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Immigration as opportunity

by Claudia Isabel Rittel

In brief

East-European builder in Lisbon

East-European builder in Lisbon

Migrants and their home and host countries could benefit more if migration flows were better organised. A new study argues that gearing migration more closely to labour markets facilitates the integration of new arrivals.

The authors of the paper published by the Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) see migration as a central dimension of globalisation and urge EU member states to rethink their immigration policies. There is no need, they say, for thousands of people a year to die trying to reach “Fortress Europe”. Migration should to be understood as “international labour mobility” and tailored to migrant-receiving countries’ labour markets. People who migrate under family reunification programmes, as asylum-seekers or cross borders illegally, in particular, are currently excluded from the official labour market. But with labour requirements set to rise in the future, demand-driven immigration policy is also in Europe’s interest.

The idea of “protecting” labour markets, the paper says, stems only from the current prevailing perception that there is a more or less fixed number of jobs to be shared out. This marginalises immigrants, however, and pushes them into illegality, which makes integration even more difficult. What is more, the protectionist approach prevents new jobs being created because it ignores immigrants’ skills.

Policy decisions for regulating labour markets, the Development Centre researchers claim, need to take account of demographic change as well as prevailing market forces. The European Union has already taken a number of steps in the right direction. The European job mobility portal on the Internet – EURES – makes it possible for employers and employees to post job vacancies or undertake job searches free of charge. The researchers also recommend involving migrant organisations in the political decision-making process to improve labour market conditions, migrant integration and development policies in migrant-sending countries. Developing countries could profit more from migration, the paper states, if they took greater account of emigration, immigration and migrant remittances in their national poverty reduction strategies.

What is also needed, however, are more reliable data. Accordingly, since 2004, the World Bank has published three studies on various aspects of migration. The latest looks at female migration, which differs sharply from its male counterpart in various respects. For example, women who migrate remain more closely networked with their home country than men and thus exercise a greater influence over how their remittances are spent. In addition, the OECD paper notes that male emigration results in a greater loss of income for a home country household than female emigration. On the other hand, women generally send more money home. (cir)