Ref. :  000026718
Date :  2007-06-25
Language :  English
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International migration to OECD countries continues to grow in response to labour needs

Author :  OCDE / OECD

Migration to OECD countries continues to rise, according to the latest edition of the OECD’s annual report on migration movements and policies, "International Migration Outlook 2007". About four million new immigrants entered OECD countries on a permanent basis in 2005, an increase of 10% from 2004.

Commenting on the figures, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría noted that international migration is one of the major issues in the global agenda.

“As with many other aspects of this agenda, the international mobility of people needs to be well managed, and sound policies designed and implemented,” he told a news briefing. “Migration is part of the solution for labour shortages and population ageing in OECD countries, but to take full advantage of it, effective integration policies are needed, in particular in the realms of education and the labour market.”

The following is the full text of Mr. Gurría’s prepared remarks:

One of the major issues in the global agenda is international migration. As with many other aspects of this agenda, the international mobility of people needs to be well managed, and sound policies designed and implemented. Migration is part of the solution for labour shortages and population ageing in OECD countries, but to take full advantage of it, effective integration policies are needed, in particular in the realms of education and the labour market.

These policies require a clear understanding of the factors at stake, the trends and possible impacts in receiving and sending economies. It also requires good knowledge of the linkages with other subjects in the policy agenda. This is the aim of the “International Migration Outlook” that we are presenting today.

Permanent and temporary migration to OECD countries is on the rise

Immigration increased by 10% from 2004 to 2005, the latest year for which comparative data are available. That is, about 4 million new immigrants entered OECD countries on a permanent basis. Flows were highest in the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom and Canada, but increased the most over 2004 in Ireland, Korea and New Zealand. There is also significant temporary labour migration (1,8 million for the OECD as a whole), in particular in Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, countries where for the most part, permanent immigration is also high. We need to bear in mind that this relates to documented migration, but there are also significant flows of illegal migration that, given its very nature, are difficult to trace accurately.

While migration for family reunification continues to dominate the inflows, labour migration is expanding

Family reunification is the most important source of inflows of permanent-type immigrants. But labour immigration is expanding, continuing a trend of recent years, while humanitarian migration has declined. Overall, labour migration accounts for about 30 percent of permanent migration. In many European countries, much of this consists of free movement of workers within the European Union.

Inflows of international students are increasing almost everywhere, at an average rate of about 9 percent per year since 2000. There are almost 2.3 million foreign students in OECD countries, mostly in the US, which account for one quarter of the total, followed by the UK, Germany and France. Not only are OECD countries competing more actively in the higher education market, they are also looking to recruit students as skilled workers after they complete their studies.

With regard to source countries, immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe (notably in the context of EU enlargement) and from China, India and sub-Saharan Africa have been increasing in recent years.

There is a large underutilisation of skills and qualifications of immigrants

Our analysis shows that there is a large mismatch between the jobs which immigrants hold in OECD countries and their qualifications, and they are more likely than their native-born counterparts to hold jobs for which they appear to be over qualified. Foreign-born women seem to be at an even greater disadvantage. They also face higher unemployment rates than native-born workers.
Most OECD countries are trying to attract and retain highly skilled immigrants, a strategy which makes sense only if their human capital is used effectively in the host-country labour market.

Possible “brain drain” of doctors and nurses from developing countries is a cause of concern

On this issue, there have been many anecdotes but few hard facts. We are trying to fill this gap, drawing on data from a pioneering joint project by the OECD and the WHO. On average, for the year 2000, 11% of nurses and 18% of doctors employed in the OECD area were foreign-born. This is approximately the same percentage as that of all highly-skilled migrants in the work force.

African and Caribbean countries, many of whom have expatriation rates of over 50 percent, stand out as being disproportionably affected by out-migration of health professionals. This outflow adds to the workforce challenge these countries face. In fact, their estimated labour shortage in the health sector is almost 8 times higher than the number of foreign-born health workers in the OECD region coming from those countries.

Origin and receiving countries need to work together to find the appropriate balance between the right of health professionals to move between countries and the allocation of their skills to where they are most needed.

Migration policies need to put more emphasis on the integration of immigrants and their children

For immigrants to assume their role in the growth of the labour force in many OECD countries, the general public must understand that they are part of the solution to labour market shortages and ageing populations. But to achieve this, immigrants and their families have to be well integrated into the host-country economy and society.

Better integration of immigrants, however, poses a major challenge to many OECD countries. It is a sad fact that several immigrant groups, notably women and young immigrants, face continuing difficulties in integrating into the labour market. This is also the case for the children of immigrants. For the age group 20-29, second-generation migrants, the rate of unemployment is in some countries up to twice as high as that of the children of natives.

Some examples of effective integration policies include wage subsidies, which proved to be relatively more effective for immigrants than for the native-born (for example in Denmark)., employer-based training (in Sweden and Denmark) and the promotion of apprenticeship (for example in Germany for the second generation). Just recently, we have released the OECD study on Jobs for Immigrants: Australia, Denmark, Germany and Sweden trying to contribute to a better understanding of policies that work in some of our countries.


Migration is high on the agenda of OECD member countries. In the context of today’s globalised world, we need to get the policies right to increase its benefits and reduce its cost. In order to achieve this, we also need to strengthen our understanding of the issues at stake and help reinforce international cooperation. That is what the OECD is aiming to do to fulfil our mandate of becoming the hub for a dialogue on global policy issues.

- Report

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