Saturday, November 14, 2009

Integrating Immigrants

Last month, the OECD released a report on the integration of children of immigrants into the labor markets in OECD and EU countries. The report contrasts the situation of the children of natives and the native- and foreign-born children of migrants, finding that the children of migrants have significantly better education and labor market outcomes (on par with those of the children of natives) in the non-European OECD countries, which include Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States than they do in Europe. Notably, there is a significant gender dimension to integration, with native-born female children of migrants more successful in accessing labor markets than their foreign-born counterparts.
Integration into labor markets is a useful marker of social integration of migrants, crucial to social cohesion in immigrant-receiving countries. Some scholars have argued that "the success or failure of native-born children of migrants raised raised and educated in the country of residence is the ultimate benchmark of integration." In other words, if the native-born children of migrants are failing to attain educational and employment levels similar to those attained by children of natives, we may see social stratification and segregation that could be harmful not only to the migrants' children but also to the country of residence (see, e.g., the riots in the French banlieues).
In most European OECD countries, children of natives attain significantly better educational and employment outcomes than the children of immigrants -- particularly in countries like Belgium and Germany who have a notable history of low-skilled immigrant labor. In contrast, in the United States, where we've also seen sizeable amounts of low-skilled immigration, there's little difference between employment rates for children of migrants and children of natives. Moreover, native-born children of immigrants in the U.S. have a greater representation among highly-skilled occupations than the children of natives. The study's authors suggest that this difference lies in the fact that the U.S. has been settled by migration, perhaps producing different social norms and mechanisms for the integration of immigrants.
The data further indicate that being fully raised and educated in the country of residence has significant benefits for female children of migrants, though not for male children of migrants. For men, native-born and foreign-born children of immigrants face similar rates of unemployment, rates far higher than those of natives. For women, on the other hand, the children of natives have an employment rate 10% higher than that of native children of migrants, who in turn are employed at a rate 16% higher than young immigrants. Young immigrant women from South Asia face particularly low employment rates. The authors of the study point to the higher rates of marriage and childbearing in the age range studied (20-29 years old) as the likely source of this unfavorable outcome for foreign-born female children of immigrants.
The report points to the need to study more carefully integration mechanisms, particularly in countries that currently have large gaps between the educational and employment outcomes of natives and children of migrants. Moreover, it highlights the importance of generous family reunification policies in ensuring positive labor and education outcomes for the female children of migrants, and thus more successful integration of immigrant populations.

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