Migration to OECD countries reached a decade’s high in 2015

Sweden tops the list in giving citizenship to foreign migrants


Between 2006 and 2014, annual average permanent migrant flows to OECD countries increased by 0.53%, whereas remittance outflows increased by 3.7%. Photo: Reuters
Between 2006 and 2014, annual average permanent migrant flows to OECD countries increased by 0.53%, whereas remittance outflows increased by 3.7%. Photo: Reuters

In the year 2015, 4.8 million people migrated permanently to countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), up from 4.3 million in 2014. Of this, only 9% were refugees. This is the highest number of migrants to OECD countries in a year since 2006.

Between 2006 and 2014, annual average permanent migrant flows to OECD countries increased by 0.53%, whereas remittance outflows increased by 3.7%. These findings are from an OECD report released recently.

Does the recent spike in migration and remittance point towards an economic recovery? Experts call for caution in drawing such conclusions. According to Binod Khadria, Professor at Zakir Husain Centre for Education in Jawaharlal Nehru University, one reason for the increase in migration could be a fall in the working age population in these countries, leading to higher demand for foreign workers.

It could also be the case that people who had already moved to those countries earlier became permanent residents in 2015, he said.

Migration for labour purposes to developed northern Europe from the less-developed South could be another factor.

Labour movement has been more pronounced in recent decades and there is high demand for cheap labour in developed European countries, said Jayan Jose Thomas, associate professor of economics at IIT Delhi.

While calling for policies to check backlash against migrants and refugees, the report highlights the fact that migrants have poorer employment opportunities compared with natives in these countries.

On an average, about 60% immigrants in OECD countries are employed as against 64.9% of the native-born. Unemployment rates for migrants are also higher at 9.3% compared with 7.3% for natives.

The countries that saw the highest numbers of immigrants were the US, Germany, the UK, Canada and France.

One in every 10 and 20 immigrants came from China and India respectively, forming a significant chunk. India ranked fourth with over 260,000 emigrants in 2014, behind China, Romania and Poland.

More than 30% of the total migration from India was to the US, followed by the UK (18.2%), Australia (15.7%), Canada (15.1%), and New Zealand (4.8%). India witnessed the highest inflow of remittances from North America in 2012-13, after Gulf countries, as per data from the Reserve Bank of India. Total remittance inflow in India in 2012-13 was $67.6 billion.

A significant number of migrants also acquired the nationality of an OECD country. As per the report, this figure stood at 2 million in 2014. Of these, 130,000 were Indians. The other main countries from where the migrants came were Mexico, China, the Philippines and Morocco. More than 6% of the foreign citizens living in Sweden obtained Swedish nationality in 2014—the highest among all OECD countries.

Employment and education continue to be the main reasons for migration to OECD countries. The maximum intra-company transfers to OECD destinations were seen in the US with 71,500 permits issued in 2014 alone. The other major OECD countries from where transfers took place were the UK, Canada, Germany and Australia.

A significant share of migration was on account of better education. As of 2013, there were almost 3 million international students enrolled in OECD countries. Of this 23% came from China. Indians were the second highest at over 160,000 students.

According to Khadria, this is because Indians and Chinese have been very proactive in seeking quality education. “Access to global market becomes easier this way. Often people like to top their education with a degree from a foreign country,” he said.

Another reason is the extreme competition and fewer seats in India. “There are limited seats here. That’s why the government is increasing the number of institutions such as the IITs,” Thomas said.

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