What makes immigrants feel most at home?

New study finds that integration is most successful when basic needs are met

The study outlines that among others, equal access to quality public infrastructure is a factor that fosters a more complete sense of belonging. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST

study recently conducted by l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) in Parc-Extension found that for many recently-arrived immigrants the most important factor in feeling like they are part of their host society is having their basic needs met.

Authored by university researcher in applied ethics and communications Yanick Farmer, the study was based on the results of interviews conducted with a total of 40 men and women of largely South Asian origin who live in Parc-Extension. 

“This community, whose numbers are growing, remains one of the most misunderstood by Quebecers,” wrote the study’s author in an article in The Conversation

Published in the academic journal New Diversities, the study posits that hot-button topics about values and identity politics, often brought up by activists and media, are not as important to immigrant integration as having everyday basic needs met.

Three key factors

The study outlines a number of factors that can foster a better sense of belonging in recent immigrants, but three are deemed crucial. The first factor is the quality of interpersonal relationships people find in their new homes.

“By this, we mean relationships with close friends, family, neighbours or colleagues, but also the social interactions of everyday life,” wrote Farmer.

He specified that many residents in Parc-Extension feel fulfilled in this aspect, adding that “many South Asians expressed delight in the friendliness of people in their neighbourhoods, and in Québec and Canadian societies in general.” 

“​​Respondents didn’t consider other factors to be important, even if they are regularly the subject of lively public debates on the issues of immigration and living together,”

Safety and infrastructure

The second factor that was found to be crucial in creating a sense of attachment to place among immigrants was the feeling of safety in the communities they moved into. 

Farmer notes that this is most often related to low crime rates in people’s communities and to the feeling that they can move around their areas without transgression. “This factor was crucial for the women we interviewed, but men also attached great importance to it,” wrote the researcher.

The data demonstrated that the third most important factor was access to quality urban infrastructure, including roads, public transport, leisure facilities, parks and libraries. “This factor was considered to be as important as safety,” remarked Farmer.

Basic needs 

These results may come as a surprise to many, as the study also shows that highly sensitive topics about values and identity often come secondary in the process of creating a sense of belonging for immigrants. 

“​​Respondents didn’t consider other factors to be important, even if they are regularly the subject of lively public debates on the issues of immigration and living together,” wrote Farmer, using the controversial Bill 21 as an example.

“The issue of secularism and the law banning some public sector workers from wearing religious symbols virtually flew under the radar of the community,” continued Farmer, adding that only one respondent in the whole group, a “self-described activist,” said it could affect their sense of belonging. 

According to Farmer, this was a completely logical finding. “A place becomes attractive, not least of all because of the concrete needs that can be met there,” he said. 

Listening to communities

“Theoretical debates about laws or models of immigrant integration are far removed from the basic needs of most people,” he added, explaining that “these rather abstract issues are of much more interest to politicians, intellectuals or activists than they are to ordinary people.

Farmer added that this showed how what is portrayed publicly and in the media can sometimes be far removed from the realities lived in immigrant neighbourhoods. Although these issues are important they are rarely the number one priority for many people.

“This observation should encourage those who wish to have access to an accurate portrait of current social issues to diversify their credible sources of information in order to develop an informed citizen’s point of view,” concluded Farmer.

Yanick Farmer university researcher in applied ethics and communication and published his research in the academic journal New Diversities. Photo: UQAM