OECD Secretary-General

Launch of the 2016 International Migration Outlook


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

New York, 20 September 2016

(As prepared for delivery)



Excellencies, Dear Ministers, Commissioner, Peter, ladies and gentlemen,


It is an honour and a privilege to be here in New York on the occasion of the Summit for Refugees and Migrants. I will present some of the highlights of our International Migration Outlook, which celebrates its 40th edition.


Today’s discussion is timely. Too many people in too many countries are losing faith in how we manage migration, and the refugee crisis has exacerbated this feeling. Thank you, Minister Morgan, for hosting today’s gathering. I am in great company on this podium, as each of my fellow speakers has been at the forefront of efforts to find lasting solutions to the refugee crisis.


The outlook for migration at a critical juncture


Our International Migration Outlook shows that, overall, permanent migration flows into OECD countries rose again in 2015 to 4.8 million people (that’s a 10% rise on the previous year, but still only around 0.4% of the total population of the OECD).


Within this overall figure, we have seen an unprecedented number of asylum applications in the OECD countries. In 2015, more than one and a half million new asylum seekers came to OECD countries. 1.3 million of them came to Europe. And while the intensity of arrivals in Europe has diminished since the beginning of this year, the number of new asylum applications has grown, in particular because of delays in registering applications.


It is important that we put these numbers in context though: Syria’s neighbours remain the largest refugee-receiving countries, with Turkey alone providing temporary protection to more than 2.7 million Syrians.


And while the rise in asylum seekers might give the impression that migration has spiraled out of control, this is simply not the case: refugees still account for a small portion of the 4.8 million new permanent immigrants that I mentioned a moment ago.


Although I have spoken extensively about humanitarian migration here, the Outlook covers other types of migration too.  For example, free mobility within the European Union has risen strongly in recent years. When we look beyond this free movement though, labour and family migration declined, accounting for 14% and 33% respectively of total inflows in OECD countries.


A number of OECD countries have taken active steps in 2015 to strengthen their migration systems. Canada is one of them, with the implementation of the Express Entry System.


The proposed revision of the EU’s Blue Card Directive is another important example.  Commissioner, this is a courageous and visionary step forward in order to prepare the future of Europe. The OECD is proud to have worked in close co-operation with you on the evidence underpinning this reform.


Many countries are stepping up their integration efforts


Our International Migration Outlook looks beyond the broad trends to examine what OECD countries are actually doing to resettle refugees, and to promote the integration of migrants. Indeed, many countries have stepped up their integration efforts in response to the humanitarian crisis.


Dear Ministers – your countries, Canada and Sweden, can and should inspire others:

  • Sweden has been at the forefront of integration efforts, with its innovative fast-track assessment of refugees’ skills helping to match training and jobs to individuals.
  • Earlier this year, Canada proved its skeptics wrong and succeeded in resettling more than 25 000 Syrian refugees in just four months.

More needs to be done to address the local impact of migration


Our International Migration Outlook has two special chapters this year. The first looks at the local impact of migration.


We need to dig beneath national averages to really understand what migration means for communities. The report shows that large sudden inflows such as with the refugee crisis may exacerbate longstanding structural problems in local infrastructure, such as lack of teachers and of access to social housing. Adapting to higher demand can take time.


Too often, migration is used as a scapegoat for public services that are creaking at the seams. We mustn’t forget that migration generally has positive effects overall. So one of the real challenges we face is to better understand where there are local challenges, and how best to address them.


We need better international co-operation on migration policy


The second special chapter in our report deals with an issue that is at the heart of our discussions in New York: the policy response to environmental and geopolitical shocks, including the current refugee crisis. In particular, we assess the use of alternative pathways other than asylum and resettlement, such as labour, international study and family channels, or humanitarian visas and private sponsorship programmes. And while we think that such alternative pathways have some potential, we find they are not part of the usual response to increased flows.


For example, some 5 million Syrians have been displaced to neighboring and OECD countries over the past five years. Of these 5 million, only 18,000 have obtained permits as labour migrants, 15,000 were granted student visas, and 72,000 have been reunited with family members in OECD countries. Could we make greater use of these pathways in the future?


Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,


We have yet to find the right international policy responses to crisis situations. It is clear that we need a bold, comprehensive, global response to mass displacement. This response involves four main pillars:

  • First, we need to set out a framework for solidarity and shared responsibility. International co-operation can never be taken for granted, but we can encourage it by designing the right rules or incentives. The Global Compact on Responsibility-Sharing for Refugees is certainly a step in the right direction.
  • Second, we need to address the tension between finding durable solutions and relying on short-term measures. We know that over-reliance on temporary protection measures can jeopardise integration. One solution could be to commit to minimum standards for short-term protection, and to facilitate more stable protection wherever it is necessary.
  • Third, we need to get better at resettlement, focusing on the most vulnerable people, while opening up legal channels for migration for those refugees who are more resourceful. Protracted crises call for durable solutions to protection, and we could better use existing legal non-humanitarian pathways in this regard.
  • Finally, short-term policy responses need to be complemented by longer-term action. By this, I mean efforts to promote the local integration of immigrants and their children; to better anticipate future developments and appropriate policy responses; and to start rebuilding public trust with regard to migration issues.


Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, to sum it up: we must unite to tackle the challenges of migration in today’s globalised world. Our International Migration Outlook helps put the facts on the table, and offers some pointers for the way forward. Now we need to move to implementation.