Countries should focus on labour market policies to help refugees and improve coordinated actions to tackle illegal immigration

Refugee Crisis Sea 2018

Syrian and Afghan refugees paddle towards the Greek island of Lesvos. UNHCR/Ivor Prickett

This article is brought to you in association with OECD.

Migration flows to OECD countries have dropped slightly for the first time since 2011, with around 5 million new permanent migrants in 2017, down from 5.3 million in 2016. This trend is mainly due to a significant decrease in humanitarian migration as a result of the decline in new asylum applications, with 1.2 million applications in 2017 compared to 1.6 million in 2016, according to a new OECD report.

The 2018 International Migration Outlook says only about half of asylum applications are now registered in Europe, while a very large increase has been recorded in the United States (+ 26%), Australia (+ 29%) and Canada (+ 112%). OECD member countries currently host around 6.4 million refugees, more than half of whom are in Turkey. The top three countries from which asylum seekers have come are Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

“Countries have made good progress in terms of integration and strengthening initiatives linked to improving language skills and recognising qualifications,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in Paris on the occasion of World Refugee Day. He also underlined “the need for increased cooperation with employers on integration”, as highlighted in the recent OECD-UNHCR joint action plan to expand job opportunities for refugees. The Secretary-General also called for “more and better coordination among recipient countries to deal with migration flows, especially in the European Union.” Read the full speech.

Public opinion in many countries remains concerned about the impact on the labour market of the influx of new migrants and the effects of irregular migration. The report analyses, for the first time, the impact of the recent arrival of these refugees on the job markets of host countries. For European countries, the labour market impact of this refugee inflow will be small and concentrated on the working-age population, which would increase by no more than 0.4% by December 2020. Taking into account the low participation rates of refugees, the impact on the labour market as a whole would be more limited, at around 0.24%.


In some countries and sectors, however, notably among young, low-educated men in Austria and Germany, the impact is expected to be higher, of up to 15%. Putting in place effective labour market integration measures for the most vulnerable refugees should be accompanied by strengthening policies to support these groups, particularly in terms of training and skills development, according to the report.


In addition to the challenge of labour market integration, the report also notes the importance of tackling irregular immigration, including the illegal employment of foreign workers. The 2018 edition examines the measures put in place by OECD countries to prevent, control and sanction the employment of foreigners in an irregular situation.


The lack of data and profiles of people staying and working illegally in OECD countries may lead to people underestimating the extent of the issue and its impact on public opinion, according to the report. Policies to combat illegal work by foreigners should extend beyond verification checks and forced returns to include strengthening labour inspections, creating legal pathways for labour migration according to labour market needs and a more effective fight against informal employment in general.


Also for the first time, the International Migration Outlook presents consolidated data on all categories of temporary labour migration, including seasonal work. In total, OECD countries are home to more than 4.2 million temporary foreign workers (up 11% from 2016), the largest figure ever measured, reflecting the continuing demand for labour at all levels of qualification in many OECD countries.


The 2018 edition highlights that the employment rate of migrants in OECD countries is up 1 percentage point in relation to 2016, to 67.1%. The improvement between 2016 and 2017 was more marked for foreign-born women, whose average participation and employment rates rose faster than those of immigrant men.



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