COVID hit to migration levels - Recovery efforts must address structural obstacles to migrant integration


28/10/2021 - Migration flows to OECD countries declined significantly, with much of the progress in migrant integration achieved over the past decade wiped out in just one year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These are some of the key findings of the latest OECD International Migration Outlook 2021 

Permanent migration flows to OECD countries declined by more than 30% in 2020, to about 3.7 million, the lowest level since 2003. All categories of permanent migration experienced a drop, with family migration showing the largest decline.

Humanitarian migration flows were also severely affected, in particular to the United States and Canada. Labour migration and free mobility decreased by about 24% and 17%, respectively. Temporary labour migration decreased sharply, on average, by 58% and intra-company transfers by 53%.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also wiped out much of the progress in migrant integration achieved across OECD countries over the past decade. According to the OECD, governments should urgently pursue comprehensive and co-ordinated action to avoid the pandemic leading to a lasting setback on migrant integration, which would have major negative economic consequences and threaten overall social cohesion.

The Outlook says that, since the start of the pandemic, foreign-born workers have been disproportionally affected by job losses. The gap in the employment rate between foreign-born and native-born people has widened across OECD countries to reach 2-percentage points on average, while the difference in the unemployment rate is now more than 3-percentage points.

© OECD International Migration Outlook 2021 - Graph: COVID-19 has led to a record drop in migration flows

Access the data in Excel

“The economic recovery is a key opportunity to ensure the right migration and integration policy settings are in place. The vigorous pursuit of policy best practice on migrant integration will help us optimise the strength and the quality of this recovery and boost overall social cohesion,”  OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said launching the report with European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

“The OECD International Migration Outlook 2021 is an important and comprehensive overview of recent trends in international migration flows, migration and integration policies as well as recommendations,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson. “The report contributes to a solid basis for policy making.”

A special chapter of the Outlook analyses in detail the fiscal impact of migration in OECD countries. While there are differences across them, overall migrants contribute more in taxes and contributions than they receive in health, education and social protection. Better integration of immigrants can further the fiscal gains. For example, just closing the employment gap between working-age migrants and native-born of the same age and education level could increase the total net fiscal contribution of migrants by over one-third of a GDP percentage point in one in three countries.

To promote better integration, governments should address the many disadvantages migrants face in labour markets and societies in their pandemic recovery plans, says the Outlook. This will require broadening the focus of integration policies as well as co-ordinated action across policy domains, such as health, labour, education, and housing, and levels of government. Given migrants’ overrepresentation among those in low-skilled jobs, attention needs to be paid to ensuring that migrants can acquire the skills to fill the jobs of the future. This requires addressing the training gap between migrants and native-born.

More attention also needs to be paid to the challenges in areas of high geographical concentration of migrants. Migrants tend to live in backward neighbourhoods, which tend to accumulate disadvantages, including through poor housing and infrastructure. For new arrivals, settling in neighbourhoods with a strong immigrant presence often conveys important benefits, but may come at a long-term cost in terms of poorer language learning and access to good jobs. Policy should not primarily try to prevent initial in-migration into specific areas, but rather facilitate out-migration, notes the report. More attention needs to be paid to improving housing and reinforcing integration in concentrated areas, notably for migrant women and with respect to language learning.

Read the OECD International Migration Outlook 2021

For more information, journalists should contact the OECD Media Office (tel. + 33 1 45 24 97 00).


Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to preserve individual liberty and improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.


Related Documents