Migration and the crisis


Why do people migrate? Mainly for a job and the hope of a better life for themselves and their children. But how do immigrants fare during a time of crisis?

Migration supports economic growth, addresses labour shortages and brings in new skills. One thing the crisis has shown is that when there are no jobs on offer and no guarantee of a better life, people choose to stay home.

The economic downturn has hit immigrants hard, and almost immediately, in most OECD countries. The OECD International Migration Outlook released in June 2012 shows that the impact of the economic crisis on unemployment has been more pronounced for migrants than for the native-born in the majority of OECD countries. The foreign-born unemployment rate increased by four percentage points between 2008 and 2011 compared with 2.5 points for the native-born and has only recently stabilized in some OECD countries. Immigrants tend to work in the most precarious sectors of national economies, and therefore have been hardest-hit by the downturn.

More worryingly, the recent global crisis has increased substantially the risk of marginalization for immigrants, in particular the vulnerable groups of the labour force such as the low-skilled and youth. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of youth not in employment, education or training, so-called NEETs, rose sharply among migrants. Young immigrants have also ended up in part-time and temporary employment more often than native-born youth or adult immigrants in many OECD countries.

These recent trends have highlighted the need for sound policies to protect the most vulnerable. Helping young people to find and keep a job is even more important for low-skilled foreign-born youth who suffer a combination of disadvantages, who are at a higher risk of future unemployment and who are more likely to experience reduced total lifetime earnings. Promoting education and skill development among young migrants is now more pressing than ever and should start as early as possible.

The successful integration of the children of immigrants (both foreign- and native-born children of foreign-born parents) is a key factor not only for their subsequent labour market integration but also in general for their successful integration into OECD societies. The publication Untapped Skills: Realising the Potential of Immigrant Students shows that immigrant children underperform their native peers in school. Based on the results of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which measures the performance of students at the age of 15 across OECD and a number of other countries, this study shows that in the majority of OECD countries the performance gap between immigrant and non-immigrant students persists, even after adjusting for socio-economic differences.

The OECD study shows that not understanding the language of the country of residence upon arrival is a disadvantage, in particular for those who arrived at a late age; but so does the limited exposure to that language outside school. Students who speak mostly a different language at home from that used in school have significantly lower reading scores than those who tend to use the test language at home most of the time. Language-learning policies need to be reinforced, both for very young immigrant children and for those students who arrive later with little knowledge of the host-country language.

Part of the underperformance of immigrant children in PISA is strongly associated to their concentration in disadvantaged schools, even more so than to the concentration of immigrants at school per se or the concentration of students who speak a different language at home than at school. Achieving a more balanced social mix in schools is costly and challenging as it implies not only changes in education policies but also in other areas like housing. But it would pay off. All things being equal, a more balanced social mix in schools would go a long way towards improving outcomes for students—both immigrant and non-immigrant—from disadvantaged backgrounds.

““The decline in labour demand has been the driving force behind the fall in migration during the crisis, not restrictions imposed by migration policies”

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría,
Launch of the OECD International Migration Outlook 2012 (Read the full speech)


“Mobile workers go where the jobs are. This is why I want to underline the potential of labour mobility to help to rebalance supply and demand in different EU countries' labour markets (...)"

EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Laszlo Andor
Launch of the OECD International Migration Outlook 2012 (Read the full speech)


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