Launch of the 2017 International Migration Outlook


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Paris, Thursday 29 June 2017

(As prepared for delivery) 


Dear Commissioner Avramopoulos, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The migration crisis is far from over, while the peak of the humanitarian refugee crisis is hopefully behind us, flows to some European countries are still increasing. Close to 70,000 people have arrived to Italy from Libya this year, compared to 56,000 in the same period of last year. Conflicts in Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria keep pushing people to crowded and unsafe boats on the Mediterranean.

In this very challenging context, it is more than timely to present the 2017 OECD International Migration Outlook, in its 41st edition. And I am very pleased to present this study with Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. It has become a tradition to launch this report together and your continued presence is proof of our strong co-operation, which is more vital than ever.

Recent developments in international migration

While dramatic, it is also important that we put refugee flows into perspective. Refugees account for one in six new migrants. Both those who benefit from free mobility within Europe and those who migrated for family reasons are much more numerous.

The Outlook shows that permanent migration flows to OECD countries are on the rise, with 4.7 million entries in 2015, up by 7% since 2014. Preliminary data for 2016 suggests flows will total around 5 million entries, the highest on record for decades.

Humanitarian migration was the main driver behind this rise. Overall, OECD countries granted refugee status to more than 1.5 million people in 2015 and 2016, at least two-thirds of them in Europe. Germany registered 720,000 formal asylum applications in 2016 and, of all OECD countries, received the most applications in proportion to its population (0.9%). In the meantime, Turkey hosts close to 3 million Syrians under temporary protection.

One of the greatest challenges of the refugee crisis is the humanitarian emergency. The appalling number of missing people and deaths at sea in the Meditteranean, reaching almost 2,000 already this year, is a loud call for further action and co-operation.

But there are other important dimensions of the migration challenge. Education, for example, is also a driver of migration. In the OECD area, the number of first residence permits issued to students rose by 11% in 2015, with 1.5 million students receiving study permits.

Temporary migration has also increased in the OECD. In 2015, international intra-firm mobility increased by more than 10% and the secondment of workers within the European Union rose by 3%. International recruitment of seasonal workers also increased in many countries. Poland, for example, hosted more than 320,000 seasonal workers in 2015, almost twice the 2014 level and half of the OECD total.

Labour market integration is improving, but not enough

Despite these increased flows, in 2016 the employment rate of the OECD’s migrant population remained relatively stable at 67.4% – up 1 percentage point compared to the previous year. The unemployment rate of the foreign-born, however, remains higher than those of their native-born peers. In European OECD countries it is 4.3 percentage points higher, on average.

And migrants are over-represented in jobs involving routine tasks. In European OECD countries, 47% of foreign-born workers are working in occupations that primarily involve routine tasks, which means they are more at risk of job losses from automation.

To avoid being left behind and to promote integration, migrants need policy support.

Integration does not get the same attention in the media and the refugee flows, but it is crucial to give them a chance in the host country also to address the backslash against migration.

Many countries are stepping up their integration efforts

The good news is that many OECD countries have stepped up their integration efforts.

For example, Germany offers various formats of vocation-specific language courses that include an internship and site visits.

In 2016, Sweden introduced specific supplementary courses for tertiary-educated new arrivals, to speed up their entry into skilled employment.

rance introduced more targeted language training pathways, dividing its programme into three different tracks with different paces of progression and thematic focuses.

Other countries are taking full advantage of digital technologies. Belgium recently developed a digital platform for Dutch language training. Finland designed a smartphone application to guide newly-arrived immigrants to the right services.

Many countries including Canada, the Czech Republic, Austria and Norway have improved co-ordination among different levels of government, service providers and civil society associations.

There has also been a renewed drive to integrate children. Portugal, for instance, has provided schools with an intercultural school kit with educational material for teachers. Poland introduced in 2016 the possibility for municipalities to organise specific reception classes in public schools for recently-arrived children of migrants.

These are just a few of many examples from the Outlook.

A portrait of family migration in OECD countries

Our study includes a thematic chapter on a topic which has sometimes been a blind spot for policy, but which is crucial in addressing our migration-integration challenges: an analysis of family migration.

The family group is actually the largest group of new migrants. Family ties account for almost 40% of inflows. If family-related free movement is considered, family migration comprised about 2 million out of the almost 5 million migrants in 2016. In some countries, such as the United States, more than two out of three new immigrants are admitted on family grounds. Children under 15 accounted for more than one-quarter of all family migrants moving to the OECD in 2015.

Family migration comprises many types of migration: foreigners arriving with accompanying family, or citizens meeting and marrying foreigners. Indeed, in many OECD countries, marriages between a national and a foreigner represent 10% or more of all marriages. Resident foreigners may also meet conditions to bring their own spouse and children. In some OECD countries, parents and adult children, or siblings, may also come.

The Outlook identifies some of the challenges that policy makers face in trying to set rules and conditions for family migration and design the right programmes. The right to family life has to be balanced with the need to ensure that family ties are legitimate and that the family has the means to settle in the new country.

The right family migration policies can help attract migrants that countries need, and spouses can also bring much-needed skills. However, they can also bring integration challenges. In Europe, based on historical evidence, adult family migrants only reach average employment levels similar to those of other migration categories and natives after more than 20 years! So countries have to get the incentives and the policies right to promote integration.

This Outlook provides data and policy research to help countries do that.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All our evidence points to the fact that migration, if well managed, brings benefits to host countries as well as to the migrants themselves. We should look at this mega trend in terms of the opportunities it brings, in terms of skills, diversity and economic potential, rather than as a threat to our economies and communities.

We hope this OECD International Migration Outlook can help communicate this message within the policy community and within the public debate about migration, now just one week from the G20 Hamburg Summit.

Commissioner Avramopoulos, I am delighted to give you the floor to tell us about the European perspective on international migration.

Thank you.



See also

Press release: OECD calls on countries to step up integration efforts for migrants and refugees

OECD work on international migration

Migration Insights



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