Language and Integration

  • Our key findings highlight the significance of issues relating to language learning and social isolation, especially in rural areas. The research found that the provision of language classes and integration initiatives were often mismatched to the realities of migrants’ lives, their work patterns and family responsibilities. Opportunities for migrant and host populations to meet and to share community spaces were limited. Migrant communities felt isolated from and misunderstood by the wider local population. Taken together these factors impact significantly on successful integration and migrant decision-making regarding longer-term settlement. 
  • Language was a key issue for the group of migrants interviewed in the SSAMIS project, and as such had very complex effects: it cut across every sphere of life and had a significant impact on migrant experiences of moving to Scotland. The most important aspect of this was the level of English language that migrants had – both upon arrival, and as they settled in Scotland.
  • Language affected what kind of jobs they were able to access and their ability to connect with the local community. Those who did not manage to gain English language skills faced difficulties in occupational mobility and tended to be limited to low-skilled, low-paid sectors of the local job market.
  • Knowledge of English language also played a big role in how confident migrants felt in Scotland, and thus to their wider emotional wellbeing.
  • Knowledge of languages other than English also played a role in migrant experiences – if individuals ended up working in industries with many other migrants (e.g. fish processing factories), the default working language could be Russian or Polish, for example. Thus many ended up learning a new Slavic language at work. Although this in itself is not negative, it could mean that they had few opportunities to improve their English or move past a basic communicative level.

Peterhead Language Café

Make it Happen Angus

Migrants and Language Learning in Aberdeen/shire

Language Cafes as a site of Wider Cultural Integration

Migrants' Experiences of Material and Emotional Security in Rural Scotland: Implications for Longer-Term Settlement

Submission to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations (CTEER) Committee: Immigration Inquiry

Submission to the APPG on Social Integration: Inquiry into Immigration and Integration

Challenges of Settling in Rural Scotland: Drawing Parallels between ‘New Scots’ Refugees and Central & Eastern European Migrants

Which Exit after Brexit? Supporting EU nationals in the post-Brexit reality


  • The vast majority of people we spoke with were employed, and occupied positions in a wide range of sectors including farm and factory work; hospitality and catering, care work, beauty and hairdressing, office work and the retail industry, the third sector and the oil industry.
  • The majority were in lower skilled occupations, and most people aspired to permanent forms of employment. The type of employment was dependent upon and influenced by place of residence. The key themes emerged in relation to a number of broader issues.
  • Working relations, with both co-workers and employers, were seen as crucial to job satisfaction and feelings of security at work. Positive relations with both co-workers (often other migrants) and employers were in evidence; however, tensions arose due to perceptions of discrimination and differential treatment, both by employers and between co-workers.
  • Improving skills and achieving occupational mobility was a particularly salient issue, especially as many people had experienced deskilling due to their move to Scotland and the inability to get a job which matched their qualifications and previous experience gained in their country of origin.
  • Many barriers to occupational mobility were identified, which often centred on language. Difficulties in improving English language skills (often related to working conditions and environment) were identified as a key factor impeding occupational mobility.
  • Conversely improved English language skills were often central to achieving occupational mobility. Many people spoke of the vulnerabilities and exploitation that they felt they faced in the work place. These centred on a feeling that they lacked the knowledge and information relating to employment and contractual rights, with language exacerbating this problem.

Migrants' Experiences of Material and Emotional Security in Rural Scotland: Implications for Longer-Term Settlement

Choices Ahead: Approaches to Lower Skilled Labour Migration after Brexit

Migrants and Employment in Aberdeen/shire

Second Interim Report: Living and Working in Scotland: Employment, Housing, Family and Community

Submission to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC): EEA Workers in the UK Labour Market

Royal Society of Edinburgh Submission - Immigration, Demographics and Skills Inquiry

Brexit: challenges and opportunities – Migration, Diversity, Rights and Social Protection, Royal Society of Edinburgh Advice Paper, No. 17-18, July 2017


  • Patterns of housing varied across the locations where our research was carried out, with private rentals and council housing being the most common forms of accommodation.
  • The key themes which emerged around housing focused on practices and strategies for accessing accommodation and then issues specific to housing sector.
  • Migrants largely accessed housing – especially upon initially arriving in Scotland - via family/friendship networks, or via websites.
  • Some people did receive accommodation via their place of employment, which had both advantages and disadvantages, but could be particularly problematic if the employment ceased.
  • Difficulties in the private rental sector related particularly to the relationship tenants had with landlords. 
  • Social housing was seen as the most desirable form of accommodation in terms of providing permanence and security. However, problems which were identified related to: waiting times for accommodation; the quality of the housing provided; the area where the housing was located; and lack of knowledge of the system. Nonetheless, social housing was also seen as providing a place which people could make their own.
  • Some people spoke of having bought their own property, which was rare amongst SSAMIS participants, but very common as a long-term goal.
  • Homelessness was also an issue which emerged in our data, where people had experienced temporary homelessness due to unscrupulous landlords or family breakdown. However, generally the issue had been resolved quickly by the relevant authorities and social housing was provided.

Experiences of Welfare within Glasgow's CEE Community: SSAMIS Briefing Paper for Scottish Green MSPs

Migrants and Housing in Aberdeen/shire

Second Interim Report: Living and Working in Scotland: Employment, Housing, Family and Community

Why David Cameron’s four-year benefits plan won’t reduce EU migration

Challenges faced by Central & East European migrants: welfare and support services in rural Scotland

Family and Social Life

  • Family emerged as a key factor in the lives of the people we interviewed. Family was often central to the process of migration and to the experience of settlement in Scotland.
  • Having family members already in Scotland encouraged migration and made the processes of finding accommodation and employment, and negotiating the system, easier.
  • Once a family became settled in Scotland, this allowed a future to be imagined and the likelihood of going back to the country of origin receded.
  • Having children was a key factor influencing future settlement. For example, once children entered the education system, parents were unwilling to uproot them and take them away from a system they had got used to.
  • Family relationships were constantly under negotiation both in Scotland, and also transnationally. Contact with family members in the country of origin was seen as crucial, particularly in negotiating issues around childcare and eldercare.
  • Financial insecurities within the family in the country of origin often influenced the original decision to migrate and to an extent these insecurities were resolved in Scotland, both through paid employment and through accessing in-work benefits. Financial insecurity persisted for some people, but others spoke of how they were able to build up some savings in Scotland which allowed a more ‘normal’ life to be enjoyed.

Attracting and Maintaining Migrants in Post-Brexit Scotland: is a social integration policy the answer?

(In)Security, Family and Settlement: Migration Decisions Amongst Central and East European Families in Scotland

Migrants' Experiences of Material and Emotional Security in Rural Scotland: Implications for Longer-Term Settlement

Age and Social Isolation – response to public inquiry by the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Scottish Parliament

Second Interim Report: Living and Working in Scotland: Employment, Housing, Family and Community


  • Many issues that migrants describe in relation to healthcare can be attributed to the gap between expectations and reality, based on differences between healthcare in their countries of origin (CoO) in Central and Eastern Europe. For example, migrants often expressed their frustration that they could not always refer themselves to specialists as they could back home.
  • In part due to this, we spoke with many migrants who would wait until they were going on a trip to their CoO to use medical services there for long-term health issues (sometimes even acute medical emergencies) or dental work.
  • There were many complaints from migrants about being prescribed paracetamol for various minor health problems rather than something stronger (e.g. antibiotics). A lack of routine tests was also a point of contention – Scottish GPs don’t necessarily take blood/urine samples for testing unless they suspect specific illnesses, whereas SSAMIS participants spoke about these tests as a normal part of visiting the doctor.
  • Language was also a significant factor – those without good English relied on family members to interpret, and NHS-provided interpreting services – though effective – were not always available. Migrants could find it difficult to comprehend where they were in the system, especially if their English was not sufficient. Waiting lists, processes, etc can be difficult to comprehend because they are complex, and language difficulties impede this.
  • Some voiced the opinion that Scotland is too ‘soft’ on individuals with substance abuse/alcohol addiction problems in comparison to their CoO – they generally perceived punitive measures as more appropriate than education or rehabilitation. This may have an effect in terms of community education around illegal substances. For example, in one SSAMIS fieldwork location, around 10% of needle exchange clients were of CEE origin, but this demographic comprised around 30% of those with blood-borne conditions (Hep C, HIV, etc).
  • There is a perception that more stress could be put on preventative care measures in the UK (e.g. nutrition, complimentary therapies).

Migrants and Healthcare in Aberdeen/shire

Experiences of Welfare within Glasgow's CEE Community: SSAMIS Briefing Paper for Scottish Green MSPs

Why David Cameron’s four-year benefits plan won’t reduce EU migration

Challenges faced by Central & East European migrants: welfare and support services in rural Scotland


  • The acquisition of education and skills was a theme running through many SSAMIS interviews, and was one of the key reasons cited by migrants in their decision to settle in Scotland. This was firstly because many migrants either brought children with them, or had had children since coming to Scotland, and in both cases were keen not to disrupt their education once they had entered the Scottish system.
  • Migrants had mixed opinions about Scottish schools, and were not always confident enough to engage with their children’s education providers due to their unfamiliarity with Scottish language and cultural norms.
  • Scotland was appealing to many in terms of adult education: EU migrants could enrol on college courses fairly easily, and many SSAMIS participants had acquired new skills or improved their English language through this route. Some went on to higher education or were working towards a new degree.
  • However, there were widespread problems with deskilling. Even if they had been highly qualified in their country of origin, migrants often found that qualifications were not accepted in Scotland or were limited in terms of employment by their level of English. Gaining a Scottish qualification was thus one way of moving out of unskilled and low-paid work, even if individuals had to move to a new sector/specialism.

Report: Migrants and Education in Aberdeen/shire