Remarks by Angel Gurría
OECD, Paris France - Monday, 19 October 2020
Commissioner Johansson, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to present the 2020 OECD International Migration Outlook, in its 44th edition, alongside Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs. Your presence, Commissioner, is proof of our strong co-operation with the European Commission on migration issues.
We are in the midst of an unprecedented global public health, economic and social crisis with enormous human costs and severe disruptions to our daily lives and economic activities. There are now over 1 million deaths recorded globally due to COVID-19 . Our latest projections show a global GDP fall of 4.5% this year, while in many countries output is expected to be below pre-crisis levels at the end of 2021.
Employment levels at OECD countries are not expected to return to their pre-crisis levels by the end of 2021. Moreover, a number of countries are already experiencing another spike in infections.
International migration and COVID-19
In many respects, migrants are highly vulnerable to this pandemic, with unprecedented consequences on migration flows and integration.
Before the pandemic, in 2019, permanent migration flows to the OECD amounted to 5.3 million, similar to figures for 2017 and 2018, and permanent and temporary labour migration were on the rise.
The COVID-19 pandemic has redrawn the international migration map.
The closure of national borders and entry bans were amongst the first measures put in place. Almost all OECD countries restricted admission to foreigners, with exceptions for certain groups, often subject to a mandatory quarantine period. As a result, in the first semester of 2020, issuances of new visas and permits in OECD countries plummeted by 46% compared with the same period in 2019.
There are strong signs that mobility will not return to previous levels for some time. This is attributed to weaker labour demand, ongoing travel restrictions as well as alternatives to mobility – such as the widespread use of teleworking among high-skilled workers and remote learning by students. However, migration will continue to play an important role for growth and innovation, as well as in responding to rapidly changing labour markets.
The IMO 2020: main findings
The 2020 edition of the International Migration Outlook focuses on many of these issues and highlights the challenges being faced by migrants during the pandemic. Let me outline three key findings.
First, migrant workers have been on the frontline of the crisis. They account for a large share of the OECD medical workforce: on average, one in four medical doctors in the OECD, and one in six nurses. Their contribution is also important in other key sectors such as: transport and warehousing, security and the cleaning industry, manufacturing of food products, and IT services.
Second, migrants are facing a hard time in the labour market. Much of the progress achieved in terms of their labour market inclusion over the past decade has been wiped out by the pandemic. In most OECD countries the unemployment rate has increased much more for immigrants than for the native-born. The largest increases in unemployment rates were observed in Canada, Norway, Spain, the United States and Sweden, where almost 60% of the initial surge in unemployment fell in immigrants.
And third, migrants are highly exposed to the health impacts of the pandemic. Working on the frontline during the pandemic – but also vulnerabilities linked to housing conditions and incidence of poverty – have exposed migrants and their families to COVID-19. For example, in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, immigrants were twice as likely as the native-born to be tested positive for COVID-19.
The importance of integration policies
Since February, most OECD countries actively channelled information to migrants about the health system and their COVID-19-related rights and obligations. Some have used new technologies to continue to deliver support for integration, notably language courses or citizenship ceremonies.
Yet, many migrants have specific vulnerabilities linked to language skills, digital literacy, socio-economic status, trauma and underlying mental health wellness, and social capital. The pandemic may exacerbate these vulnerabilities and have long lasting negative effects on integration.
We need to ensure that foreign legal residents have access to support measures for displaced workers and it remains essential to convey to the public that integration is a long-term investment that needs to be nurtured and improved. We need to avoid rolling back on integration and reaffirm that migration is an integral part of our lives.
Commissioner, I was particularly pleased to see the inclusion of an ambitious and comprehensive component on integration and legal migration in the recently published European migration pact.
This is key to address the challenges highlighted in the International Migration Outlook, in our policy brief on Managing international migration under COVID-19 as well as in our recent work with the European Migration Network on the impact of Covid on migration management, international students and workers in essential sectors.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Getting migration and integration policies right will be essential if we are to achieve a strong and truly inclusive recovery. You can count on the OECD’s support as we work together to design, develop and deliver better migration policies for better lives.