Helping immigrants integrate better into society must become a priority, says OECD Secretary-General


20/02/2008 - OECD governments need to do more to help immigrants integrate and make better use of their skills, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. (see the full speech).

"The better targeted immigration policies are, the more successful integration will be. This in turn will help reduce the risk of political backlash against immigrants," he said. "Much greater emphasis needs to be put on helping recent immigrants learn the host-country language and become familiar with workplace practices."

A new OECD publication, A Profile of Immigrant Populations in the 21st Century, gives more accurate information and a better understanding of patterns of immigration over recent decades, based largely on national censuses from 2000. Migration is a key issue for OECD and this study is part of a broader programme to examine the policy challenges of migration in the context of population ageing and globalisation.

Mr Gurría said that the report's findings show that integration policies need to be better designed and implemented. "Addressing the problem of overqualification is all the more urgent as a growing number of countries want to attract more high-skilled immigrants on the grounds that they will help boost economic growth and have fewer difficulties integrating into society," he said.

"To be prepared for the future," he said, "governments need to act now to put proper policies in place to help satisfy labour needs partly through migration and enable the integration of migrants. Every OECD country should make this a priority. It is socially, politically, ethically and morally correct, but it is also an act of sheer economic rationality."

In practically all OECD countries, immigrants are more likely to be overqualified for their job than a person born in that country. In Denmark, Greece, Italy, Spain and Sweden, for example, the share of people doing a job for which they are overqualified is twice as high as for native-born workers.

Immigrants to OECD countries are also better educated on average than native-born people, with nearly one in four having completed tertiary education compared to one in five native-born.

The way a country's labour market works also affects how effectively migrants integrate. In Italy, immigrants find jobs more easily but are frequently overqualified. In Belgium, immigrants find jobs that match their skills but the immigrant unemployment rate is high.

Efforts by OECD countries to attract highly skilled workers affect the supply of skilled people in the countries these workers leave which are often among the poorest in the world. The brain drain, for example, hits mainly small African and Caribbean countries, with some smaller countries such as Fiji, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Mauritius, having more than 40% of their highly-skilled population living abroad.

These countries also have many of their doctors and nurses leaving to work abroad, as do African countries including Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. Over 50% of doctors from those countries work abroad. There is also a gender dimension to the brain drain: women from developing countries with tertiary degrees are also more likely to emigrate to OECD countries than highly-skilled men: 17.6% versus 13.1%.
For further information, journalists should contact Jean-Christophe Dumont (tel. + 331 45 2492 43) and Georges Lemaitre (+ 33 1 45 24 91 63) of the OECD's Non-Member Economies and International Migration Division.

A Profile of Immigrant Populations in the 21st Century is available to journalists from the OECD's Media Division (tel. + 33 1 45 24 97 00) or through the password-protected website.


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