Successful migrant integration in the face of unprecedented challenges

International migration is a complex, hotly debated and constantly changing issue across the OECD. Improving the integration outcomes of immigrants, including refugees and their children, is vital for a prosperous and inclusive future for all, emphasise Jean-Christophe Dumont and Thomas Liebig.
Successful migrant integration in the face of unprecedented challenges
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International migration is a complex, hotly debated and constantly changing issue across the OECD. Improving the integration outcomes of immigrants, including refugees and their children, is vital for a more prosperous and inclusive future for all. Better outcomes for immigrants and their children are also a precondition for future labour migration, at a time when more and more countries are looking to such migration to help tackle growing labour shortages and to support economic growth.

In the past decade, OECD countries have faced unprecedented migration challenges. Forced displacement from Venezuela, Syria and Ukraine has led to historic numbers of refugees. In 2022, Europe and the OECD welcomed more than 5 million refugees from Ukraine; in addition, Europe received nearly 900 000 asylum applications, one of the highest levels ever recorded. At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic had a disproportionately negative impact on the integration of migrants in 2020-21, notably in terms of health and jobs.

Nevertheless, there is good news too. For example:

Integration is advancing for some of the most vulnerable groups. In Europe, almost one in two refugee men (including many Syrians) who have arrived in the past five years are already in employment (OECD and EU, forthcoming). The employment rate is even higher for the 7.2 million people who have left Venezuela in search of protection and a better life, half of whom are in OECD countries  (IDB, OECD and UNDP, forthcoming).

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Recently arrived refugee women from Ukraine, who tend to be more highly educated than most refugee women, have integrated swiftly into the labour markets of their host countries (OECD, 2023).

While Covid-19 initially had a disproportionately negative impact on migrants’ health and jobs, this effect was absorbed by Q3 2021.

Investments in migrant integration, in particular for refugees, have increased, and access to integration services has been extended to other migrant groups previously not covered, such as asylum seekers, family migrants and intra-EU migrants. 

These positive outcomes are partly the consequence of reinforced integration policies in some OECD countries, notably in Europe. Investments in migrant integration, in particular for refugees, have increased, and access to integration services has been extended to other migrant groups previously not covered, such as asylum seekers, family migrants and intra-EU migrants. This is part of a broader trend of moving away from access to services solely based on status/migrant category, to a more needs-based approach.

In parallel, horizontal and vertical co-ordination between stakeholders has improved, often strengthening the role of local authorities while making sure that their actions take place in a national framework that ensures similar conditions and minimum services across the country (OECD, 2023). At the same time, integration services are better targeting different migrant populations and their specific needs; for example, gender is now taken more into consideration – not least because of the increasing awareness of the multiple disadvantages faced by migrant women.

Integration support is also increasingly being mainstreamed, with some success. For example, the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on migrant integration has been mitigated by the granting of almost universal access, for native-born and migrant alike, to job retention schemes. The pandemic also gave a strong push for the digitalisation of integration services, notably concerning language training which remains the single largest directly integration-related expenditure by countries. This digitalisation not only allowed service delivery to continue, it is also a means of enhancing cost-effectiveness.

To respond to the growing labour shortages and the historically poor use of highly educated migrants’ skills, most recently those from Ukraine, there has also been renewed attention to improving the assessment and recognition of migrants’ skills and foreign credentials. This is the case, for example, in France, but also in Austria and the United Kingdom as well as in many other countries.

Immigrants are also much more likely than their native-born counterparts to have precarious jobs and are more likely to be overqualified for the work that they do.

That being said, one should not underestimate the challenges ahead. While migrants are now overall more likely to be employed, some migrant groups are still being left behind. This is notably the case for very low-educated migrants who often lack basic skills. It is increasingly evident that their sustainable integration into host country labour markets and society at large requires a significant upfront investment, and countries are adapting their integration offers to this group – including through longer integration programmes.

There is also growing concern about the concentration of disadvantaged migrants in deprived or underserved geographical areas. This can have a negative impact not only on labour market outcomes but also on social integration. Immigrants are also much more likely than their native-born counterparts to have precarious jobs and are more likely to be overqualified for the work that they do. Their children continue to lag behind in school in many OECD countries; this is notably the case in areas that are highly economically disadvantaged. Discrimination is a further key structural challenge to migrant integration and needs more policy attention.

The scale and scope of the migrant integration challenge is large and the list of issues to address is long, but there is hope. And if the recent past has shown us anything, it is that there is a way if there is a will to make the investment.

IDB, OECD, UNDP (Forthcoming), “How Do Migrants Fare in Latin America and the Caribbean? Mapping Socio-Economic Integration”, OECD, Paris.

OECD, EU (Forthcoming), Settling In 2023: Indicators of Immigrant Integration, OECD Publishing, Paris/European Union, Brussels.





To learn more, visit the OECD page on Migration

And also read the OECD 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. The publication also provides detailed data on the characteristics of immigrant populations and households. Three special chapters are dedicated to focusing on the integration outcomes of specific groups: elderly migrants, youth with foreign-born parents, and third-country nationals in the European Union and European OECD countries.

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