Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the Launch of the 2014 Special Edition of the International Migration Outlook "Getting the Most out of Migration"
1 December 2014, Paris, France
(As prepared for delivery)
Minister Alexander, Commissioner Avramopoulos, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a great pleasure for me to launch the 2014 edition of the OECD International Migration Outlook jointly with Chris Alexander, Minister for Citizenship and Immigration of Canada, and with the EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos.
Migrants offer so much to our economies, and yet the crisis, our past failures and the emerging challenges of today make migration a politically sensitive and complex issue for leaders and policymakers.
Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD speaking at the press conference of the launch of the OECD International Migration Outlook 2014. Photo: OECD/Julien Daniel
The actions proposed by President Obama in the US are the kind of coordinated and skills-oriented reforms that today’s OECD International Migration Outlook calls for.
We strongly support his smart, courageous, and compassionate decisions and join his call to the US Congress to pass comprehensive legislation on this crucial social, political and economic challenge.
This special edition of the Outlook focuses on ‘Getting the Most Out of Migration’ and I hope that it will be of service to you and to policy makers and citizens world-wide to inform the debate on migration.
Let me share with you some of the findings and recommendations of this study.
The outlook for global migration
The relevance of migrants has never been so evident. One in ten persons in the OECD is foreign-born, that is more than 115 million people. And, albeit modestly, migration flows to the OECD countries are on the rise again after the slowdown associated with the global financial crisis,having increased by 1% in 2013 compared to 2012.
The main scenario behind this pick-up in migration flows has been mostly in the EU free circulation area, and the latest data suggest an increase in such movements of about 10% in 2013, close to pre-crisis levels. Most of the growth is driven by inflows into Germany, now the second most important destination country in the OECD, after the United States.
Outside of regions that enjoy free movements, however, labour migration has declined continuously since the beginning of the crisis. This is especially the case in Europe, where labour migration from outside the EU has decreased by about 40% since 2007, driven by especially strong declines in Southern Europe.
As a result, legal permanent migration flows from third countries to Europe are now, for the first time, lower than similar flows to the United States.
On the other hand, economic and geopolitical instabilities and uncertainties are creating very serious pressures on migration policy. The crises in the Middle East and in Africa, for example, have forced millions to migrate. Europe and some countries neighboring the conflict regions are facing a major humanitarian crisis.
In 2013, more than 550 000 persons sought asylum in the OECD, an increase of 20% compared with 2012. Syria alone accounted for almost 50 000 asylum seekers in the OECD in 2013, a figure that is set to be topped substantially this year. According to the UN Refugee Agency, the total number of asylum applications this year could be the highest in 20 years.
Beyond that crisis, the global migration landscape is changing rapidly. The number of educated migrants is increasing: inflows of tertiary-educated migrants into the OECD countries increased by 70% over the past decade. Migrants are now more likely to be women.
And, they are coming from more diverse countries, with Asian migration gaining in importance: one in ten new migrants to the OECD is Chinese, and one in five is originating from Asia. Countries stand to gain so much by giving these migrants the opportunity to deploy their skills.
Migrants are a resource not a problem
In this changing context, it is crucial that governments and societies have a clear and fair perspective of the implications of migration: Migrants are an asset, not a problem. Two out of three immigrants of working-age are in employment; but their skills are largely underused. Better integration policies can help countries draw more effectively on the extensive skills of migrants. A win-win proposition.
A paradox is that OECD countries compete for talents worldwide, but in virtually all of them, the employment rates of highly-educated immigrants are lower than those of their native counterparts. And even when they are employed, they have an almost 50% higher chance of being overqualified for the job.
Countries have to do more to recognise the skills of migrants. This concerns especially those who have foreign qualifications. Efficient and transparent recognition procedures are key, and these must be coupled with bridging offers for those who do not manage to convert their foreign qualifications into a host-country degree.
The new framework for the recognition of foreign qualifications in Germany is a good and important example. The offer of language training also needs to be enhanced and it needs to be better connected to labour market needs as in Sweden, Belgium and Australia.
The situation is quite different for the low-educated. Contrary to popular perception, their employment rate is on average 1.5 percentage points higher and not lower than those of their native-born peers (54% versus 52.5%).
When we assessed the overall fiscal impact of migration, we found it to be positive in most OECD countries.
But of course substantial integration challenges remain. Of the additional 15 million unemployed in the OECD since 2007, 1 in 5 is an immigrant. Many of them have a low education level. Enhancing the skills of these migrants is a challenge in times of slow growth and severe budget constraints.
But it is one which has to be seen as an investment that will pay-off in the long run, with higher productivity, improved social cohesion and stronger and more inclusive growth. To get the most out of migration, countries need smarter migration policies and better management systems. Despite the prevailing high unemployment in a number of OECD countries, migration still has a role to play in meeting labour market needs.
Managing labour migration has become more complex, and this year’s OECD Outlook reviews the main challenges and assesses policy options.
First of all, it is important to be clear on the goals of labour migration, which constitute a nexus between many related policies; for example, long-term demographic and labour force development, investment and trade policy, innovation and productivity, and development co-operation.
It is also crucial to reconcile short-term and long-term policy objectives, improve policy coherence, and work with potential origin countries to promote relevant language and vocational training. These are only some of our recommendations.
Second, managing labour migration is not merely a question of numbers, of how much to open the door, but also about how to provide access to those who will integrate better in the labour market. The best approach combines the reality of labour market needs with regulatory and safeguard mechanisms.
One promising solution is the recently-introduced “expression of interest” approach, where eligible candidates are picked from a pool so that admissions are managed within a set limit. Canada will introduce such a system in January 2015, and I hope that Minister Alexander will tell us more about Canada’s situation.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The role of migration is growing and cannot be oversimplified or underestimated. We need to promote a more open, informed public debate around migration. Countries cannot get the most out of migration without their citizens on board.
The OECD is here to help countries design better immigration policies but also to support and inform the necessary government-citizens dialogue on immigration which will result in a higher level of support and trust by our societies in their governments.
Let me again thank Minister Alexander and Commissioner Avramopoulos for their participation in this launch and ask them to take the floor (starting with Commissioner Avramopoulos).