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Immigration effects felt around the globe

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OECD highlights immigration risks

By Andrew Taylor, Employment Correspondent


February 20 2008


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Over 75m immigrants are living in OECD countries, helping to fill vital skills gaps, but creating the potential for social unrest they fail to find work or are perceived to be taking jobs from others, the OECD warned in a report on Wednesday.


Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, said: “OECD governments need to do more to help immigrants integrate and make better use of their skills. This in turn will help reduce the risk of political backlash against immigrants.”


The biggest importer of foreign labour was the US, where more than 31m foreign born nationals above the age of 15 accounted for more than 14.5 per cent of the population, the report said.


Overall, foreign born people accounted for 9 per cent of the total population of OECD countries above the age of 15. This rose as high as 36.6 per cent in Luxembourg, 27.4 per cent in Australia, and 25.1 per cent in Switzerland.


In Germany, migrants accounted for 12.7 per cent of the above working age population compared with 11.7 per cent in France and 9.4 per cent in the UK .


Mexico was the biggest exporter of labour, sending more than 8m of its citizens to live abroad, most of them in the US. The next biggest were the UK with 3.2m and Germany with 3.1m citizens living in other OECD countries. China and India, provided about 2m migrants each.


The recent trend of older citizens from richer countries to seek the sun in their retirement was reflected in the fact that 23 per cent of Britons and 19 per cent of Germans living abroad were above the age of 65. Immigrants from other countries were more likely to be young, chasing a better life, or a refugee.


Recent migrants also tend to be better educated than earlier immigrants reflecting stricter immigration controls and rising skills shortages in developed countries as native populations start to age, economies become more knowledge-based and lower skilled manufacturing jobs move overseas, said the report.


The proportion of foreign born people in OECD countries with tertiary education is currently 23.6 per cent compared with 19.1 per cent for those who are native born. Many foreign workers, however, fail to get the jobs equivalent to their qualifications, the report said. Less skilled workers from poorer countries experienced much higher unemployment rates.


At the other end of the social spectrum, the globalisation of business has led to much greater movement of skilled workers between developed nations. Immigrants from other OECD countries represent 40 per cent or more of the foreign-born population in two thirds of countries - rising as high as 80 per cent in Ireland, Luxembourg and the Slovak Republic.


But the US was the only country to receive more highly-skilled immigrants from OECD countries than it lost. It had a positive balance of about 1m highly-skilled migrants with the EU15 (member countries in the European Union prior to the accession of ten candidate countries in May 2004).


The US also had a higher proportion of low skilled workers among recent migrants , partly because of “the increasing share of Hispanic, mainly Mexican, immigrants to the United States, who have on average relatively low educational attainment”.


The UK and Germany had the highest number of highly-skilled emigrants, 1.1 m and 860 000, leaving for other OECD countries. By comparison France had only 370 000 highly-skilled migrants in other OECD countries. The impact of such outflows was more than compensated by large inflows of highly skilled migrants from non EU economies, particularly from Asia, said the OECD.


The effect of the “brain drain” was felt more heavily in small African and Caribbean countries. More than 40 per cent of the highly-skilled population in Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Mauritius and Fiji were living abroad. By comparison the proportion of people holding a tertiary degree emigrating from large countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India and China was less than a few percentage points.


Latin America provided the biggest number of migrants, 19m, to OECD countries, followed by Asia which provided 16m.


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