Tailor immigration policies to future needs, says OECD


10/09/2008 - OECD countries should adapt their labour migration policies more closely to likely future demand for workers in all areas of their economies, opening up to lower-skilled workers as well as to those with high skills, according to a new OECD report.

OECD’s International Migration Outlook 2008 says that while OECD countries continue to compete to attract high-skilled immigrants, many are wary of accepting less-skilled immigrants, despite strong demand for such workers.

Most OECD countries currently manage low-skilled migration through temporary programmes: about 2.5 million people entered OECD countries in 2006, roughly three times the number of workers who entered on a permanent basis. Some of these temporary migrants were people who were transferred within a company, working holiday-makers and free-circulation migrants. The majority of the temporary labour entries concern low-skilled occupations.

But according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, “constructing a country’s migration policy on the assumption that labour immigrants will only stay for a short time is not the way to go. It is neither efficient nor workable.”

“Mastering migration,” he said, “will bring us a big step closer towards making globalisation work for everyone. Tailoring immigration to future needs is vital. But it is also vital to treat it as an economic and social phenomenon which, if well managed, can provide solutions to some of our present challenges rather than to react intuitively or emotionally, or to use it for short-term political gain.”

Some temporary programmes, notably those that involve seasonal jobs during harvest periods or peak tourist seasons, work well. But long-term, permanent demand for low-skilled labour in other sectors, such as home care, food processing and construction, is expected to continue, especially as countries face drops in both their working-age populations and in the number of people prepared to work in low-status, low-paid sectors.

“Cycling repeated waves of temporary migrants in and out of the country to occupy the same jobs is inefficient,” said Mr Gurría. “Employers have to retrain workers every time rather than retain experienced staff. Enforcing such a scheme on employers entails substantial economic and political cost. More likely, economic rationality would win out over artificial or badly-designed regulations, with the risk that employers cheat the system.” (Read the full statement)

The report also analyses the policies to encourage migrants to return and finds they have limited impact. Between 20% and 50% of migrants leave the host country within five years of arriving, with most deciding to go home spontaneously, driven by individual and family objectives, as well as job opportunities back home.

International Migration Outlook 2008 provides a comparative overview of recent trends in migration movements and policies. Among its findings are that migration into OECD countries continued to rise in 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available, while asylum requests fell for the fourth consecutive year.

Around 4 million people emigrated to OECD countries in 2006 on a permanent-type basis, an increase of 5% on 2005. Family reunification and employment were the prime motives for permanent migrants coming to OECD countries, accounting for 44 percent and 14 percent of all arrivals respectively, with one fourth of all movements occurring within free movement zones. Asylum seeking is becoming a less and less important source of permanent entries as inflows fell to 282 000 in 2006, the lowest level since 1987.

The United States receives about one third of all permanent flows with about 1.3 million migrants in 2006, while the United Kingdom ranks second (about 340 thousand permanent migrants), followed by Spain, Canada and Germany. As a percentage of their total population, Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland are the OECD countries which received the most important migration flows (more than 1% of their population in 2006).

Just over one in ten of the population of OECD countries was foreign-born in 2006, an 18% increase relative to 2000. Certain countries have seen very high rates of increase in the immigrant share of the population since 2000, in particular Ireland which has seen a rise of 66%, Finland of 40% and Austria of 34%, while countries with existing large immigrant populations, such as Australia, Canada, Luxembourg and Switzerland, have seen their share of immigrants grow more slowly, by about 10%.

The integration of immigrants into the labour market remains an issue of major concern in most OECD countries. For the first time, the report presents a “scoreboard” of immigrant employment summarising recent developments and trends over the last five years, by gender and in comparison to the native-born population. It also includes an analysis of wage differentials between immigrants and the native-born.

With regard to migration policies, there is a general tendency in OECD countries towards a selective policy: attempting to close off entry to irregular immigrants while increasing flows of highly skilled labour immigrants. OECD governments are also spelling out more clearly what they see as the rights and the responsibilities of immigrants, especially when it comes to the role immigrants should play in managing their own integration.

For further information, journalists are invited to contact Jean-Pierre Garson (tel. 33 1 45 24 91 74), Jean-Christophe Dumont (tel. 33 1 45 24 92 43) or Georges Lemaitre (tel. 33 1 45 24 91 63) in the OECD’s Non Member Economies and International Migration Division.

Further information on International Migration Outlook 2008 can be found at

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