Thai migrants and relative success of integration in Iceland

Jóhanna G Bissat, Pennsylvania State University

In recent years, the process of integrating immigrants into their host societies has been a cause of stress in many Western countries. Iceland is no stranger to this experience; in the last two decades, this island nation of 313,000 has struggled to integrate an increasing number of non-Scandinavian immigrants (approx. 8% of the present population), the majority of whom originate from Eastern Europe and Eastern/Southeastern Asia. In my 2005 preliminary fieldwork with Thai immigrants (pop. 1,002 in March 2008) in Iceland, I observed that immigrants who moved specifically to marry or join an Icelandic spouse appeared to be better integrated into Icelandic society, while those who came exclusively for labor appeared more isolated within the Thai enclave. As a result, in the present study (currently in its fieldwork stage) I hypothesize that Thai marriage migrants are more successfully integrated into Icelandic society than Thai labor migrants. I use ethnographic participant-observation methods and a survey given to a random sample of Thai immigrants in Iceland to evaluate their integration into Icelandic society. The survey complements regular interaction with the population to investigate individual demographics, household composition, migration history, language skills, social networks, leisure activities, religious and political involvement, transnational activities, and context of reception to evaluate the integration of Thai migrants in Icelandic society. This study will contribute to migration theory with an in-depth example of how one group of relatively isolated immigrants contends with long-distance migration, and the effect that policies and contexts of reception have on their integration into their European host society. The study has implications for the formation of more accurate and helpful policies on immigrant integration, both in Iceland and in other European countries.

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Presented in Session 74: Integration Processes Of Migrants