Forum 2019 Reflections: Migrants' Integration

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Jun 20, 2019

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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Related Topics

Migrants’ IntegrationOECD Forum 2019

Find out more about OECD Forum 2019: World in EMotion

OECD Forum 2019: World in EMotion

Banner image: Calvin Hanson on Unsplash

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Kate Lancaster

Communications, OECD

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