Monday, December 05, 2011

All immigration is local: How Regional Factors Shape Global Migration

by Monica Brezzi
Head of Regional Statistics Unit, OECD Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development

Debates over international migration tend to be driven by national politics and often incomplete information. But to better understand both the real drivers and effects of migration, it is critical to analyse them by region.  The total number of migrants – as well as the profiles of the foreign-born population – differs widely from region to region. For example, more than 13% of people in London and Brussels and nearly 10% in Murcia are foreign-born arrived there less than 5 years earlier, while in the other regions of these countries recent migrants represent between 3% and 6% of total population.

By now, we know that immigration is a sensitive issue. The economic crisis has destroyed millions of jobs in OECD countries, making their governments especially attuned to the impact of immigration on local wages and employment. But better information at the regional level on the skill composition of migrants could better inform policy reforms. Data show that foreign-born workers have significantly increased the level of education of the labour force in many regions of Ireland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic and the United Kingdom.

A recent OECD report Regional Outlook argues that regions resilience to shocks and capacity to deliver services mostly relate to the quality of human capital. Attracting and retaining high-skilled migrants can then be a key asset for regions. In some regions in Mexico, the United States, Spain and Germany, the share of highly-skilled migrants on the total foreign-born population can be almost three times higher than in other regions. Some of these migrants are top talents in their field, contributing greatly to innovation and scientific productivity of local firms and universities. Do regions that already host highly educated migrants maintain a competitive advantage in attracting global talent over time? The Regional Outlook reports that there is a substantial inertia in the location choices of the highly skilled. Thus regions which already have a competitive advantage in attracting skilled migrants will benefit relatively more from the increasing international flows of talents. A better coordination of migration policies and regional policies could generate incentives for skilled migrants to locate in regions needing to attract talents to boost competitiveness. Canada and Australia have established quota systems taking into account local differences in the demand for highly skilled or professionally qualified workforce. Other countries are experimenting similar initiatives.

Regional and municipal governments take on significant responsibilities in the management of migration and in successfully integrating migrants. They provide training programs, deliver anti-discrimination and cultural diversity projects helping migrants use effectively their skills and provide language services for children and youth through the education system. Better integrated migrants mean also a significantly lower burden in terms of provision of social services and costs for the local population. Not all the regional governments are equipped for the challenge, and the difficulties can only become greater with the increasing migration pressure and the current budget cuts. Coordination among different levels of government is more than ever needed to reap the benefits migration can bring. All immigration is local and policymakers will be aided by a closer view of their immigrant population.

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