Migration flows to major OECD countries seem to be stabilizing, data show


22/03/2005 -  Fewer people emigrated to major OECD countries such as Australia, Canada, the United States and leading Western European countries including Germany and the Netherlands in 2003, according to the latest comparative data. Detailed figures for 2004 are not yet available, but migration flows within Europe will have been influenced by the entry into the European Union of 10 new member countries.

Fewer people also sought asylum in OECD countries in 2003 and 2004, reversing the upward trend of the latter half of the 1990s, according to the latest edition of the OECD’s annual Trends in International Migration. Numbers of asylum seekers in the 15 countries that were members of the European Union at the start of 2004 fell by 25% during the year. France received more asylum seekers than any other OECD country, with 61 600 new asylum applications in 2004, compared to 59 284 in 2003.

Many governments in OECD countries are imposing stricter laws on entry and residence of foreigners as a means to improve management of migration flows. A number are speeding up the processing of asylum applications, while at the same time increasing their co-operation with other countries to combat illegal immigration. Some European countries, including Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, have introduced or strengthened laws limiting the ability of family members to join settled immigrants.

In parallel, many OECD countries have introduced measures to facilitate the integration of immigrants and to help them find work. Some target new arrivals directly, such as language courses for immigrants in Denmark and Norway. Others aim to combat discrimination and racism against immigrants: new laws to this effect have been introduced in France, Germany and Sweden. In Spain, where finding decent, affordable housing is one of the biggest problems facing immigrants, the government is helping with guarantees to back rental contracts. 

Despite such initiatives, immigrants, and particularly women and younger people, have more difficulty than nationals to find work. Young foreign men aged between 25 and 29 have a labour market participation rate (in work or looking for work) that is 14 percentage points lower than nationals in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, for example, and more than 12 lower in France. The gaps for women are even greater, reaching 34 percentage points in the Netherlands.

The period 1998-2003 also saw a large increase in the number of foreigners coming to study in OECD countries. This rising trend is largely due to the fact that a number of countries, in particular Australia, Canada and France, have introduced policies to attract more foreign students and to make it easier for them to find work and stay when they finish their studies. Between 2001 and 2003 the inflow of foreign students increased by more than 36% in the United Kingdom, 30% in France and 13% in Australia. Flows have been decreasing in the United States during the same period (-26%).

Ahead of EU enlargement in May 2004, most EU-15 states introduced transition periods on immigration ranging from two to seven years in order to stem inflows of new workers from the 10 new EU countries. Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom did not impose such arrangements, however. Latest available data for the United Kingdom show that between May and December 2004 there were in total 133 000 work permit applicants from new member countries. Of these, nearly 40% were already in the United Kingdom before 1 May 2004.

For the first time, the OECD’s annual Trends in International Migration presents a comparative picture of foreign-born populations within OECD countries. It reveals that many European countries have a percentage of foreign-born people in their population similar to that observed, for example, in the United States.

Countries that have selective immigration policies to attract highly skilled workers, such as Australia, Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom, have the highest proportion of highly educated persons among immigrants (30 to 42%). In most OECD countries, the emigration of highly educated persons to other OECD countries is compensated for by the immigration of highly educated persons from the rest of the world. Countries gaining the most in numerical terms from highly skilled migration are the United States, Canada, Australia, France and Germany.

Journalists may obtain a copy of the report from the OECD's Media Relations Division (tel. 33 1 45 24 97 00). For further information journalists are invited to contact Jean-Pierre Garson (tel. 33 1 45 24 91 74) or Jean-Christophe Dumont (tel. 33 1 45 24 92 43), OECD’s Non Member Economies and International Migration Division.

See tables and graphs

For further information on Trends in international migration


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