Pastures Slipping Away
JAYA RAMACHANDRAN (IDN)
PARIS - An ever-increasing number of foreigners in most of the
world's rich countries are being thrown out of jobs that they hoped
would lead them to greener pastures. They are falling prey to the impact
of global economic downturn that is catapulting natives out of work -- a
situation that creates a vicious circle governments do not find easy to
OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurrķa explains what makes the present
state of affairs smack of a catch-22: The drop of economic activity is
affecting local and migrant workers, but the latter are more vulnerable.
This is because of employers are often more reluctant to hire immigrants
and more ready to fire them. And, with rising unemployment, there is
more competition for jobs from local workers.
As a result, unemployment rates among immigrants have risen more than
among native-born workers. Simultaneously, the environment for migration
policies is getting tougher. Numerical limits and lists of occupations
in shortage have been reduced and employment tests are being applied
Programmes to encourage immigrants to return to their home countries
have been introduced and measures to combat irregular migration
reinforced, says Gurrķa introducing a new report released June 30 by
the 30-nation OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and
Development) in Paris.
The report states facts and figures: in the United States, for example,
the unemployment rate of immigrants was below that of the native-born
prior to the crisis; it is now above, 10 percent for immigrants compared
to 9 percent for natives as of March this year.
In Spain, more than one out of four immigrants in the labour force is
now unemployed, a proportion which rises to more than two out of five
for immigrants from Africa.
This vulnerability is partly due to the fact that migrant workers are
overrepresented in economic sectors that have benefited from the
previous long growth period, and are now particularly hard hit by the
crisis such as construction, hotels and restaurants.
But immigrants, in particular the most recent arrivals, are also more
often employed in less secure and low-skilled jobs which are among the
first to disappear during a downturn.
Many of the countries which are hardest hit were also among those which
had record-high migration inflows in the years prior to the crisis, such
as Ireland, the United Kingdom and Spain. This is a worrying
coincidence, says the report titled the 'International Migration
The report shows the first evidence that the economic downturn has put a
brake on this rising trend in labour migration. In the United Kingdom
and Ireland, for example, migration flows from the new EU member
countries have declined by more than half.
Countries are also reducing their labour migration programmes.
Italy has announced its intention to set its quota for non-seasonal
labour migration to zero this year, compared with 150 000 in 2008. Korea
has more than halved its quota for temporary foreign workers under
bilateral schemes. Australia has reduced its programme of permanent
labour migrants by setting a quota 20 percent below the initially
planned target for the ongoing fiscal year.
For the first time in many years, the allocation limit for the main U.S.
temporary work visa was not reached immediately this year, says the
This is in stark contrast to the situation about a year ago. "Not
long ago, many OECD countries were looking to labour migration as one
way to address labour shortages and the expected declines in the
working-age population as a result of ageing," says the OECD chief.
"This was to be the new age of labour migration," he adds.
High levels of migration were being recorded in the new migration
countries of southern Europe and more widely, in the European Economic
Area, following EU enlargement. At the same time, the traditional
settlement countries -- Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S. --
were also seeing their highest immigration levels in recent decades.
The economic crisis, however, has put a brake on these recent trends.
OECD countries now find themselves in the deepest economic downturn
since the Great Depression. Latest projections show GDP plummeting by an
average of 4.3 percent in the OECD area in 2009; by the end of 2010,
unemployment rates in many countries could reach double-digit levels for
the first time since the early 1990s
However, not all labour shortages disappear during a downturn, nor do
family and humanitarian migration come to a standstill. Gurrķa is
optimistic that some labour migration will continue to be needed.
"Migration is not a tap that can be turned on and off at will. In
tackling the jobs crisis, governments need to make sure that immigrants
do not fall prey to increasing xenophobia and that discriminatory
practices do not worsen an already difficult situation for them.
Integration programmes need to be maintained, if not strengthened.
Equality of opportunity is not a principle to be applied only during
good times," the OECD chief points out.
With the onset of economic recovery, which may take some time, the
pressures in the labour market will reassert themselves and
international migration flows are likely to rebound as part of the
solution to addressing these.
International migration will remain a prominent feature of the global
economy. And the difficulties in managing it that were present before
the downturn will still remain to be tackled.
That is why governments that have factored in longer term issues in
addressing the recession will be in a better position to mobilise labour
migration and the skills of immigrants in support of renewed growth and
"Among other things, this means a migration system that can respond
efficiently to labour market needs, can reduce irregular migration and
employment -- or redirect it into legal channels -- , and can ensure
better outcomes for new immigrants and for their children," says
The International Migration Outlook was launched to coincide with the
first-ever OECD High-Level Policy Forum on Migration June 29-30 in
Paris. Government ministers and senior officials in charge of migration
and integration issues discussed the current economic crisis and its
impact on international migration, considered ways to manage labour
migration movements and labour market integration of immigrants and