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Immigrant ‘Unemployment Gap’ Varies Widely Among OECD Countries

Immigrants accounted for 47 percent of the increase in workforce in the United States and 70 percent in Europe over the past 10 years. While the immigrant unemployment rate compared to the native-born population in the U.S. is lower, that trend is reversed across most of Europe, according to recently released figures by the OECD.

The global financial crisis hit immigrants hard and “almost immediately,” the OECD said. That was mainly due to their greater presence in job markets most dramatically hit by the economic downturn—for example, construction, manufacturing, hotels and restaurants—“as well as by their greater likelihood of being in precarious or informal jobs,” the OECD said.

Although the sluggish economic recovery has resulted in increasing unemployment for both immigrant and native-born populations, the immigrant populations have been hit harder in most European OECD countries.

In Spain, Greece and Ireland, immigrant unemployment increased by 25, 25 and 11 percentage points, respectively, between 2007 and 2014, whereas that of the native-born increased by 15, 15 and 10 percentage points, respectively. In 2014, the unemployment rate of immigrants living in Greece or Spain was still above 30 percent. The unemployment rate was more than twice the level observed for the native-born population in Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria and Finland.

Source: OECD Factbook

Source: OECD Factbook

“Employment is the single most important determinant of migrants’ net fiscal contribution, particularly in countries with generous welfare states,” according to an OECD Migration Policy Debates paper. “Raising immigrants’ employment rate to that of the native-born would entail substantial fiscal gains in many European OECD countries. … It would also help immigrants meet their own goals: Most immigrants, after all, do not come for social benefits, but to find work and to improve their lives and those of their families. Efforts to better integrate immigrants should thus be seen as an investment rather than a cost.”

In high-growth areas—health care occupation and science, technology, engineering and mathematics—new immigrants represented 22 percent of new job entrants in the U.S. and 15 percent in Europe, the OECD said. Meanwhile, European immigrants represented nearly a quarter of new job entries in declining job markets such as craft and trade workers, machine operators and assemblers, while in the U.S., immigrants represented 28 percent of new workers in jobs such as production, installation, maintenance and repair. “In all these areas, immigrants are filling labor needs by taking up jobs regarded by domestic workers as unattractive or lacking career prospects,” the OECD said.

“There are some countries where the inflows will actually help overcome adverse economic demographics of falling labor forces,” said David Lipton, the International Monetary Fund’s first deputy managing director, in an interview with Euronews. “But this will only work if people are welcomed, if they are trained, if they are employed,” he said. “We have done studies that show that immigration, properly handled, can be a plus for Europe in the long run. And I hope that will turn out to be the case.”

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