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What measures are in place to ensure the long-term integration of migrants and refugees in Europe?


The large and sudden arrivals of people seeking international protection in Europe in 2014–2016 led many countries to implement measures for the integration of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection. In this emergency context, the integration measures focused on ensuring that basic needs are met in an unfamiliar country, with an emphasis on language learning and employment.

Several years have now passed since the so-called ‘crisis’, and many of the people who arrived during that period have made Europe their permanent home. It is therefore time to evaluate whether EU Member States have planned and implemented measures to support the long-term integration of beneficiaries of international protection and other migrant groups. In other words, have countries been able to think beyond integration as being only a means of meeting basic needs and towards integration as being the full social and economic inclusion of all their residents?

In this analysis, the European Web Site on Integration examines whether EU Member States and the United Kingdom have implemented policies and measures across various areas of life that aim to promote the long-term integration of beneficiaries of international protection (BIPs) and other third-country nationals (TCNs).

Key findings

  • Almost all EU countries have a strategic framework that addresses the integration of BIPs and other TCNs, but few perform systematic evaluation of integration outcomes.
  • National government authorities see the importance of supporting language learning, but in many countries, there is a clear drop-off in support for intermediate and advanced courses.
  • While refugees and other migrants generally have access to mainstream public employment services, there is inconsistent availability of services or vocational training opportunities that are tailored to migrants’ needs.
  • There is uneven support for migrant children’s needs in education, and a lack of systematic support for access to higher education.
  • Access to healthcare and housing requires more attention from policymakers.
  • All EU countries have anti-discrimination laws that prohibit discrimination in the employment context based on race, nationality and/or ethnicity, but in many countries, enforcement of these laws is weak.
  • Overall, there is no major difference between BIPs as a sub-group and the larger group of TCNs in terms of the availability of long-term measures for their integration.


The EWSI Editorial Team researched a range of indicators of long-term integration in all EU Member States and the United Kingdom. The indicators looked at the existence or availability of specific policies or measures in the following areas:

For each indicator, the Editorial Team examined whether the relevant policies or measures are applicable to TCNs in general and to BIPs specifically. The research covers migrant integration policy and measures at the end of December 2019.

See more about methodology and read notes on specific countries.

National strategic frameworks for integration

Almost all surveyed countries have one or more integration strategies covering TCNs generally, BIPs more specifically or both, and over one-third of the countries also make provisions tailored to more specifically defined groups, such as migrant women and girls, unaccompanied minors, LGBTI asylum seekers, descendants of migrants and migrant youth. However, for each of these groups, there are, at most, only a handful of countries that make special considerations for them in a national integration strategy. Across Europe, countries were about equally likely to have an integration strategy that covers BIPs specifically as a strategy that covers all TCNs.

Over half of the national strategies define responsibilities for integration among stakeholders like local and regional authorities, civil society and social partners. With the increasing recognition and emphasis on the fact that integration happens at the local level, it thus appears that many national strategies have not yet reflected this shift in thinking.

Evaluation of integration strategies is not a regular practice in most countries. Fewer than half of the countries have a regular mechanism to monitor integration outcomes, and even fewer have implemented longitudinal studies to follow outcomes over time. Most countries do not consult stakeholders such as civil society, researchers, local authorities, etc. in the development of integration strategies.


Reflecting the importance of language in the integration process, most countries make available free or highly subsidised language courses at the beginner level. However, the availability of courses clearly declines as the level of proficiency increases, and often there is no support for language learning after an initial integration period.

This indicates that the focus is still on the early stages of integration. Considering the persistent underemployment of migrants, policymakers should pay more attention to the limited availability of courses at higher proficiency levels, as well as the drop off in support for migrants who have lived for several years or longer in a country. Moreover, fewer than half of countries offer subsidised courses oriented toward professional usage and qualifications at least somewhat regularly.

The types of course offerings (e.g., different proficiency levels) available to BIPs specifically did not differ significantly from those of other TCNs. However, it was more likely that courses for BIPs were limited to an orientation phase or a fixed period following orientation, mainly because BIPs are more likely to have structured, mandatory integration programmes that set out such time limits. About half of countries support courses in specialised formats at least occasionally—for example, evening classes to accommodate work schedules or classes that provide childcare.

