Immigrant integration policies have improved but challenges remain

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High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visits urban refugees and self-reliance projects in Kinshasa Democratic Republic of Congo DRC, April 5, 2018. © UNHCR/Georgina Goodwin

This article is brought to you in association with OECD.


Many countries have made important improvements in integrating immigrants and their children into the labour market and day-to-day life of their country. However, many challenges remain and much of the potential that migrants bring with them remains unused, hampering both economic growth and social inclusion, according to a new joint OECD-EU report.

Settling In 2018: Indicators of Immigrant Integration finds that the proportion of highly educated immigrants has grown in virtually all OECD and EU countries, rising by 7 percentage points over the past decade in both areas. At the same time, in all countries, most immigrants express a strong sense of belonging to their host-country, with more than 80% reporting feeling close or very close to this country.

“Countries have made important improvements in their policies to foster the integration of immigrants and their children into education, the labour market and the social life of their country,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in Marrakesh on the eve of the United Nations Intergovernmental Conference to adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. “Nevertheless, much remains to be done to maximise the still untapped potential of migrants to contribute economically and socially to their recipient countries.”

“Making immigrant integration work is absolutely vital for our economies and societies as a whole,” said European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, at the launch. “We need to make sure that all those who have a right to stay and live in our societies, become full and equal participants. Not only on paper but also in reality.”

Despite some improvements, immigrants have often not managed to translate higher overall education levels into better labour market outcomes. Immigrants’ relative poverty is also today more widespread than a decade ago, further widening the gaps with the native-born. Around 14% of all foreign-born people in the EU report facing discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, nationality or race. The report also notes that almost a third of non-EU migrants in Europe state that most inhabitants of their neighbourhoods share their ethnic background.

Educational attainment levels and outcomes of youth with immigrant parents have also increased in most countries over the past decade – both in absolute terms and relative to their peers with native-born parents. This is evident in better educational outcomes and higher resilience at age 15, in lower levels of school dropout rates and higher educational attainment. However, immigrant children continue to lag behind their peers with native-born parents, notably in Europe, while the reverse is the case in only a few non-EU OECD countries such as Canada.

While immigrant men have a 3 percentage points higher employment rate than native-born men across the OECD, immigrant women have a 1 percentage point lower rate than their native-born peers, amounting to a full 6 point gap in Europe. Gaps between immigrant and native-born women are especially wide in Belgium and France, at 14 percentage points, and in the Netherlands, at almost 17 points. When employed, immigrant women are also more often in part-time and low-skilled jobs – notably in Southern Europe (except Portugal), as well as in Chile, Korea and Slovenia, where over 30% of employed immigrant women are in low-skilled jobs.

Following an overall increase in their share over the past decade, women now account for the majority of immigrants living in OECD and EU countries. The report also finds that the widespread inactivity and part-time employment of immigrant women is often involuntary, more often than for their native-born peers.

Settling In 2018: Indicators of Immigrant Integrationpresents a detailed international comparison of the outcomes of immigrants and their children and their evolution over time, for all European Union and OECD countries as well as selected G20 countries. 74 indicators cover key dimensions of integration, including employment, education, housing, health, civic engagement and social inclusion. There is a special focus on young people with immigrant parents and on gender issues.

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