Multiculturalism Policies for Immigrant Minorities

Immigration is an enduring feature of Western societies: there have always been powerful forces that push and pull people across international borders. Yet each new wave of immigrants is often perceived as a source of anxiety and insecurity by native-born residents of the host society, who worry about the extent to which immigrants are able or willing to integrate, and about the social impact of cultural or religious differences. In the past, faced with these anxieties, Western states have often adopted exclusionary andor assimilationist policies towards immigrants. States denied entry or naturalization to those immigrants who were perceived as unable or unwilling to assimilate, and anyone seeking citizenship was expected and sometimes even required to renounce or hide their earlier ethnic identities. Yet since the 1960s, a different approach has emerged in some Western countries, in which assimilation is renounced as a goal, and integration is seen as compatible with maintaining and publicly expressing an ethnic identity. People can participate in society through membership in immigrant ethnic communities, which are seen as legitimate social and political actors that are worthy of support and consultation.

Our MCP Index for Immigrant Minorities is intended to track the extent of this multicultural shift over the past three decades, by examining the adoption of the following eight policies detailed on the Decision Rules page:

  1. constitutional, legislative or parliamentary affirmation of multiculturalism;
  2. the adoption of multiculturalism in school curriculum;
  3. the inclusion of ethnic representation/sensitivity in the mandate of public media or media licensing;
  4. exemptions from dress-codes, Sunday-closing legislation etc;
  5. allowing dual citizenship;
  6. the funding of ethnic group organizations to support cultural activities;
  7. the funding of bilingual education or mother-tongue instruction;
  8. affirmative action for disadvantaged immigrant groups.

This is not an exhaustive list of every possible form of public policy intended to recognize or accommodate immigrant groups. However, we believe that this list captures core elements of the "multiculturalist turn" in relation to such groups.

Whereas the multicultural turn in relation to national minorities and indigenous peoples is now widely accepted, multiculturalism in relation to immigrants remains highly contested, and some commentators argue that is now subject to full-scale backlash and retreat. The country scores in our Index, however, suggest that the multicultural turn has been surprisingly resilient. There is considerable variation across times and across countries in the strength of these policies, but as with indigenous peoples and national minorities, the basic trend line is one of consistent increase in the average score of Western democracies from 1980 to 2000 to 2020. There are important exceptions, including some high-profile retreats. But these are more than offset by increases in MCPs in other countries.

The MCP Index for immigrant minorities is now available on annual basis, with scores for each MCP policy in each country from 1960 to 2020. The data identifies the precise year in which a country adopted and/or retrenched any particular MCP, and includes early developments in countries such as Canada and Australia which introduced MCPs prior to 1980. See all the details.