Good Practice in Language Learning

In addition to classroom-based language courses available nationally through the Portuguese for All programme, Portugal has developed an online platform for language learning that includes 24 thematic learning modules with accompanying audio, video and texts. While online courses and materials might not be a substitute for in-person language training, online platforms can serve as a helpful supplement to classroom learning and reach people who live in remote areas, have scheduling difficulties or want to progress more quickly.

Employment and vocational education

Availability of support and length of vocational training

Almost all countries give BIPs and other TCNs partial or full access to mainstream employment services and/or their public employment services play a central role in integration support. However, for both BIPs and TCNs, targeted training based on assessment and validation of skills or qualifications is not widely available across EU countries. Less than half of the countries have implemented such actions specifically for BIPs (not always systematically), and even fewer countries do so for TCNs in general. Overall, measures to promote employment were more likely to target BIPs specifically than to be offered to all TCNs; about half of the countries have implemented some specialised labour market actions for BIPs, but only a minority of countries have done so for TCNs in general.

Targeted, publicly funded vocational training and employment-related education is at least somewhat accessible for BIPs in most countries. While an increasing body of research focuses on migrant entrepreneurship, few countries have actively pursued migrant entrepreneurship as a means of achieving economic and social integration.

Anti-discrimination in the employment context

A slight majority of countries have publicly supported NGOs or employment support organisations, like labour unions, that assist victims of labour market discrimination. However, only a few countries make a systematic effort directed at private sector employers to inform them about the rights and entitlements of foreign residents.


Guidance and support for pupils and parents in school education

Because education policies are often set at the regional or local level, and actions can depend on the initiative of individual schools, it is difficult to evaluate the availability of integration measures in the education system. Almost all countries provide language learning support to migrant children or the children of migrants, though in nearly half of the countries, schools provide language support only for a limited period.

Other forms of support, like help with homework or advice to parents on how the education system works, are also important for long-term educational outcomes. But overall, these other forms of support for migrant children in schools is not systematic—neither across the different countries nor within the countries that do offer some form of support. There is especially little support for migrant parents to be involved in their children’s learning, which is concerning given the important role that parental involvement can play not only in children’s school performance but also in long-term social adaptation.

Good Practice in Education

One approach to addressing the distance between schools and migrant parents is to organise volunteer or paid parent mentors in schools. For example, the district of Heilbronn, Germany finds people who speak German and at least one other language to inform migrant parents about the school system. The district sends mentors to schools and kindergartens that request their services, and the mentors are compensated for their expenses.

Higher education

Support for migrants’ access to higher education is limited. There are only occasional targeted measures to encourage and promote access to higher education. Efforts to promote higher education enrolment of refugees and asylum seekers generally depend on the initiative of individual higher education institutions. For example, several Belgian universities have organised welcome desks, created guides or implemented other actions to help refugees enrol.

Apart from promoting study migration, there are virtually no systematic efforts to encourage TCNs (other than BIPs) to enrol in higher education. Thus, adult TCNs who come for work, family reunification, etc. are unlikely to expand their educational qualifications.

Considering the persistence of underemployment among migrants and difficulties with recognition of foreign qualifications, policymakers should consider that promoting access to higher education could help alleviate problems with skills mismatch in the career paths of migrants.

There are essentially no systematic measures that try to bring migrants into the workforce as teachers. Overall in the EU, students with a migration background underperform compared to their native-born peers. Some evidence suggests that a diverse teacher workforce can help improve educational and social results of students from minority backgrounds. But while the diversity of the learner population is increasing in the EU, teachers with a migrant background appear to be underrepresented in the educational workforce.

Good Practice in Higher Education

The Open Learning Initiative (OLIve), created by Central European University and taking place in several European countries in partnership with other universities, offers full- or part-time educational programmes designed to help refugees access higher education. In addition to academic skills and subject matter competence, OLIve emphasises the development of language skills necessary for academic settings. To complement students’ academic preparation, OLIve also helps refugee students develop advocacy and career skills.


Healthcare is an area of integration that requires more attention. Intercultural competence in healthcare systems is increasingly recognised as an essential element of adequate healthcare provision. In a majority of countries, it is possible for migrants to obtain interpretation or cultural mediation services (including via telephone or video), but only a handful of countries make these types of services widely available.

Standards or guidelines on providing culturally competent or diversity sensitive services exist in fewer than half of countries’ public health services. The number is even lower in mental health services and lower yet in elderly care services. While this may reflect, for example, a lower availability of mental health services overall, or the decentralised nature of elderly care, it is nonetheless worth noting that gaps exist in these sectors. In particular, the lack of guidelines for elderly care may indicate that governments have focused on working-age or younger migrants and have not begun to think about the needs of these populations when they age.

There is only a slight difference in the availability of the surveyed healthcare measures for BIPs compared to TCNs overall, which is especially surprising when it comes to mental health care, considering the prevalence of traumatic experiences among BIPs. Even in countries which clearly recognise the need to fund and support mental health care for refugees, such as Sweden, it can still be difficult for refugees and asylum seekers to access these services.


Like healthcare, housing is also an area that requires more attention given its importance for the long-term integration of migrants. Because housing policy is often decentralised, the availability of housing subsidies or social housing can vary significantly within a country and even within a given region. Moreover, migrants may have access to housing benefits on similar or equal terms as nationals, but the conditions of the housing market act as a significant barrier to obtaining appropriate housing, such as in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Spain.

In most countries, publicly supported, expert NGOs assist BIPs with access to housing (including legal advice). TCNs who are not BIPs are less likely to receive targeting housing support than BIPs, mainly because BIPs may receive housing advice as part of a reception programme that assists in the transition from a reception facility for asylum seekers to an independent housing situation when they are officially recognised as BIPs.

Discrimination can have a major impact on housing access and conditions for migrants and refugees, even when the government makes subsidies and other support readily available. Just under half of countries have publicly supported, expert NGOs that assist victims of discrimination on the housing market, but authorities rarely inform private actors about the housing rights and entitlements of foreign residents.

In countries with tight housing markets, discrimination exacerbates problems with access, potentially derailing the integration process through the persistent threat of inadequate housing or even homelessness. And because difficult conditions in the housing market are not quickly or easily solved, these problems do not only impact migrants and refugees in the initial phase of integration but could also continue to present a burden and barrier for many years after arrival.

Good Practice in Housing

Many cities and regions have long waitlists for social housing as well as high rents on the private market. A pilot project in Poland, Welcome Home, tries to ease the burden of unaffordable private market rents. The organisation signs long-term (2+ years) apartment leases with landlords at the market rate and then sublets the apartments at a below-market rate to refugee families who are at risk of homelessness. While they live in these apartments, the families participate in a tailored integration programme that includes language learning, labour market support, intercultural mentoring, etc. As the families become more self-sufficient, the rent gradually increases until they can pay market rates.


All EU Member States have anti-discrimination laws applicable in the employment context that prohibit discrimination, harassment and the instruction to discriminate on the grounds of both race, nationality or ethnic origin and religion or belief. Slightly fewer countries provide these legal protections against discrimination in the areas of education, access to public goods and services (including housing) and access to health services, and fewer countries provide legal equality in social protection. The discrepancy between these domains and that of employment is mainly due to religion or belief not being expressly protected grounds in some cases.

All countries have one or more equality bodies, which are public organisations that assist victims of discrimination, monitor and report on discrimination and raise awareness of rights and equality. However, in many countries, equality bodies are not able to exercise these powers due to lack of resources. Moreover, people may not be aware of their rights and how to obtain help—or be unsure or afraid to seek help—so victims of discrimination often never contact an equality body or another source of support. As discrimination can impact the personal and economic well-being of migrants long after their arrival in a new country, lack of awareness and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws could have a strong impact on long-term integration outcomes.


If policymakers want to support the long-term integration of refugees and other migrants, they should pay more attention to ensuring access to a range of integration-supporting measures as well as to mainstream support systems.  Overall, measures related to language-learning, employment and education are still directed at immediate, post-arrival needs, while there are relatively few systematic measures related to health and housing.

EU countries generally have a strategic framework for integration, as well as a legal framework for anti-discrimination, but strengthening the evaluation of these frameworks and resources for enforcement of anti-discrimination laws—and increasing their attention to long-term outcomes—should be priorities in the years to come.


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