International migration policies and data

Migration and the welfare state in times of crisis


Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the aunch of the 2013 edition of the International Migration Outlook

Brussels, 13 June 2013

Commissioner Malmström, Commissioner Andor, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure for me to launch the 2013 edition of the OECD International Migration Outlook with the two Commissioners responsible for migration issues in the European Union (EU). This is our fourth consecutive launch of the OECD’s annual flagship publication on International Migration in Brussels. Our continued engagement bears witness to the strong and longstanding co-operation between the European Commission and the OECD in this field.

Last year, our Migration Outlook focused on some of the key challenges for migration policies in the context of the crisis. Well, the crisis is not yet behind us. Many OECD countries, particularly in Europe, continue to face persistently high unemployment and the need to address large fiscal imbalances. Both challenges can give rise to policy pressures with respect to migration. That is why this year’s Outlook aims to shed light on the links between these challenges and international migration. Let me share with you some of our key findings.

Immigration is growing again

After three consecutive years of decline, immigration flows are rising, albeit modestly. Annual migration flows in OECD countries grew by about 2% in 2011, to reach almost four million, and predictions available figures for 2012 suggest a similar trend. Immigration Migration within Europe is behind the rise in these numbers, which increased by 15% in 2011. This follows a decline of almost 40% during the crisis. 

Persistently sluggish growth and high and still growing unemployment in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain have driven migrants towards other European countries, such as Germany, where economic conditions are more favorable. This is remarkable. Not so long ago rising immigration flows would make us think of poor migrants from developing countries looking for employment opportunities. Now we are talking about migrants from other OECD countries leaving home in search of a better life.

These trends are complemented by significant policy developments. Much of the focus has been on high-skilled migration. The EU ‘Blue Card’ Directive, for example, has provided an opportunity for many countries to introduce far-reaching changes to their immigration systems. In particular, we have observed a continuous increase in recent years – both in terms of numbers and of policy focus – in the migration of international students. For example, seven OECD countries modified their systems in 2011 and 2012 to attract more international students.

However, reforms are not only concentrated on the highly-skilled. For example, in our recent review on the management of labour migration into Germany, we reported that employers also expectenvisage shortages in many medium-skilled occupations. Better adaptation of the migration system to meet various labour market needs is also central to the ongoing policy discussion on immigration reform in the United States. Such reform will hopefully offer a pathway to regularisation for the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants in Germany the United States and will reinforce the central role of the United States in the global competition for talent.

Migrants are facing significant challenges

Despite some progress on immigration reforms and policies, migrants still face great obstacles. The labor market situation for migrants has worsened over the past five years in many countries. Unemployment amongst immigrants rose by 5 percentage points% between 2008 and 2012, in comparison to a 3 percentage points% increase amongst natives.  And the level of long-term unemployment amongst immigrants is alarming. In Europe, for instance, almost one in every two unemployed migrants has been seeking employment for more than a year, exposing them to serious risk of marginalisation.

This is a more pressing concern in some countries, like Southern Europe, where unemployment rates are as high as 50% for certain groups, than in others. In, Australia, Canada and Germany, for example, immigrants fare relatively well.

Discrimination is a second challenge facing migrants. Our Outlook focuses specifically on this issue. We find that discrimination tends to be much more prevalent than commonly thought. For example, it is not uncommon that applicants with a foreign-sounding name have to fill out twice as many applications as an equally  qualified applicant with a non-foreign name for an interview.

Discrimination hinders labour market integration and limits opportunities to fully contribute to the economic and social progress of the host country. It is not just immigrants themselves that suffer, but the wider economy and society as a whole. And because discrimination is often caused by unfounded stereotypes about immigrants, it is up to governments and individuals to tackle these stereotypesgeneralities by putting the facts on the table and by maintaining a balanced discourse on migration issues.

Migrants have a neutral (and sometimes positive) fiscal impact

And guess what : In most countries, Mmigrants contribute more in taxes and social contributions than they receive in individual benefits. And guess whatin most countries. Once we take into account all public spending, : the fiscal impact of migrants of migration becomes is actually broadly is mostly neutral, and in some cases, even positive. These are the key messages of the chapter in is this year’s outlook that provides a first-time comparative overview of the fiscal impact of immigration on OECD countries.

Looking at Our findings clearly suggest that the fiscal impact of the cumulative waves of immigration over the past fifty years our analysis suggests that it is close to zero on average across the OECD. In particular, Iimmigrants contribute less to the public purse than the native-born because of their lower average incomes, but they do not receive more in terms of benefits. This is in contrast to widespread stereotypes.

While these findings relate to all immigrants, including humanitarian and family migrants, there is one group that contributes consistently and positively to the fiscal balance: young, well qualified, labour migrants. But for harnessing these benefits, it is crucial to promote access to employment for migrantsHowever, these benefits are lost if migrants remain unemployed. Getting immigrants into jobs is therefore the single most important goal in ensuring that they contribute positively to the public purse.

Broadly speaking, we can be confident that immigration is fiscally neutral, and can, at least in part, help countries to tackle ageing-related labour shortages. In those countries facing fiscal challenges, it is therefore imperative to avoid cutting back disproportionally systematically on integration programmes. Instead, efforts should be focused on measures that provide the largest pay off, notably language and professional training, and on the most vulnerable groups, such as young migrants.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

International migration flows are essential for the effective functioning of our economies. Even in times of crisis and fiscal constraint, a holistic approach is required to fully reap its full benefits. I hope that this edition of the OECD’s International Migration Outlook will help countries design, promote and implement better policies for migration.

Let me once again thank Commissioner Malmström and Commissioner Andor for their participation today and their continued willingness to share their views on these and other important issues related to migration.

I am happy to pass the floor to them and look forward to their contribution.  

Thank you.