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With the number of foreign-born people in OECD countries having grown by more than 20% over the past decade, from 114 million to 141 million, the issue of integration remains high on the policy agenda and continues to be a matter of public debate in many countries. Monitoring outcomes and their changes over time is essential, not only for fact-based discourse on the issue but also for well-targeted policy responses to integration challenges.
Against this backdrop, the OECD produces, jointly with the European Commission, Indicators of Immigrants Integration: Settling In, the world’s largest triennial data collection on the characteristics and outcomes of immigrants and their children. The most recent edition was released on 15 June 2023.
OECD-wide, immigrant households are almost 50% more likely to be in relative poverty than their native-born peers.
At first sight, the findings seem worrisome, with the outcomes of immigrants and their children often lagging well behind those of their native-born peers. For example, OECD-wide, immigrant households are almost 50% more likely to be in relative poverty than their native-born peers. Unemployment rates are higher among immigrants virtually everywhere. More than one-third of all foreign-born in the EU have not gone beyond primary education, almost twice the proportion among the native-born. And those who have good education levels struggle to put them to use. Highly educated immigrants have lower employment rates virtually everywhere in the OECD and when they have managed to get a job, they are much more likely to be employed in a role that is below their education level.
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Nevertheless, there are some encouraging signs, as looking at this data over time shows that the numbers are in fact improving. Labour market outcomes of immigrants have improved in most countries over the past decade, driven by a mix of better labour market conditions in many countries, better integration policies, and higher educational attainment levels – especially of new arrivals. In 2020, 36% of immigrants to the EU who had arrived in the five preceding years had a tertiary-level education, while 47% of those who arrived in the OECD did. This is up from 22% and 32%, respectively, in 2010.
There are also signs of advancement in educational attainment levels over generations, as children of immigrants tend to have higher education levels than their parents and manage to close part of the gap that the parent generation faced vis-à-vis the native-born. What is more, the participation of children of immigrants in pre-school has risen across the OECD, suggesting that further improvements in education outcomes are on the horizon. Language proficiency has also improved, particularly for settled migrants: 70% of immigrants in the EU with more than ten years of residence have at least advanced host-country language proficiency, compared with 40% of recent arrivals.
However, these successes are often not visible and public debate unfortunately tends to focus on shortcomings and outright failures. Despite the facts outlined above, there is a widespread perception that the integration outcomes of immigrants and their children are further deteriorating rather than improving. For example, a large part of the public in Europe thinks that the education outcomes of children of immigrants have declined over the past decade. The same observation can be made regarding employment.
The need to better communicate on migration and integration issues is thus evident, to avoid negative stereotypes becoming self-fulfilling prophecies that lead to immigrants disconnecting from their host-country societies. There are some alarming signs already of this happening already. Feelings of discrimination among immigrants are on the rise, notably for immigrants from Africa, while citizenship take-up among settled immigrants has declined in two out of three countries over the past decade and those who have become naturalised citizens are less likely to participate in host-country elections (73% vs. 80% for native-born citizens, OECD-wide).
OECD-wide, more than 1 in 6 immigrant households live in overcrowded housing conditions, compared with less than 1 in 11 native-born households.
It is vital that countries put a stronger focus on social integration, where there has been less progress, and which is an increasing concern among OECD countries. A key driver is housing, and it is particularly worrisome that immigrants generally have poorer housing conditions than the native-born. OECD-wide, more than 1 in 6 immigrant households live in overcrowded housing conditions, compared with less than 1 in 11 native-born households.
Countries need to continue to invest in integration – as there are encouraging signs that this is paying off. Indeed, those countries that devote a high level of resources to integration, such as Germany and the Nordic countries, have seen greater improvement than those who have done less. Investment in integration is an investment in the future of our societies, not least because continuing disparities in outcomes for growing parts of the population present a waste of resources that countries cannot afford. Ultimately, better outcomes for immigrants and their children are also a precondition for the acceptance of further immigration, at a time when more and more countries are looking to enhance labour migration to tackle growing labour shortages. Even more important, however, is the fact that continuing disparities are a threat to social cohesion.
Read the full report: Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2023
This joint OECD-European Commission publication presents a comprehensive comparison of the integration outcomes of immigrants and their children in OECD, EU and selected other countries. It includes 83 indicators covering three main areas: labour market and skills; living conditions; and civic engagement and social integration.
And also check out OECD work on Migration