in large portions of the immigrant-origin populations in all the countries we study except for Canada, whose entry policies have been unusually selective. In Canada, the best approximation we can find are the groups labeled "visible-minority" immigrants, a term used there to refer to nonwhites, mostly from Asia and many well educated.

We explore the dynamics of integration in multiple ways. Our analysis runs the gamut from understanding the progress of those with immigration backgrounds in terms of educational attainment and political office to the impact and extent of residential segregation and growing economic inequality. We investigate the role of national identities and intermarriage as well as the barriers based on race and religion. This examination to a large degree draws upon a synthesis of the existing research literature, but it also incorporates our own analyses of both quantitative and qualitative data.


Integration lies at the heart of our analysis. It is therefore important to clarify what we mean by the concept as well as to spell out some of our basic assumptions about the dynamics of change among immigrants and their children. "Integration," as we understand it, refers to the processes that increase the opportunities of immigrants and their descendants to obtain the valued "stuff" of a society, as well as social acceptance, through participation in major institutions such as the educational and political system and the labor and housing markets. Full integration implies parity of life chances with members of the native majority group and being recognized as a legitimate part of the national community. (By "native majority" we mean, in North America, later-generation Americans or Canadians of European des cent and, in European countries, those with long-established ancestry; unless otherwise indicated, we use the term "native" to refer to those born in a country to parents who were also born there, while the phrase "immigrant origin," includes both immigrants and their descendants.)

For members of low-status immigrant groups, integration processes over time—often, across generations—tend to improve their economic, social, and political situations. The integration concept also applies to groups in which many arrive with higher status than is average for the native majority; it has to do with their ability to gain positions in key institutional sectors commensurate with their qualifications and talents so that, for example, an immigrant surgeon is not relegated to a low-level healthcare position and her professional abilities are acknowledged by colleagues, staff, and patients.

Integration occurs in relation to a "mainstream" society. The mainstream can be thought of as encompassing those social and cultural spaces where the native majority feels "at home" or, in other words, where its presence is taken for granted and seen as unproblematic. The mainstream includes public institutions such as schools and government, more informal social settings such as neighborhoods inhabited in large numbers by the native majority, and accepted ways of behaving, which, needless to say, typically differ to some extent among different native subgroups (as defined, for example, by social class or region). While the native majority is found in mainstream settings as a matter of definition, these need not be exclusive in ethnic and racial terms; members of other groups, such as Muslim or Latin American immigrants and their children, may enter them and be accepted. The terms under which this can happen determine the ease or difficulty of integration.

Moving to and settling in Europe or North America inevitably involves change on the part of immigrants as they adjust to life there, and this is especially so when they come from societies with customs, values, and institutions that differ markedly from those in the new country. At the most basic, immigrants typically learn to eat different foods than they are used to and to speak new languages. The children who grow up in immigrant homes are affected more profoundly by the culture and institutions around them than the immigrants themselves, who arrived as adults and spent their formative years steeped in home-country ways. The children, learning from their peers in school or on the street and from the mass media, acquire tastes and knowledge that make them quite different from their immigrant parents. Usually, the children have at least as much in common with their native majority a gemates as they do with their own parents, as they listen to popular music, for example, and adopt the latest fashion styles. As they mature, they may begin to distance themselves in other ways from immigrants, taking jobs in the mainstream labor market that put them in a world beyond their parents' ken. They usually go much further in school than their parents, at least when the parents are low-wage immigrants from such regions of the world as Latin America or Africa.

The changes may not all be beneficial or benign; some can have negative repercussions for immigrants and their children. Low-status immigrants in Europe and North America are commonly confined to the bottom rungs of the job ladder. Too often, they confront racial or ethnic prejudice and discrimination from members of the native majority. So may their children who, owing to disparate treatment in schools and the labor market, sometimes drop out of school or occasionally turn to illicit activities; either may be an early step on a pathway to permanent disadvantage. When members of a particular group are stigmatized on the basis of race and ethnicity and disadvantaged in educational and employment opportunities—on a large scale—these are signs of its emergence as an ethnoracial minority or, as in the United States, of possible assimilation into an existing minority population.

Changes do not take place in only one direction. The presence of immigrants and the second generation alters the communities in which they live and, in some ways, the larger society as well. An obvious form of impact is on food, as immigrant cuisines, often modified for European or North American tastes, enrich the offerings in the new society. The Turkish döner kebab has become the most popular fast food in Germany, and more salsa than ketchup is sold in the United States. But the impact can be much deeper as new attitudes and values seep into the mainstream culture. If we look back in time in the United States, for example, the educational advance of Jews in the mid-twentieth century had a huge impact on many elite universities, which previously defined themselves as Christian institutions and even had Protestant denominational affiliations. The new intellectual culture forged by Jews and liberal Protestants gradually turned universities into temples of "established nonbelief," to use historian George Marsden's phrase, and spread beyond them to help forge a civic culture of religious tolerance.

In talking about these sorts of changes, the words, and to some extent, the concepts have shifted over time and still differ between the United States and the other countries we are considering. In the past, "assimilation" was the central idea, promoted by theorizing about the European immigrant-group experience in the United States. This idea has made a comeback there as a way to think about immigration-related changes, refurbished by purging the concept of its past, unsavory ethnocentric associations and by bringing it up to date for the twenty-first century. In Canada and in most of Western Europe, "integration" has become the main way to talk about immigrant-group inclusion. Its adoption reflects in many quarters an opposition to the "assimilation" concept and its presumed assumption (false, in our view) of one-way cultural change.


Excerpted from Strangers No More by Richard Alba, Nancy Foner. Copyright © 2015 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Richard Alba is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His books include Blurring the Color Line and Remaking the American Mainstream. Nancy Foner is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her books include From Ellis Island to JFK and In a New Land.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews