Learning the host society’s language and finding a job are important steps for the societal integration of refugees. Especially language proficiency is a key barrier for the integration of low literates. Often language training and gaining work skills are separated during the integration procedure. We investigated a 1-year pilot program for refugees with low-literacy levels in the Netherlands, which combined language training (daily classes, work-related language) with work experience in sheltered employment (second-hand shop) to facilitate language learning and prepare this group better for the labour market. Building on Ager and Strang’s conceptual integration framework (2008), we expected that this combined program should improve agency (communication strategies, preparedness for the labour market) via intergroup contact at work. We used a mixed-method approach to follow the development of participants (N=10) longitudinally (baseline, after 6 months, after 11 months). We gathered questionnaire data, interviewed teachers and students, and observed interactions in classes and at work. Overall, use of communication strategies increased. Analyzing individual cases (profiles) offered nuanced insights into for whom and why the program seems to have differential impact, especially in terms of labour market preparation. We discuss results and the importance of creating intergroup contact to facilitate integration in a new society.

DOI: 10.1007/s12134-023-01028-6
ISSN: 1488-3473