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Explore how cities can attract and retain migrant populations and what initiatives cities can employ to make themselves a popular choice with international workers.

Within the European Union, we are seeing changes in the migratory movements of people: while certain countries are beginning or continuing to benefit from positive flows, the new Member States are confronted with an on-going exodus of their populations. With the observation that cities open to migrants are more competitive than others as a starting point, the cities participating in the URBACT OPENCities project sought to identify the criteria that found a city’s “openness” and international attractiveness, and to develop strategies that not only enable achieving this objective, but also to get ore and more mobile migratory populations to settle in their territory.

In 2009, the economic crisis that hit Europe modified certain migratory flows. The strong temptation to close up on oneself that resulted in the majority of countries pushed the partner cities in the URBACT OPENCities project to do in-depth work on the capacity of accepting such a strategy of “openness”. It was necessary to convince politicians and public opinion that this approach of “openness” to diverse manpower is a long-term strategy and that maintaining it in times of crisis is an additional factor contributing to resilience and a quick economic recovery.

Main Results

Contributions and good practices regarding three key themes that are the basis of a city’s “openness”

During the project development phase, the nine partner cities in the OPENCities network and the British Council came to the conclusion that the challenges cities must face in terms of immigration fall under three main themes. During the project's three years, each theme was the object of one conference and a report with observations and conclusions. The three themes were:

1. Leadership and governance of "open cities"

Developing a better understanding of the role and contributions of effective leadership and the factors that municipalities have to manage in order to create "open cities". and the

Download the thematic report and the good practices implemented by the partner cities.

2. The role of internationalisation

Understanding the assets of a multicultural city based on examples of cities where immigration makes a positive contribution to attractiveness and local economic development.

Download the thematic report and the good practices implemented by the partner cities.

3. Managing integration and inclusion

Reviewing all the actions cities can undertake to support integration and inclusion of economic immigrants, and understanding to what extent they impact attractiveness of cities and their openness to international migrations.

Download the thematic report.

Recommendations to leading integrated actions in these three areas

To create an "open city", the OPENCities network identified five families of actors that have to work together: the State, the municipality, the civil society and NGOs, the private sector and the media. Within this ecosystem, cities have a crucial role to play to the extent that migrant integration takes place at a local level.

Based on their experiences, the cities in the OPENCities network formulated the following recommendations for cities:

To promote "openness"

  • Develop a dedicated strategy

  • Work in partnership with the State, civil society and NGOs 

  • Facilitate the process of “openness” and institutionalise it
  • Identify and promote “international capital” already existing at a local level.
  • Get involved in knowledge-sharing activities.

For effective leadership and governance

  • Reconcile national policies and local approaches
  • Be aware of the impact of media on peoples’ perception
  • Find a balance between the host population and the migrants
  • Normalise policies, frameworks for action and resources in order to facilitate integration.

 Strengthen internationalisation

  • Identify and encourage specialised niches.
  • Build a solid and stable entrepreneurial environment.
  • Involve local actors and formalise the frameworks for cooperation
  • Integrate the actions of municipal administrations in order to avoid repetitions and to increase visibility

 Manage integration and inclusion

  • Innovation and flexibility are key assets for delivering effective services.
  • Boost initiatives that work.
  • The majority of initiatives should be able to work in the two areas.
  • Foreign populations need targeted and differentiated approaches.

 Building a joint approach to the management of integration and inclusion

As part of an integrated action, here are the roles that should be played by the five families of actors in place:

  • The State – building the legislative and policy framework, along with the statutes.
  • The municipal authority – transpose national policy to a local level and establish appropriate strategies to connect promote and coordinate existing and future actions.
  • Civil society and NGOs – respond to needs by using a less formal approach close to cultural sensibilities and anchored in the reality of the field.
  • The private sector – play a key role in ensuring equal access to the labour market.
  • The media – play a key role in informing the public about successful experiences, and the contribution and positive impact of immigration, even in the difficult context of economic recession.


A tool for managing and measuring the level of “openness” of cities

Upon the request of the British Council, the independent economic research institute BAK Basel Economics developed an OPENCities benchmarking tool for the level of city openness to migrants. The tool is based on 54 indicators spread out among 11 themes (quality of life, education, liberties, infrastructure, etc.), measuring and providing a comparative analysis that currently is used by 26 partner cities throughout the world to benchmark their performance. At the close of the URBACT OPENCities project, data collection and participation costs are being managed by BAK Basel Economics.

Consult this management tool and the British Council measure


At the beginning of the URBACT OPENCities project, the Managing Authorities of the partner cities created a group with the goal of supporting their projects. They made a commitment to continue to monitor the actions in the cities. The cities and the Managing Authorities meet regularly to discuss how to fund the Local Action Plans.

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