Launch of the International Migration Outlook 2019


Launch of the International Migration Outlook 2019

Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

18 September 2019 - Paris, France

(As prepared for delivery)




Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:


I am delighted to launch the 2019 edition of the International Migration Outlook, the 43rd edition of this flagship OECD publication. This year’s edition includes two special chapters: one analysing the contribution of temporary migration to labour markets in OECD countries; and one assessing the long term integration effects of delays in family reunification.

Before going into the main messages of the Outlook, let me provide some context.

Getting the facts straight on migration

Migration is a hot topic in many OECD countries. In some cases, part of the public feels uneasy about the magnitude and composition of migration, its impact on host economies, and the integration of recent and longstanding migrants in society.

Some of this uneasiness can be attributed to insufficient or confusing information. A majority of the European public, for example, doesn’t feel well-informed about immigration and integration. Unfortunately, this doesn’t keep most people from forming opinions – often strong opinions – based on misinformation and conjecture. The public thinks there are far more migrants than there really are – twice as many, on average, as in reality. And half of all Europeans think there are more undocumented migrants in their countries than those legally present. The real figure is much lower.

We know that other considerations often outweigh statistics in guiding opinions about migration. But it is essential that we start with the facts – and this is why our International Migration Outlook is so important. It provides facts on how many migrants reside in OECD countries, how many enter each year and for what purposes, and how immigrants are integrating. Let me share some key figures.

Main findings from IMO 2019

First, on permanent migration. In 2018, 5.3 million permanent migrants arrived in OECD countries. This is 1% more than in 2017 and corresponds to 0.8% of the total population. At the same time, inflows in 2017 and 2018 were down from the previous years, since the effects of the surge in refugee inflows have diminished. After record-high numbers of asylum applications to OECD countries in 2015 and 2016 – more than 1.6 million – the number fell in both 2017 and again in 2018, to below 1.1 million. The decline was sharp in the EU, where numbers halved. Venezuela was the number three origin country of asylum seekers in 2017 and 2018, explaining much of the shift of asylum requests from Europe to the Americas. Our evidence also shows that policies on the admission of labour migrants have become increasingly selective.

Second, on temporary labour migration. Temporary labour migration shot up in 2017 to about 4.9 million workers, from 4.2 million in the previous year. This is the highest level since the Outlook started reporting these numbers more than a decade ago. Much of this increase was driven by Ukrainian workers going to Poland, which has a facilitated channel to temporarily fill jobs with acute labour shortages. The largest single group of temporary workers, however, are posted workers within the EU. These workers, who numbered 1.6 million in 2017, are deployed for a short period of time by their employer from one EU country to another. Some temporary labour migrants stay for a few weeks, others for several years. The duration of their stay makes a difference in terms of their labour market impact.

Our special chapter analysing the contribution of temporary migration shows that in some OECD countries, the contribution of temporary migrants is significant. In six out of the 20 countries with available data, temporary labour migrants add more than 2% to the resident employed population. In EU/EFTA countries, free-movement temporary migration alone contributes about 1%.

Our assessment of the labour market contribution of temporary migration goes beyond workers and also considers international students, participants in cultural exchange programmes, accompanying families of temporary labour migrants, free-movement migrants and cross-border workers. Their labour market contribution has been widely neglected, even if they are often in employment: for example, many of the 3.5 million international students in OECD countries work. If we really want to understand the impact of migration on host country labour markets in OECD countries, we need to expand our knowledge of temporary migration.

This is one way to start to answer a recurrent question of whether migrants steal natives’ jobs. Analyses have generally found a very limited impact – both positive and negative – of migration on employment rates of natives. Many OECD countries are in a period of low unemployment now: these are indeed the countries where immigrant employment rates are also the highest.

Third, on immigrant integration. The employment rate of immigrants in OECD countries reached 68.3% in 2018. This is one point higher than in 2017, but remains 2.4 points lower than for the native-born. Most of the improvement is concentrated in countries where immigrants were already faring well. Young immigrants and low-educated immigrants in particular continue to struggle in the labour market.

Last but not least, some data on the integration of family migrants, which is the focus of our second special chapter. Family migrants are the single most important category of permanent migrants, comprising 40% of total inflows. This includes natives of OECD countries bringing spouses from abroad, but also immigrants arriving with accompanying family, or sponsoring their reunification. Only 54% of migrants in OECD countries arrived together with their spouse: the rest brought their spouse after delay.

Family reunification procedures have become more restrictive and are often subject to additional conditions. One of the justifications used for these restrictions is that delaying reunification until the initial migrant – the sponsor – has a high income and speaks the language well can help ensure that the family is well integrated.

But the Outlook shows that delays in family reunification may actually have adverse consequences for migrant integration in the long-term. For example, spouses whose arrival is delayed have lower language skills than those who were able to reunify quickly. There are also negative effects on children: in the US, children who arrive later are less likely to master English, while in Europe, they are less likely to finish university. The Outlook also finds a positive effect on migrants’ parental employment when their parents – that is, the grandparent generation – are in the house.

Public concern about integration isn’t only about employment, it’s also about migrants’ willingness to embrace the rules and values of the host society. Increasingly, civic orientation and higher language competence are considered in issuing and renewing residence permits, and integration outcomes rather than years of residence are taken into account as a requirement for naturalisation.

Addressing public concerns is a key task for governments. To this end, the OECD is committed to promoting better and more effective communication on migration. In 2018, we launched the Network of Communication Officers on Migration (NETCOM) through which communications officers and political advisers in ministries, agencies and local authorities share good practices on how they achieve their objectives and overcome communication challenges. The network also allows coordination in the face of future crises.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

In most OECD countries, from Asia to Europe to South America, migration has become an important policy domain, and a matter of considerable public interest.

In this respect, the comparative analysis presented in our International Migration Outlook, is of growing relevance. It provides a basis for discussion with the public as well as guidance in the development of policy measures. You can count on the OECD’s support as we work together to design, develop, and deliver, better migration policies for better lives.

Thank you.



See also: 

Press Release: Humanitarian migration falls while labour and family migration rises


OECD work on Migration 



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