Forum 2019 Reflections: Migrants' Integration

Forum 2019 Reflections: Migrants' Integration

This article reflects on the OECD Forum 2019 session Migrants' Integration, capturing the discussions, ideas and solutions debated in Paris. But it doesn't stop there – wherever you are, become a member of the global Forum Network community to comment below and continue the conversation!

We are all familiar with the stories of migrants’ journeys. They may come as refugees, through ways slow, dangerous, perhaps even irregular. They may come as students, to study and gain new skills and professional training. They may come to seek work, they may even have been recruited for their particular skills or experiences. They may come with their families, or alone. 

But migrants’ stories don’t end when they reach their destinations. Arrival is merely the beginning, the start of new lives. How quickly migrants are able to adapt to, and integrate within, their new homes, places a crucial role in many aspects of their social and economic well-being – and in that of their host countries as well.

  • Read the key findings of the OECD's International Migration Outlook 2018

This is both a policy issue and a human one, as Tareq Hadhad, Founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate, and himself a new Canadian, underlined. He noted his family’s integration challenge when they arrived from Syria: “What does integration mean? Do we drop our Syrian background and heritage and just become like ‘normal’ Canadian citizens? Or should we really keep some of that stuff? Because keeping some of our Syrian identity will enrich the whole country – if we are all the same, you know, it would totally be boring in a country”.

Tareq Hadhad, Founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate
Image: OECD

The Hadhads are not alone. One in six people in OECD countries today is either foreign-born or has a foreign-born parent. We cannot achieve inclusive growth unless their skills and potential are fully developed, unless they can activate their aspirations for a better future. The good news is that many countries have made improvements integrating immigrants and their children into the labour market and social life of their country. 

Ana Bailão, Deputy Mayor, Toronto, Canada, described how it is promoting the value of its diverse human capital. Toronto, she explained, is investing in language learning and in fostering new businesses, as diverse, integrated population brings economic opportunities. The city is also promoting integration through “social procurement”, in order to “give opportunities to businesses that that actually are from minority groups and newcomers”. 

Ana Bailão, Deputy Mayor, Toronto, Canada
Image: OECD

Stephanie Cox, a Member of Austria’s Parliament and founder Austria's first job fair for refugees, stressed the importance of access to the workforce for immigrants, noting its valuable role in integration by allowing immigrants to earn money and support themselves and their families, thus motivating them to integrate fully, rather than isolate themselves among other immigrants. 

Stephanie Cox, a Member of Austria’s Parliament and founder Austria's first job fair for refugees
Image: OECD

However, many integration challenges still remain, and a significant amount of the potential that migrants bring with them remains unused, hampering both economic growth and social inclusion. All too often, the country of origin of an individual and his or her parents affect individual life chances, as immigrants lack knowledge about the functioning of the host country’s labour market, education system and society at large. 

In many countries, some vulnerable migrant groups – such as refugees – may take 15 years or more, on average, to reach similar employment rates as the native-born and labour migrants. In addition, in many countries, the poorer outcomes of immigrant parents extend to their native-born children, who often lag behind their peers who have native-born parents. 

In addition, public opinion polls show that concerns remain about levels of migration, how and whether migrants integrate and where migrants go to live in host countries. These views and fears shouldn’t be taken lightly, dismissed as a result of poor media reporting or misunderstanding of data and policy. It is legitimate for people to want to know how many refugees and migrants are arriving and for what purpose, where they will live and work, how able they will be to integrate into society and what is being done to ensure that migration is managed and integration is supported. 

Canada has a programme to help communities sponsor, welcome and support refugees, which, Mr. Hadhad, suggested, can ease fears and concerns: “It has a huge value because people talk to their neighbors and their families. And so on. And this leads to de-mystification of migrants and refugees. I think prejudice goes away a bit by having communities being part of the process, welcoming the family, making sure that they're succeeding and integrating”.

Getting integration right isn’t easy – it requires investment and co-ordination across levels of government and between public and civil society actors. But not succeeding at integration isn’t an option – a lack of integration has costs, and not just economic ones. It also entails political costs and instability and more generally negatively affects social cohesion. Moreover, integration failure in one country can negatively affect integration prospects in other countries as it may influence the overall perception of migrants. Poor integration outcomes of immigrants also constrain the political space to better manage future migration. 

In order to get it right, Ms. Cox suggested, all voices are needed at the table, not only from different levels of government and from civil society, but also migrants and people with migrant backgrounds themselves. She called on people to leave “our filter bubbles and really discuss these topics” and on the OECD to help foster this discussion.

Rewatch the full session! Scroll through the video transcript and click on the text, use the search function and browse the contents by speaker to quickly find what you're interested in.

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Migrants’ Integration OECD Forum 2019

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OECD Forum 2019: World in EMotion

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Go to the profile of Peter Kraneveld
over 3 years ago

While it is very important to analyse the situation and give it a human dimension with a collection of experiences and anecdotes, there is a next step to be taken: action. I will stick my neck out and propose an action that I would consider picking low-hanging fruit.

OECD governments should have a programme to bridge the gap between diplomas in refugee countries and diplomas in their own countries. OECD could play a catalysing role by making an inventory of diplomas with an analysis of their value. With that background, OECD member states could decide what knowledge is missing to qualify for diplomas they demand. They could organise courses for holders of these diplomas to train them in the shortest possible time for passing the exams required for the diplomas in their own country. These courses would create a feedback-cycle that would continually improve the courses themselves.

This action would unlock knowledge and experience now lost. It would assimilate migrants more quickly. It would be a positive note in the integration process, which is after all a question of "how much  of my own culture do I need to give up?" It would relieve frustration, motivate and give participants a realistic goal immediately. It would support other actions, notably language education. It would contribute to reducing fear of the strangers, thereby lowering resistance from established professionals.

Go to the profile of Kieran Jones
over 3 years ago

Hi Peter,

Thank you very much for your comment; the aim of the OECD Forum is not only to encourage debate and conversation but, as you rightly say, use what is said and learnt to develop concrete solutions with real-world impact.

Recognising foreign qualifications gives migrants better job prospects, an important – and arguably essential – part of the integration process. Migration can be challenging and emotive for both those coming into a country and those already there, so you make crucial points here about the need to consider the hopes and fears of each.

The OECD’s International Migration Division has done a lot of work on this: you can read an overview of our recommendations and of policies on this exact topic (Lessons 2 and 5 are perhaps in line with your ideas above); and a more academic background paper that looks at returns in the labour market from recognition of qualifications of those who are foreign-born.

Specifically regarding refugees, the OECD often works with the UN Refugee Agency and this collaboration produced our joint, 10-point Action Plan, Engaging with Employers in the Hiring of Refugees. It provides tangible measures public authorities, employers and their associations, refugees themselves and civil society can take to improve the livelihoods of people in host and refugee communities to contribute to better integration outcomes (Actions 3 focuses on skill recognition).

Finally, there will be a policy forum on the Future of Migration and integration policies on 16 January, 2020, and one of the sessions will deal with this issue. The programme will be available on the International Migration Division’s website soon, so please check back if you’re interested to learn more.

Thanks again for your comment!