Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Migration in the age of unemployment

How have migration flows responded to the recession?
The 2010 International Migration Outlook of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development provides a comprehensive statistical assessment of migration developments in member nations in 2008. Unsurprisingly, most forms of migration are down, and unemployment is up, among the foreign-born. But there are some unexpected findings, and some findings of particular interest with respect to female migrants.
► While permanent legal migration and temporary migration fell throughout the OECD in 2008 and 2009, asylum applications are on the rise.
Family ties continued to play a dominant role in permanent lawful migration to the United States, with 65% of permanent flows based on such ties. French and Swedish immigration policies similarly favored family migration; in contrast, in Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom, labor was the predominant migration rationale.
► The focus of OECD immigration policies continues to be on high-skilled migrants, with very few lawful migration opportunities for the less skilled.
Though one might expect the drop in permanent and temporary migration, the increase in asylum applications is more surprising; one would expect that the recession would make it more difficult for asylum seekers to find the financial means to flee their home country. As it turns out, asylum seekers have been arriving in OECD countries in increasing numbers since 2006, with the United States receiving nearly 40,000 asylum seekers and Canada, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom each receiving over 30,000 asylum seekers in 2008. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Serbia produced the largest numbers of asylum seekers in 2008.
It will be interesting to learn what has happened to student flows and migration-driven population growth in the wake of the recession. The report does not provide these numbers, but found that between 2000 and 2007, international student flows to the OECD doubled, with most studying in Australia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. An average of 21% of students stayed in their host country after completing their degree, remaining through lawful employment status.
The study also reports that migration played a central role in population growth in the OECD between 2003 and 2007, accounting for nearly 60% of population growth. Perhaps most surprisingly, France, New Zealand, and the United States were the only countries for which childbirth was the central cause of population growth. Indeed, in some OECD countries, 90% of population growth was due to migration. If policies to retain migrants are not put in place, these countries may suffer negative population growth in the wake of the recession.
As one would expect, the financial crisis hit immigrants harder: the foreign-born, particularly youth, lost jobs at higher rates than the native-born in nearly all OECD countries. Many countries implemented immigration policies specifically responding to the economic crisis, including provisions for unemployed migrants who couldn't renew their visas, arrangements for their return, and cut-backs in migration quotas.
Perhaps of most interest this readership, in nearly all OECD countries, immigrant women retained their jobs at higher rates than immigrant men. In some cases, immigrant women even increased their rate of participation in the labor market, presumably to account for loss of income from male family members. This of course mirrors the gender impacts of the financial crisis here in the United States; it remains to be seen whether this opportunity for increasing gender equality in the home will translate into real change once the recession has passed.

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