International Migrants Day, Wednesday 18 December


At the occasion of the International Migrants Day on Wednesday 18 December, the OECD raises attention on the issue of discrimination against immigrants and their children in OECD countries. Discrimination is a key obstacle to the full integration of immigrants and their offspring into the labour market and the society as a whole. It may negatively impact on immigrants’ incentives to invest in education and training. It can also represent an economic loss to the host country.

The latest edition of the International Migration Outlook, which devoted a special chapter to this issue, highlighted a number of key findings:

  • The actual prevalence of discrimination is difficult to assess, since the disadvantage of immigrants and their offspring in many domains of public life may be attributable to many other factors – both observed and non-observed – than ethnic origin itself. Testing studies which try to isolate the effect of discrimination in hiring suggest that it is not uncommon for immigrants and their offspring to have to send more than twice as many applications to get invited to a job interview than persons without a migration background who have an otherwise equivalent CV.
  • Although it is difficult to compare levels of discrimination across groups or countries, one rather robust finding is that on average, men tend to be more affected by discriminatory practices than women. This notably concerns native-born offspring of “visible” immigrant groups in European OECD countries for whom the evidence suggests a high incidence of discrimination compared with other groups, whatever measure is taken. In OECD-Europe, it is also the offspring of immigrants who feel more often discriminated than persons who themselves immigrated, in remarkable contrast to the OECD countries that have been settled by migration, such as Canada, New Zealand and the United States (see figure below).

Share of immigrants who consider themselves members of a group that is discriminated against (OECD-Europe), have been discriminated against (Canada, New Zealand), or feel discriminated against in their job (United States) by characteristics, around 2008

Download background data and notes:

  • Most of the research on discrimination, and also on measures to combat it, has concentrated on the labour market. In the labour market, discrimination both affects access to employment and subsequent career advancement and wages. One would expect discrimination to be lower after the hiring as possible employer uncertainty about immigrants’ productivity gives way to personal experiences. Indeed, discrimination during hiring is best documented, although this may in part be due to the fact that it is more difficult to firmly establish discrimination during the employment relationship and its potential termination. There is also evidence of discrimination in other areas, notably the housing market, as well as in the education system.
  • Most OECD countries have taken measures to combat discrimination, although the scale and scope of the measures varies widely. Most common are legal remedies against discrimination. A number of OECD countries have also applied affirmative-action type policies on the basis of targets and other instruments such as anonymous CVs, although hard quotas are rare. The evidence to date suggests that these tools can be effective in combating discrimination.
  • In recent years, diversity policy instruments have been tested in a growing number of OECD countries. While these are promising tools, it is difficult to assess their effectiveness, since it is generally those employers who are most interested in diversity who participate. More generally, it seems that much of the effect of policy measures against discrimination – in particular regarding legal constraints – stems more from raising awareness about the issue than through any direct influence which they may have on preventing discrimination.
  • Such awareness-raising seems particularly important since there is growing evidence that discriminatory behaviour does not necessarily stem from individual preferences but often from negative stereotypes about immigrants and their children. For example, employers seem to value certain characteristics that tend to be associated with better integration. This suggests that a balanced public discourse on immigrants and their integration outcomes would also contribute to reducing stereotypes and thus combating discrimination.

Further reading: 

For further information, journalists should contact the OECD’s International Migration Division:


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