Presentation of the joint OECD-EC Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2015: Settling In - A wake-Up call for governments


Remarks by Angel Gurría

Secretary-General, OECD

Brussels, 2 July 2015

(As prepared for delivery)



Distinguished Members of the European Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen,


I am delighted to present to you some of the key findings of our new report: Settling In - Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2015. This publication is 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 contains the largest compilation of information on integration ever undertaken and is the result of a joint effort by the Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission and the OECD.


The integration of immigrants and their children is a major policy concern for many EU and OECD countries. In these challenging times, attitudes about immigration in part depend on the fate of the immigrants and their children already in OECD countries. Our report presents the facts and evidence on the integration of immigrants in Europe and helps to dispel myths and prejudices on this complex political and social issue.


Immigrants represent a sizeable segment of our population: almost one in five persons in OECD and EU countries is either foreign-born or native-born with at least one immigrant parent. The total immigrant population has grown by more than 30% since 2000, and is expected to grow further in virtually all countries. Yet, the outcomes of immigrants lag behind those with native-born parents in all major areas of integration, including the labour market, education, and social inclusion.


Countries share common challenges


Certain challenges are shared by virtually all countries. New arrivals have lower outcomes almost everywhere, as they need time to adapt to their host countries. Even in countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which are generally perceived as successful in integrating immigrants, the labour market outcomes for recent arrivals are well below those of the native-born. We also observe that low-educated immigrants often have relatively high employment rates compared with their native-born peers but are stuck in low-quality jobs. In contrast, tertiary-educated immigrants, particular those who have foreign qualifications, have lower employment rates than their native-born peers in nearly all countries. And those with foreign qualifications who have a job are more likely to be overqualified; in the EU they are twice as likely to be overqualified. These trends are shared by most of the countries studied.



But countries also show great differences


But we also observe great differences across countries. These are associated with the composition of the immigrant intake as regards education levels and category (labour, family, or humanitarian). The challenges are particularly strong for countries which have a high share of humanitarian migrants among their new arrivals, such as the Scandinavian countries. These groups need support, and an enlightened integration policy can make an important difference here.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, we also find that immigrants who have been longer in the country have better outcomes. The progress over time has tended to be especially large in countries where recent arrivals face the largest gaps, such as in Sweden, the Netherlands and France.


The economic situation in the host country also has a stronger impact on immigrants than on the native-born. This is partly because many of the jobs filled by migrants tend to be more cyclical in nature. In this respect, Southern Europe faces particular integration challenges at present. Many recent low-skilled immigrants lost their jobs during the crisis. And the many who are still in employment often have precarious working conditions and are at high risk of in-work poverty, which in turn is associated with poor housing and living conditions.


Integrating the children of immigrants – an urgent call for action


Lack of labour market and social integration has a strongly negative impact - not only on immigrants themselves, but also on their children. Indeed, the most worrying finding of our publication is that immigrant disadvantage is transmitted to native-born children, especially for low-educated immigrants. This is something that we observe in particular in European countries, where  past immigrants often had very low qualification levels.


Education systems can and should play a key role in breaking this intergenerational transmission of disadvantage, but are often poorly equipped to tackle this challenge. At the age of 15, in many European countries like Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, the educational outcomes of the native-born children of immigrants lag behind their peers with native-born parents by more than a year. These are children who spent their entire schooling in the host country.


Persons who immigrated as adults almost always face some difficulties related to the fact that they were raised and educated abroad. But this explanation no longer holds for their children. It falls to the integration and education systems of the host country – and indeed society at large – to ensure equal opportunities. Their failure to do so is not only morally unacceptable, it also presents a barrier to inclusive growth and a risk to social cohesion.


Immigrant children in Europe have only half the chance of being among the top 25% of performers in school compared with their peers who also come from a relatively disadvantaged background but who have native-born parents. And they have a particularly difficult school-to-work transition: one in five youth with immigrant parents are neither in employment, education or training, compared with one in seven with native-born parents. Among the youth who arrived after the age of 15, the figure rises to almost one in three.


As a result of these shortcomings in integration, there is a high sentiment of discrimination among native-born young people with a migration background in many European countries: more than one in five of them feel discriminated against, a figure that is actually higher than among the immigrants themselves! It is also higher for the high-educated than for the low-educated. This is an alarming result, which is a resounding call to action for policymakers and decision makers such as yourselves. 


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Still all too often, the country of origin of an individual and their parents has a large impact on their life chances. In spite of significant progress in many countries, much remains to be done, especially to give immigrants and their children the opportunities to succeed in life. Improving their integration is vital to delivering a more prosperous, inclusive future for all. 


The challenges are not insurmountable. European and other OECD countries have made progress in integration. The majority of immigrants and their children are well integrated in labour markets and societies. But there is still much more that remains to be done. Successful integration means making the best use of the potential of immigrants and their children, to the benefit of both migrants and the host society.


Thank you. I look forward to your questions.