One thing the crisis has shown is that much migration is driven by the hope of a job. If there are no jobs on offer, and hence no guarantee of a better life, people choose to stay at home. Thus, the latest OECD numbers on migration into OECD countries (2010) fell for the third year, although there are signs that it began to increase in 2011.
Young immigrants in the workforce have been particularly affected by the crisis, especially in Europe. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of youth not in employment, education or training, so-called NEETs, rose sharply among migrants, the latest OECD figures show. When young immigrants did find jobs, they were more likely to find themselves in part-time and temporary employment than their native-born counterparts.
Nonetheless, as OECD countries face the challenge of ageing populations, migration’s positive contribution to maintaining the labour force in many countries is expected to become more important in coming years. By 2015, immigration at the current level will not be sufficient to maintain the working age population in many OECD countries, especially in the EU.
Countries need to ensure their younger generation achieves its full potential, but generally the children of immigrants perform less well in school and are less likely to find a job than their classmates. Too often immigrants’ children perform poorly in school, are less likely to go on to university and are more likely to drop out before completing their education. And the numbers are significant – more than 10% of 15 year-old students across the OECD are foreign born or have foreign-born parents. The OECD’s latest PISA study of school performance for this age group shows that on average first-generation immigrant students are a year behind their classmates in basic reading and mathematics skills.
In a fast-moving knowledge economy, countries can ill afford to let people’s potential go to waste and many countries have made significant efforts to reduce this gap. In Canada, for example, where almost 25% of students have an immigrant background, these students perform as well as students without an immigrant background, and it is the same story for second generation students in Israel, Ireland, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
So what can governments do to ensure immigrant students succeed? One answer is to ensure that everyone has equal access to quality education, regardless of their social and economic status, since many immigrant students come from disadvantaged families and areas. Language can also be a barrier – the older school-age children are when they arrive in a new country, the less well they are likely to perform in school. If they speak a different language at home than that of the host country, it also affects performance. Many countries work to combat this by providing language training for such children.
There is also the issue of immigrant students being concentrated in particular areas, notably in cities, which can mean that some schools have a high proportion of immigrant students. This tends to mean that the weaker students in a population are all grouped together, which does not help improve overall outcomes.
There are some effective low-cost solutions, such as encouraging parents to become more involved in school life, and celebrating the richness of different experiences, for example by encouraging them to talk to the class about their country and traditions, or bringing to school traditional costumes or local dishes. Such measures have proved an effective way to help integrate parents and children in school activities, and at the same reducing the feeling of isolation and discrimination.
“The decline in labour demand has been the driving force behind the fall in migration during the crisis, not restrictions imposed by migration policies”. OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, Launch of the OECD International Migration Outlook 2012 (Read full speech).
“Mobile workers go where the jobs are. This is why I want to underline the potential of labour mobility to help to rebalance supply and demand in different EU countries' labour markets (...)". EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Laszlo Andor, Launch of the OECD International Migration Outlook 2012 (Read full speech).
Further reading on this issue:
OECD International Migration Outlook 2012.
PISA 2009 Results: Learning Outcomes of Students with an Immigrant Background.
OECD work on migration: www.oecd.org/migration.
OECD work on education: www.oecd.org/education.