February 1, 2013 | by ANTONIA SOHNS
The benchmarks of the integration of immigrants are diverse. Antonia Sohns examines migration policies in the OECD and argues for more efforts in education, employment and civic engagement.
Worldwide, governments struggle to adaptively manage immigration, as the movement of people is ever changing. According to a recent OECD report on immigration, between 2000-1 and 2009-10, except in Estonia and Israel, the foreign-born share of the population increased in almost all of the OECD countries. In Spain, the immigrant population tripled during that time, and in Iceland and Ireland it doubled.
The OECD report examines the social and economic integration of immigrants and their children across OECD countries. It judges the progress of immigrants and their children by examining fundamental themes that underlie economic and social integration. Children of immigrants are here considered the benchmark by which integration of immigrants can be judged, as they do not face the same limitations as their foreign-born parents in attaining education and employment.
The report finds that over the past decade progress has been made in immigration integration, but a lot remains to be done – particularly in the fields of education, employment, and social affairs.
Integration Levels Differ Across the OECD
Integration policies differ immensely across the OECD, as the Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) of the Bertelsmann Foundation also show. According to the SGI, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have policies that effectively integrate migrants into their societies, and also saw the greatest increase in immigrant populations with high levels of qualifications and education. It is to a country’s advantage if it can recruit highly skilled labor, as the immigrants have better integration outcomes due to their enhanced ability to access the labor market and hold high-quality jobs. Against the background of demographic change, ageing societies and skill shortages in many OECD nations, competition for highly qualified immigrants remains a particularly important issue.
In order to encourage integration, Australia offers classes on English and Australian culture, within the nation’s framework of multiculturalism, which encourages immigrants to retain their language and traditions. Canada promotes integration by allowing immigrants to become citizens after three years of residency, one of the shortest requirements in the world.
At the other end of the scale, we find Austria, Turkey, Italy and Poland, which are characterized by comparatively low levels of migrant integration. In Austria, for example, the absence of effective migration policy hinders integration which fuels an already hostile public opinion towards immigrants, and thus reinforces disincentives to policy making, according to the SGI.
Immigrants are Hit Hardest By Crisis Job Losses
While immigration populations continued to grow in OECD nations between 2000 and 2010, jobs were limited by the global economic climate. The economic recession resulted in job losses particularly among immigrants, especially in vulnerable states such as Spain, Ireland, and Italy. Overall, in the OECD, the foreign-born unemployment rate increased by 4 percent between 2008 and 2011, compared with 2.5 percent for native-born, according the OECD migration outlook 2012.
Although the global economy dramatically impacted the integration of immigrants, it is showing signs of recovery, as more recent cohorts of immigrants are experiencing better outcomes than those who arrived before them.
To build on the improving economy, social reform can extend existing immigration policies to improve the integration of immigrant communities. The OECD report’s findings expose the importance of specifically improving avenues to civic engagement, increasing social housing or housing subsidies, and addressing discrimination and marginalization in the labor market in future immigration policy and reform.
Civic Engagement is Key to Integration
The involvement of immigrants in civic engagement is one of the most revealing indicators of integration, as it shows the migrants’ willingness to express their voice in society, their interest in the functioning of their society, and their degree of confidence in the institutions.
Immigrants face inequality in terms of housing as well. Landlords may be prejudiced against immigrants, or immigrants may not have a proper understanding of the credit or renting system. Such factors leave immigrants vulnerable and in inadequate housing conditions compared to the native population. Immigrant reform that improves social housing or housing subsidies can contribute substantially to reducing immigrant’s housing cost or improving the adequacy of the dwelling with size of the migrant household.
Disadvantages Persist Across Generations
Additionally, immigration policies that address discrimination and marginalization in the labor market are critical to improve integration. Labor market opportunities for native-born children of immigrants should be equivalent to children of native-born parents with comparable socio-demographic characteristics.
However, the OECD report reveals there are persistent disadvantages for immigrants and their children in different employment and housing conditions. The native-born children of immigrants do not always have the networks and specific knowledge required for the labor market, as their parents are foreign-born, particularly in Spain, Belgium, Austria and France.
Such discrimination in the labor market has pernicious consequences, as employment opportunities have direct and indirect consequences on diverse integration factors that influence an immigrant’s ability to become an autonomous citizen and boost social cohesion.
However, the OECD report also shows that higher education levels have increased employment among immigrants and that employment rates have risen in nearly all OECD nations over the past decade to an average of around 65 percent. This is just 2.6 percentage points lower than for the native-born.
Migrant Children Are Particularly Vulnerable
An immigrant’s ability to secure a stable job can improve the immigrant’s quality of life and status of health. Participation in the labor market is the most important determinant of the level of household income and can reduce the immigrant’s risk of falling into poverty. According to the OECD report, 17.3 percent of immigrants are at risk of poverty, compared with 15 percent of the native-born population.
Children are particularly vulnerable to poverty if they arrive after the age of six. In Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Iceland, Israel and Sweden, the difference between early and late arrival is equivalent to about a year and a half of schooling. The immigrant child poverty rate is the highest in Belgium, Spain and the United States. If children suffer from increased rates of poverty, they are less likely to be integrated as adults or positively add to the host nation’s society and economy.
To increase integration, nations should ensure social reform enables educational attainment abroad to be recognized in the host country. Therefore, immigrants could transfer their formal qualifications obtained in a different country to the labor market of the host nation, qualifying them for higher-quality jobs.
Through emboldened integration of immigrant populations, nations become stronger, as immigrants themselves and the broader society benefit as migrant populations are integrated into the surrounding community.