Globally, as communities welcome immigrants and refugees, more and more localities are recognizing the importance of strategic planning. Welcoming strategic plans offer a pathway for local governments and community organizations to welcome newcomers with intention and long-term success.
How can communities begin creating a welcoming strategic plan? Looking to other municipalities is one place to start. In early 2023, a learning exchange between researchers, local government representatives, and community organizations from Portugal and the United States helped welcoming practitioners learn about developing effective welcoming strategic plans.
As the national government office supporting newcomers in Portugal, the Portuguese High Commission for Migration (ACM) provides guidance to localities across Portugal on how and why to develop comprehensive welcoming plans. Recently, the ACM saw a need for deeper community engagement to ensure welcoming plans meet the needs and hopes of migrant residents.
Welcoming America partnered with the ACM to better understand successful community engagement approaches in the United States and how such methods apply to Portugal’s forthcoming national guidelines for strategic welcoming plans.
Alongside Welcoming America staff, three leaders from Portugal traveled across the U.S. to learn and discuss good practices in local participatory planning processes. The group included Miguel Silva Graça, senior researcher at the Research Centre for Territory, Transports and Environment – University of Coimbra and consultant for the Portuguese High Commission for Migration (ACM), Cláudia Pires, coordinator of the Support Office for Local Policies for the Integration of Migrants at ACM, and Diaby Abdourahamane, president of the Portuguese Refugees Association and a refugee from Ivory Coast who made Portugal his home in 2007.
During their visits to five Welcoming America member communities, the Portuguese delegation met with local governments, their partner organizations, and Welcoming America staff to learn about community engagement strategies that informed the development, implementation, and evaluation of local welcoming plans.
Following the community visits in the United States, a representative from one of the U.S. cities was invited to participate in the ACM’s international conference and co-creation workshop in May 2023. Christina da Silva, welcoming communities and immigrant affairs officer at the City of Dallas shared about Dallas’ welcoming plan and learned alongside others about opportunities and hurdles in fostering immigrant inclusion.
Explore the participants’ experiences and learnings during each stage of the U.S.-Portugal exchange:
- Austin, Minnesota, U.S.
- Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.
- San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
- Dallas, Texas, U.S.
- San José, California, U.S.
- Lisbon, Portugal
Austin, Minnesota, U.S.: How the community prepared for a welcoming strategy
In 2016, Austin, Minnesota was a participant in the Gateways for Growth Challenge. The Portuguese delegation was especially interested in learning from Gateways for Growth communities because their local governments received technical support from the American Immigration Council and Welcoming America to develop a welcoming plan for their community.
Before Austin began developing their Strategic Welcoming Plan, the city council unanimously approved a resolution to join the U.S. Welcoming Network and began formally declaring that Austin is a city that should be guided by welcoming principles. Having support from the local government leadership set the stage for the welcoming work the community needed to do.
Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.: An example of identifying and engaging planning committee members
Once local government leaders align around the values and goals of creating a welcoming strategic plan, next comes recruiting a formal coalition to lead the work.
In Lincoln, the strategic planning committee was composed of seven cross-sector representatives from the City of Lincoln, Lancaster County, and the city’s New Americans Task Force. These leaders identified 67 additional community members to meet bi-monthly.
With a broad range of representatives participating in the process, the community was able to develop the Lincoln/Lancaster County Welcoming and Belonging Strategic Plan.
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.: A look at the city’s strategic planning process
In 2019, the city of San Antonio, Texas applied to participate in the Gateways for Growth program. During their strategic planning process, San Antonio worked with community leaders to assess community strengths, needs, and resources.
The detailed assessments helped the community establish goals and determine action steps for achieving all of their objectives. The San Antonio Welcoming Plan includes indicators that help the community measure progress and evaluate the outcomes of their welcoming efforts.
During the visit to San Antonio, the delegation from Portugal had an opportunity to visit many of the community partners that assessed, informed, and had roles in implementing the city’s strategic plan.
Dallas, Texas, U.S.: Finalizing, publishing, and sharing the strategic plan
Welcoming strategic plans can create government transparency and facilitate communication with the wider community. This was a goal the city of Dallas, Texas had in mind when they began developing their strategic plan during their Gateways for Growth participation in 2017.
Once the Welcoming Dallas Strategic Plan was complete, the City of Dallas’ Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs Division shared a memorandum with their city council requesting a resolution that would endorse the recommendations outlined in the plan.
The resolution highlighted the community’s resolve to seek recognition as a Certified Welcoming city. In 2019, Dallas became the first community in Texas to earn the Certified Welcoming designation.
San José, California, U.S.: How to monitor and adjust a welcoming plan
Well-designed welcoming plans include many partners in implementation, which means there needs to be significant coordination. Strategic plans are living documents that can and should be revisited, and from time to time, updated in consultation with the community.
In 2016, San José, California participated in the Gateways for Growth program and concluded the eight-month process to develop the three-year Welcoming San José Plan. When the plan was coming to an end in 2019, the local government implementation team engaged in a deep reflection process. This included an external audit by Welcoming America’s Certified Welcoming team and a six-month community engagement process.
At the end of this process, the community co-designed an updated Welcoming San José Plan 2.0 for 2021-2024 to address the evolving needs of the newcomer communities in the city.
Lisbon, Portugal: Co-designing Portugal’s national welcoming plan guidelines
In May 2023, the Portuguese delegation brought their learnings back home to share with welcoming practitioners during a conference in Lisbon.
Between 30-40 people participated, representing city government, nonprofit organizations, and immigrant-serving organizations. From the United States, Christina da Silva was invited to present about welcoming efforts in Dallas, Texas and participate in the learning opportunities. George Zavala from Welcoming America also shared highlights of successful welcoming strategic plans across the U.S. via a virtual presentation.
“Getting invited to Lisbon was a big honor,” reflects da Silva. “This was a marker that we’re doing work that’s internationally needed. Dallas is part of the global community that’s trying to become more welcoming.”
Da Silva’s presentation at the conference elaborated on the accountability and transparency strategies built into Dallas’ welcoming plan. She also explained how the city’s immigrant inclusion work was informing other local planning efforts, including a racial equity plan.
“A big priority for us in Dallas is understanding racial disparities, how we are going to address them, and recognizing that if we don’t name that disparity, it’s not going to be solved.” Da Silva noted that participants were interested to hear Dallas’s approach to tracking ethnic and racial data indicators to measure whether policies and programming are effectively meeting all residents’ needs.
Participants toured the Portuguese High Commission for Migration. As a federal office, the office is a resource hub where migrants and refugees can access all of the services they need when they arrive in Portugal. Da Silva shared that “they had staff that were trained to serve immigrants in areas like health and education, and they do outreach to other institutions to make sure that they understand best practices.”