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Are migrants settling in?

28 August 2015
by Guest author

Immigrant integrationThomas Liebig, OECD International Migration Division

Always a hot topic, integration of immigrants is high on the policy agenda in many countries and one of the main issues of concern for public opinion. Yet, the discussion is shaped by plenty of misunderstandings and misrepresentations – a regular feature of the migration debate. Against such a backdrop, there’s never been a greater need to get to the facts – to inform public debate and to guide sensible policymaking.

A step forward in helping that to happen comes in a new report from the OECD and the European Union, Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2015: Settling In. The report offers the first broad set of international comparisons of how well migrants and their children are “settling in” across all EU and OECD countries – a key issue, and not just for immigrants. When immigrants integrate successfully, it greatly increases their potential to contribute to the economy and society of their adopted homes. And their integration is a precondition for the acceptance of further immigration by the host country society.

So what do the numbers show? To start with, they underline how hard it is to generalise about how both countries and individuals experience immigration. These experiences range from the likes of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which have traditionally seen migration as part of nation-building, to much more recent migration destinations in Europe, such as Spain and Ireland. But even here there are substantial variations. Immigrants to Spain in recent years have tended to have fairly low levels of education; by contrast, newcomers to Ireland have been pretty well educated.

Nevertheless, despite all these variations, not to mention the differences between immigrants themselves in terms language ability; education; reasons for migrating – be it for employment, family, or humanitarian; and so on; certain broad themes emerge in the report:

There is no “integration champion”: Whereas countries such as Australia and Canada – which have taken in large numbers of skilled labour migrants on top of family and humanitarian migrants – have better outcomes than most European destinations, they too face some challenges, for example with respect to making the most out of migrants’ skills.

More immigrants doesn’t mean less integration: There’s no obvious link between the proportion of immigrants in a population and how well they do across a range of areas, such as in employment, income levels and education. In terms of employment, countries that are home to larger proportions of immigrants even tend to have better outcomes.

Things get better over time: In many areas immigrants tend to do a less well than native-born. In particular, recent arrivals face difficulties virtually everywhere. However, the longer immigrants stay, the narrower the gap with native-born becomes. That underlines the reality that integration is a process, not an overnight transformation, and reflects the success – or otherwise – of immigrants in making friends, learning local ways and acquiring a new language.

Immigrants’ kids still face problems: The acid test of integration is the fate of the so-called “second generation” – that is, the native-born children of immigrants. If integration efforts are working, the children of migrants born in adopted countries should be doing about as well in education and, later, the workforce as the children of natives. But the signs of success for them are mixed. While they’re narrowing the gap in educational performance and with respect to labour market outcomes – particularly for women – they still lag behind in other areas, particularly in Europe when it comes to employment. In Europe also, the proportion of locally born children of immigrants who say they feel discriminated against is worrying high – a feeling that could have grave implications for social cohesion.

Useful links

Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2015: Settling In

OECD International Migration Outlook 2014

OECD work on migration

OECD Insights: International Migration – The Human Face of Globalisation

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