What is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on immigrants and their children?

the impact of the COVID-19 on immigrants and their children

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.