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Migration slumps in recession

25 October 2010
by Brian Keeley

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A new international study offers further evidence of the recession’s impact on migration – some countries appear to be seeing very sharp falls in the numbers of new arrivals while the job prospects of existing migrants continue to take a hit.

 The report, from the BBC and the Washington D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute, suggests there have been big falls in the numbers of EU citizens travelling to work in other EU countries. They’re down by about two-thirds in Spain and by about 60% in Ireland, it estimates.

Indeed, says the report, some EU countries may be seeing a reversal in migration, with more people now leaving than arriving. “Anecdotal reports of young Irish men leaving for other English-speaking countries such as Australia are becoming increasingly common, evoking the possibility of a return to Ireland’s historical roots as an exporter of people,” it states. “The same is true (though to a lesser extent) of Greece, another former country of emigration that had been transformed into a country of significant immigration in the 1990s and 2000s.”  But as the report stresses, these apparent trends are still anecdotal; it will take some time before they’re verified by national and international statistics, such as the data compiled by the OECD.

 Some countries also appear to be seeing big falls in non-authorised – or “illegal” – migration. In the United States, the Pew Hispanic Centre estimates that there were two-thirds fewer non-authorised immigrants each year between 2007-2009 than in the first half of the decade.

 The BBC/MPI study also looks at the impact of the recession on migrant employment, and reports that young immigrants have been hit particularly hard. In Spain, it says, 41% of young immigrants are out of work and in Sweden 37%. As an OECD report  noted earlier this year, the recession is going to make it even harder for migrants to get a firm foothold in the workforce: “The integration period for immigrants is often long and the current downturn contributes to turning back the clock.”

 Has the recession sparked a change in governments’ attitudes to migration? There’s evidence it has. According to research by the Dallas Federal Reserve, “advanced economies from Australia and Western Europe to developing countries such as Thailand and Kazakhstan adopted policies ranging from keeping new migrants out to encouraging resident migrants to leave”. Changes have included tighter numerical limits on immigrants, providing migrants with fewer opportunities to renew work permits and round-ups of unauthorized immigrants.

One surprising finding: The recession has had only a moderate impact on remittances – the money migrants send home to their families. The World Bank estimates that officially recorded remittances worldwide fell 6% in 2009 compared with the previous year to $316 billion. But it expects them to rebound by about the same percentage in 2010 and to rise by just over 7% next year.

Useful links

OECD work on migration and on employment

 OECD Insights: International Migration

 OECD Insights: From Crisis to Recovery

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