Migration into OECD countries dropped by a third in 2020 due to Covid-19

Temporary labour migration and new asylum applications plummet

Vietnamese migrant workers made jobless by the coronavirus pandemic take part in daily prayers at Daionji Temple in Honjo, Japan. Getty Images
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Migration into OECD countries — which comprises many of the world’s wealthiest countries — dropped by at least a third in 2020 to about 3.7 million.

It is the lowest figure since 2003 and has been attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, said the OECD, the economic organisation of 38 member states.

Temporary labour migration fell in all countries, particularly in Japan (66 per cent), South Korea (57 per cent), Canada (43 per cent), Australia and the US (both 37 per cent).

New asylum applications in OECD countries in 2020 plummeted by 31 per cent, the biggest fall since the end of the Balkan crisis in the early 1990s.

In the US there were 576 000 new lawful permanent immigrants registered, 44 per cent less than in 2019, and the UK there were slightly fewer than 250,000, a fall of 30 per cent.

Typically in OECD countries, foreign-born workers were disproportionally hit by job losses “given their generally more precarious labour contracts but also their strong concentration in deeply affected sectors, such as hospitality”, the International Migration Outlook said.

“Young people with migrant parents are also facing particular difficulties in dealing with the disruptions and challenges brought about by the pandemic. About one in two children of immigrants do not speak the host-country language at home.

“As their parents tend to be less well able to support learning in the host-country language — and as their homes tend to be less well adapted to provide an appropriate learning environment — children of immigrants have often been particularly hard hit by the interruption of in-person education,” it said.

The report highlighted how migrants living in areas of high immigrant concentration typically faced greater disadvantages, including poor housing.

“This year’s Outlook shows that residential concentration, a feature of all OECD countries, can have an impact on immigrant’s integration and social cohesion,” OECD secretary general Mathias Cormann said.

“This may not always be negative. In the US for example, it’s associated with higher employment probability for migrants. In Europe on the other hand, areas with high concentration of migrants tend to be more disadvantaged areas with lower overall education outcomes,” Australia's former finance minister said.

“In a number of EU countries this can amount to the equivalent of a loss of more than a year of schooling, which is, of course, an area of concern.”

He said that there were trade-offs when it came to residential concentrations “among immigrants with short-terms gains for recently arrived immigrants, but risks for integration in the long run, especially for children”.

The report states that disadvantages often reinforce one another.

“There is, for example, a further penalty for living in areas of high immigrant concentration, which results in fewer opportunities for language learning and lower education outcomes for children of migrants.

“Policy action should thus not only enhance integration offers in these neighbourhoods but also promote social and geographical mobility, which are closely interlinked. To enhance the opportunities of those who remain, improving housing and broader local infrastructure need to be an integral part of recovery programmes,” it says.

Updated: October 28, 2021, 11:06 AM