EU Council event on the Digital Transformation in Migration, 30 April 2021


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

Paris, 30 April 2021

Minister Cabrita, Director General Vitorino, dear friends,

It is a pleasure to participate in the opening of this conference on Digital Transformation in Migration. Increased digitalisation is a well-established trend that is affecting both our economies and our daily lives. Its impact on migration has also been significant. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified this impact, particularly in migration management.

Digitalisation processes have impacted all areas of public policy, and they have had significant implications for policy making in the migration sphere. As in many other policy fields, digital transformation in migration can spur many positive changes. One major opportunity that I would like to focus upon today is global mobility.

Global mobility is supported when skilled people can find opportunities abroad, and employers can identify persons abroad with skills they can’t find at home. Today’s so-called competition for talent is however leaving some skilled people out of the marketplace.

Digital tools can improve their chance to participate in the global job market. For example, it is now easier for candidates to put profiles to public and private matching platforms that use AI to assess skills and help candidates and vacancies match up, even across languages and different education systems.

The rise in distance learning grants more people access to study opportunities. OECD countries saw 1.5 million young people migrate for studies in the year before the pandemic. As distance learning improves and universities open to students worldwide, we might see a stronger pool of skills develop.

Some workers might not even have to go through the migration procedure to work in another country: work is becoming increasingly detached from place. “Digital nomads” capable of working from anywhere are increasing in numbers, with benefits to workers and employers, but also raising implications for tax and social security, and migration management.

However, we also know that digitalisation can leave some people behind, regardless of migration status, but this is true especially when looking at vulnerable groups. Let me briefly mention some of the challenges that we need to address.

First, as countries improve transparency and integrity of systems, and accelerate and simplify processes, we need to ensure that digital tools used to verify identity and rights are used for inclusion wherever possible.

Second, we also need to devote sufficient attention to using digital technologies to inform migrants of their rights and obligations. During this pandemic, it has become clear how important it is to reach out to different populations about public health issues through all channels, including the global vaccination campaign.

And third, we need to make sure that digital technologies increase the exercise of migrant rights such as access to integration services and naturalisation. Integration occurs best through interaction and contact, and we need to preserve some of these opportunities as some of these services are delivered remotely.

The OECD has been focusing on tackling many of these challenges. Moreover, the excellent collaboration between the OECD and the European Migration Network (EMN) over the past year - which, by the way, has greatly benefited from digital technologies - has led to five joint publications on how the pandemic has affected migration, as well as the “Umbrella Inform” that we are releasing today.

The migration challenges faced during the pandemic were largely similar across our respective Member countries. They have included action to ensure that vital channels of migration could function despite border closures; a need to find solutions for migrants and international students whose situation was upended by the pandemic; and the need to protect and adapt return options.

Working together, the OECD and EMN were able to put together an almost real-time picture of the policy responses showing that countries have responded quickly and positively to these challenges.

Dear friends,

It is clear that digital technologies can pave the way for important progress, including simplified migration processes and increased global mobility. However, digital tools are more than this, they have a social dimension as well. As digitalisation advances, we need to bear in mind that the choices we make in applying these technologies today will have an effect on the lives of migrants, as well as on the relationship between migrants and host societies well into the future.

I look forward to our further collaboration between the OECD and the European Migration Network, in exploring the developing migration policy landscape.

Thank you.


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