OECD High Level Policy Forum on Migration: Mobilising Migrants’ Skills for Economic Success


Opening remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the OECD High Level Policy Forum on Migration "Mobilising Migrants’ Skills for Economic Success"

1 December 2014, Paris, France
(As prepared for delivery)



Minister Alexander, Commissioner Avramopoulos, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the 2nd OECD High Level Policy Forum on Migration. I am delighted to see so many Ministers and high-level representatives from so many countries, with high expectations regarding the sharing of their experiences on the challenging and particularly complex topic of immigration. A warm welcome to you all.

The topic of our Forum is timely. Today’s discussion can help inform the global debate around migration which has been heating up, notably in the United States. The executive actions announced recently by President Obama show the US government’s commitment to get the most out of migration. 


These actions will allow millions of undocumented immigrants to openly integrate and freely move in the labour market and will make it easier for skilled migrants, graduates and entrepreneurs to deploy their skills, clearly a win-win proposition.


These are exactly the kinds of issues we will be discussing today.

OECD High-Level Policy Forum on Migration 2014. Family photo. OECD, Paris, France. Photo: OECD/Julien Daniel

Changing patterns of international migration

The global migration context is fast evolving. The number of educated migrants is increasing rapidly: inflows of tertiary-educated migrants in the OECD increased by 70% over the past decade.

Women are now more represented among migrants in general and high-skilled migrants in particular. The main countries of origin are also changing. Today, Asians represent about 35% of all high-skilled international migrants.

The economic crisis has had profound consequences on the size and composition of migration flows. Free movement flows, for example, mostly within the EU, decreased by more than 35% between 2007 and 2010. Since then, they have bounced back, although they have shifted from southern Europe to Germany. The political instability in the Middle East and Northern Africa is also affecting the size and composition of migration flows.

In 2013, more than 550 000 persons sought asylum in the OECD, an increase of 20% compared with 2012. The figures for the first six months of 2014 suggest that this year will be marked by a humanitarian crisis whose magnitude and implications will require massive international cooperation and emergency action.

The looming demographic changes, ongoing geopolitical tensions and persisting economic uncertainties that characterise our world today make it very difficult to project future migration flows.

But from a political point of view, they also make it harder to reconcile short-term and long-term considerations. For example, labour migration has sometimes been used as a “quick fix” for urgent labour market needs. In the context of the recent economic crisis, many of our countries tightened or considered tightening the rules and conditions for granting new work permits.

However, long-term demographic trends and global competition for talent call for more pro-active and open policy responses.

Making the most out of migrants’ skills

Getting migration policy right is not primarily about managing migration flows. First and foremost it’s about mobilising the wealth of skills offered by migrants to achieve stronger and more inclusive growth. This is the focus of this High-Level Forum.

When the skills of migrants are left untapped, social cohesion is threatened. And precious resources are wasted at a time when economies simply can’t afford it. Emphasising the much-needed skills migrants bring to the economy is all the more important in light of the often negative public perception of migrants.


A key obstacle in the labour market integration of migrants and their children can be limited proficiency in the host-country language. Limited recognition of their qualifications and experience acquired abroad is often responsible for the limited utilisation of migrants’ skills.

Tomorrow, you will discuss different approaches to developing language competences and requirements, as well as policies aimed at better assessing and recognising migrants’ skills. This will include a session specifically devoted to integrating youth with a migration background. I urge you to be bold and creative in your discussions, so we can work together to mobilise migrants’ skills for inclusive growth.

The discussion should focus on how to support a “brain gain”, but also stemming the tide of a “brain drain”. Countries have to attract, select, integrate and retain talent. But they also have to strengthen the skills of their workforce, including those of migrants. These challenges are at the heart of the OECD’s Skills Strategy. The Strategy was adopted to design and deliver national policies that make the most of human capital by promoting and using available skills to foster economic growth and social inclusion. Migrants are a key part of this strategy.


Building confidence in migration

This afternoon you will discuss how to build public confidence in migration issues. The economic crisis not only adversely affected the labour market outcomes of migrants, but it also led to negative public attitudes towards immigration.

Even in countries which face continuous labour market shortages and adverse demographic conditions, public opinion is often concerned about labour immigration. The crisis has bred prejudice which is in turn threatening social cohesion and integration.

The challenge here is, in the first instance, to overcome preconceptions and to differentiate between past and present. It is important to provide clear and objective evidence on the importance of migration to our economies and societies, for example by showing that the fiscal impact of migration is small and generally positive.


There is also a perception that migrants will take away jobs from native jobseekers. In fact, the majority of migrants to our countries take up jobs that are complementary to those of natives. We need to find myth-busting ways to communicate these hard facts about migration, and work together to create more inclusive societies and economies.  

Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen:

 “Migration is in the DNA of mankind. [It] is how we cope with environmental threats, with political oppression, but also with our desire to create a meaningful future for ourselves and our children.” These words by François Crépeau, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, should remind us that we are the result and expression of migration. We should make the most of it.

The OECD is committed to ensuring that the 115 million immigrants living in OECD countries can develop the skills to work productively, safely and happily in the jobs of tomorrow. This will help build more inclusive societies and more resilient economies.

The key questions are: What can we do to mobilise and further enhance the skills of migrants? How can we ensure that migrants are seen as an asset rather than a problem? How can we demonstrate to policymakers and citizens that integration policies are an investment not a cost? 

I am confident that with the evidence from the International Migration Outlook at our fingertips, and your political will to find solutions, we can discuss, design and deliver better migration policies for better lives.

I would like now to invite to Mr. Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration of Canada and who will be the Chair of this Forum, to give his welcoming and introductory remarks. Minister, the floor is yours.



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