The OECD International Migration Outlook analyses recent developments in migration movements and policies in OECD countries (and some non-member countries), as well as the evolution of the labour market outcomes of migrants. This 2020 edition finds that the COVID-19 pandemic has put migration and progress on integration at risk and disproportionately affects migrants and their children.
Both the experience from previous economic crises and first indications on labour market and social outcomes during the current pandemic suggest that the COVID-19 crisis is likely to have a disproportionate impact on immigrants and their children. This policy brief provides first evidence on how the pandemic has affected immigrants and their children in terms of health, jobs, education, language training and other integration measures, and public opinion, and describes host countries’ policy responses. It complements a previous brief on the impact of the pandemic on migration management (OECD, 2020).
Key findings are:
Due to a range of vulnerabilities such as higher incidence of poverty, overcrowded housing conditions, and high concentration in jobs where physical distancing is difficult, immigrants are at a much higher risk of COVID-19 infection than the native-born. Studies in a number of OECD countries found an infection risk that is at least twice as high as that of the native-born.
COVID-related mortality rates for immigrants could also be significant, exceeding those of the native-born population.
Immigrants are potentially in a more vulnerable position in the labour market due to their generally less stable employment conditions and lower seniority on the job. Studies also suggest that discrimination strongly increases in times of a slack labour market, while networks of contacts –of which migrants have fewer –become more relevant for finding a job.
The negative impact on immigrants’ labour market outcomes is increased still further by the fact that they are strongly overrepresented in those sectors most affected by the pandemic to date. For example, in the particularly hard-hit hospitality industry, a quarter of employees in the EU are foreign-born, twice their share in overall employment.
It is still early to gauge the labour market effects of the pandemic –especially in European OECD countries, where job retention schemes have cushioned the immediate impact of the lockdowns. That notwithstanding, the available evidence on the initial impact shows a disproportionately negative toll on immigrants in the vast majority of countries for which data are currently available, especially in the Southern European countries, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the United States.
The school closures and distance learning measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 put children of immigrants at a disadvantage, in several ways. Their parents tend to have fewer resources than native-born parents to help them in their homework, and 40% of native-born children of immigrants do not speak the host-country language at home. Such children are also less likely than students with native-born parents to have access to a computer and an internet connection at home or to a quiet place for study.
The pandemic gave a push for remote language learning for adults as well. A number of countries introduced innovative new schemes. In Germany, for example, online tutorials were set up to compensate for the temporary closure of immigrant integration courses. However, such online learning has proved difficult for low-educated immigrants, especially at early stages of language learning, leading to delays in both language learning and broader social integration.
In light of growing unemployment and the role of international travel in the initial spread of the pandemic, there is a risk of a backlash in public opinion against immigrants. A number of communication campaigns have aimed at addressing this issue, with a particular focus on tackling misinformation regarding the role of immigrants in the spread of the virus.