Living up to history by addressing the humanitarian migration crisis in Europe - Launch of the 2015 edition of the International Migration Outlook


Remarks by Angel Gurría

Secretary-General, OECD

Paris, 22 September 2015

(As prepared for delivery)



Ladies and Gentlemen:


It is a source of great pride to launch the 39th edition of the OECD International Migration Outlook.


I cannot start my remarks today without thinking about those migrants and their families who are at this very moment on boats in fear of drowning, walking the length of the railways, in fear of the extreme violence of their smugglers, and in hope of a rescue, a safe shelter, a better future, risking their lives with one dignifying target in their minds: an opportunity to work hard and seek better lives for their families.


We have all been deeply moved by the tragedies we have witnessed in recent months. I am also encouraged by the leadership of some European leaders and the European Commission to ensure that Europe rises to this daunting challenge by building on its core values of solidarity and humanity.


Launch of the International Migration Outlook.

22 September 2015 - OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria at the launch of the International Migration Outlook. OECD Headquarters, Paris.

Photo: Julien Daniel/OECD

Addressing the current refugee crisis


Before I talk about our International Migration Outlook 2015, I would like to share with you a few reflections on the ongoing humanitarian migration crisis.


OECD’s analysis shows that this crisis is indeed unprecedented. Not only because of the large numbers arriving in Europe, but also because of the differences with refugee flows in the past. Asylum seekers today tend to be more educated than in the past. At the same time, we are recording a greater number of unaccompanied minors, which poses particular problems. Most importantly, asylum seekers are using new and diverse migration routes, which calls for immediate action and support from countries which have limited experience in dealing with such flows.


We are facing serious challenges in adapting and coordinating policy responses at both national and EU levels in the countries already hosting large numbers of migrants, in the countries of chosen destination, and in the countries of entry to and transit within Europe.


Beyond the crucial issues of quotas and re-settlement, which unfortunately remain unsettled at this moment, receiving countries are and will be facing short- to medium-term policy challenges to integrate refugees. Integration programmes need to be scaled-up and adapted to ensure refugees successfully integrate as quickly as possible in their new homes.


Let me put forward three elements that we think are crucial:


  • First, successful integration requires comprehensive, well-tailored measures that consider the refugees’ countries of origin, education background, and family situation. Integration policy instruments must be adaptable and increasingly customised to rising and diverse refugee flows.
  • Second, integration of refugees would involve large costs up-front, but if properly designed and implemented, will yield net benefits. The earlier refugees get labour market access, the better their integration prospects in the long run. All refugees who settle in the country need to build the basic skills, including, crucially, language skills that enable them to function in the host society.
  • Third, refugees’ skills need to be recognised and put into effective use. This involves taking stock of such qualifications and skills and providing supplementary education to bring them up to the standard required in the host country, while combatting discrimination and prejudices.


On all these aspects the OECD has a long expertise and is providing support to its Member countries. We are ready to help European leaders face this challenge so that Europe, as a whole, emerges stronger economically, socially and politically.


Let me now turn to our 2015 International Migration Outlook, which will shed important light for our efforts to improve migration policies.



2015 International Migration Outlook


Preliminary 2014 data suggest that permanent migration flows to the OECD reached 4.3 million permanent entries, a 6% increase compared to 2013. We are almost back to pre–crisis figures. This is a demonstration of the fact that migration has become a structural phenomenon in our economies and societies. It is here to stay.


Our study reveals a number of striking facts. First of all, Germany is not only one of the main destinations for refugees but has also become the second most important immigration country in the OECD. Preliminary estimates suggest that permanent migration to Germany could have increased by as much as 20% in 2014 and is 140% higher than in 2007. In 2014, we estimate that more than 500 000 new permanent immigrants settled in Germany.


Secondly, the main element behind the global increase in migration to the OECD has been free movement mostly in the EU free-circulation area. Free mobility migration increased by 4% in 2013 and is expected to increase further in 2014. Free movement now represents about one in 3 international migrants settling in OECD countries.


Thirdly, we observe that one in ten new immigrants to the OECD is Chinese and 4.4% are from India. But as a result of the growing importance of intra-EU movements, Poland and Romania – much smaller countries – are now appearing in the OECD top 3 countries of origin with about 300 000 new emigrants each in 2013. Mexico is now only fifth on this list as inflows to the United States have been relatively low in the past few years.


On the policy front, a number of OECD countries have substantially revised their migration legislation in the past few years, responding to the evolving patterns of migration and to the changing political environment. Key changes focus on attracting and better selecting skilled workers; attracting immigrant investors and entrepreneurs; controlling family migration and strengthening border controls as well as fighting against illegal employment of foreign workers.



Some positive signs regarding the labour market outcomes of immigrants


Turning to labour market outcomes of migrants and natives, in the vast majority of countries they have been either stable or improving in recent years. However, migrants have been disproportionally affected in some countries that have not yet fully recovered from the crisis.


Overall, the average employment rate of immigrants in the OECD area increased by 1.3 percentage points during 2011-14, compared with 0.5 percentage points for the native population, but the unemployment rate did not change much, remaining on average 3.3 percentage points higher for foreign-born than for native-born persons. Men, low-skilled persons and those from Latin America and the Caribbean as well as countries in the Middle East and North Africa have been hurt more than other migrant groups in Europe.


In July we released a new report, Settling In - Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2015 that provides the first broad international comparison across all EU and OECD countries of the economic and social outcomes of immigrants and their children in host countries. It shows that in spite of significant progress in many countries, much remains to be done, especially to give children of immigrants the opportunities to succeed in life. Improving their integration is vital to delivering a more prosperous, inclusive future for all.



The growing importance of health worker migration


The special chapter of this year’s Outlook focuses on the international mobility of doctors and nurses. It offers a testimony of the tremendous contribution migrants make to our economies and social fabrics.


According to the latest available statistics, 22% of practicing doctors in the OECD and almost 14.5% of nurses are foreign born. In total, the number of migrant doctors and nurses working in OECD countries increased by 60% in the first decade of this century.


This trend is observed despite the fact that many OECD countries have stepped up their education and training efforts in response to expected shortages due to population ageing and the ageing of the medical and nursing workforce. These efforts should be acknowledged, but may take a long time before they have a significant impact on international recruitment.


Many migrant doctors and nurses come from other OECD countries (28% of the total), but doctors and nurses are also coming in large numbers from developing countries and emerging economies.


In the decade preceding the adoption of the Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel (WHO, 2010) the number of migrant doctors and nurses originating from countries with severe shortages grew by more than 80%. Here again it is still too early to identify the decisive impact of the WHO Code but it is clear that more efforts will be needed, collectively, to cope with the global health workforce shortage that the world is currently facing.


Ladies and Gentlemen:


The benefits of international migration can be much greater than its risks. We can turn the current refugee crisis and global migration flows into positive outcomes. But we need a bold and well-coordinated strategy. And we need to build this strategy on solid analysis and reliable data so that we make the best informed decisions, so that we design effective migration policies. And let’s not forget that the best policy to deal with a refugee crisis is to prevent it. This is why development and state strengthening policies are essential. This is why the best way to solve the next refugee crisis is to make development and stabilization happen in their country of origin.


We can turn the ongoing humanitarian migration crisis into a net positive economic, fiscal and social outcome, and work with emerging and developing economies to ensure a better future for all.


Thank you for your attention.