Delivered 03-02-2018 Montreal, Canada
The subject of this conference is very timely, and I can see why you have chosen it. Migration is an issue that pervades the politics of today. It is an often controversial issue, but frankly, it is one of the oldest issues of our world. Humans have always migrated in search of better lives elsewhere.
But today that fact has become wrapped up with a general sense of dissatisfaction in society, and migration is often used as a scapegoat or as an excuse for some other malaise.
And this is often reflected in the media, which has an exceptionally powerful influence over people’s politics and their views.
This is what I would like to speak to you about today.
When looking at recent election outcomes or reading the paper, one can get the impression that international migration is not well managed – or even “out of control” – and that rising migration is a challenge to the social contract in many countries.
We’ve seen this particularly in the media in many OECD countries, and it has had a knock-on effect at the ballot box.
It is easy to forget the many positive contributions that immigrants make to our societies. Indeed, throughout history, progress, innovation and economic and social development has occurred with the arrival of new ideas through trade and through migration.
You can make a generalisation that the most progressive societies are often those that are the most diverse and most open to others.
Indeed, this is the trend of globalisation and economic development: OECD countries are becoming more diverse.
One in ten people living today in OECD countries is foreign-born; among youth, more than one in five has immigrated or is native-born with immigrant parents. These shares have been rising virtually everywhere.
And yet recent developments have challenged migration policy in the current context. International migration through legal channels to OECD countries has never been higher.
Clearly, the Syrian crisis has been a migration of epic proportions, and the uprooting of so many lives has been traumatic and tragic. It has stretched the reception and processing capacity of several European countries and has highlighted the need for more coordination between them.
It has led to politically charged responses, which has been reflected in the media.
The backlash against what is perceived to be large swathes of people coming into countries has been palpable.
But it’s important to understand the different points of view.
Experts and analysts that dismiss the fear of migrants can easily lose legitimacy and make it harder to bring the policy debate back to facts and evidence.
So what is the reality of immigration in OECD countries?
As I said, people have always moved across communities, states and continents. Over the past decades, migration flows have increased and will likely increase further given large demographic and economic imbalances. In 2015, about 244 million people were living outside their country of birth, of which half were living in OECD countries.
Between 2000 and 2015 about 3 million migrants came to OECD countries every year.
In 2016, permanent migration towards OECD countries reached the highest absolute levels in forty years: 5 million people!
These figures on legal flows have generally received less attention than the mass inflows of asylum seekers.
In 2015 and the first half of 2016, a total of 3.3 million asylum applications were registered in OECD countries, the highest number since World War Two. 2.6 million came to Europe, and close to 1.5 million have been granted protection.
Other OECD countries have also provided shelter to people fleeing conflict. Canada, for example, has admitted almost one hundred thousand refugees through its resettlement programmes in the last three years.
Indeed just last week Minister Hussen, the first Somali-Canadian member of the Canadian Cabinet, gave a speech at the OECD’s International Diversity Forum and discussed Canada’s plan to welcome even more migrants by expanding programmes that are currently in place, saying “we will be open to people!”.
These numbers seem large, but should be put in perspective: new migrants settling in OECD countries represent less than 0.5% of their total population. Syria’s neighbours remain the largest refugee-receiving countries; Turkey alone provides temporary protection to about 3.3 million Syrians.
In OECD countries, humanitarian migrants still represent only a fraction of total migration flows.
The vast majority of the migrants who come to the OECD are people who come to work, study or reunite with their families.
Free movement and family migration each accounted for one third of all permanent migrant flows in the past years. And there are about 3 million international students in OECD countries.
The integration of some immigrants, especially refugees, represents a particular challenge for destination countries. But the main message here is, immigrants do not usually have a negative impact on the economy.
Of course, immigrants that have recently arrived are unlikely to have the same labour market outcomes as those who are native-born. Outcomes improve over time as immigrants become more familiar with the host-country’s society, learn the language and acquire country-specific social capital.
For example, an assessment made by the Canadian government of early outcomes of Syrian refugees that arrived in late 2015/early 2016 showed that their initial labour market participation was very low, especially among those with lower education and lacking language proficiency.
So to help refugees achieve their full integration potential, government integration services must be wholly comprehensive and help from private sponsors is also critical.
Despite challenges, immigrants play an important role in the labour market of destination countries. Between 2005 and 2015, for example, new migrants accounted for about 20% of labour market entries into strongly growing occupations in both the US and Europe.
These notably include health care and STEM occupations.
Immigrants also represented about a third of entries into the most strongly declining occupations in Europe.
These days, migrants are frequently the people in our homes taking care of our children or elderly parents.
And importantly – contrary to a lot of what is spread in the media – it is a simple fact that, as the OECD’s International Migration Outlook has shown, in almost all OECD countries, migrants contribute more in taxes and social contributions than they receive in benefits.
There is a striking disconnect between empirical evidence and perceptions about immigration. The evidence is clear: migrants do not come here to steal our jobs or to take advantage of the welfare state. Migration – and the economy – is not a zero sum game.
But this is not what people believe.
A recent survey showed that in many European countries more people believe immigration is bad for the economy than the opposite. And, although about a quarter of respondents think that immigration is neither good nor bad for the economy, those who hold extremely negative beliefs are more numerous than those who hold very positive views.
So why do we see such a disconnect between empirical evidence on the impact of immigration and public perception?
One possible explanation is the widespread knowledge gap on the relative magnitude of migration. Overall, opinion polls reveal that people typically overestimate the share of migrants in the population, sometimes by a factor of two or more.
Another possible explanation is that the impact of migration on certain local communities – especially disadvantaged urban areas with high concentration of vulnerable migrants – weighs heavily on the general public perception of migration. The nation-wide impact is not factored in.
And of course there is the fact that many have suffered since the financial crisis, with growing inequalities comes greater dissatisfaction. Many of those that are disadvantaged might feel resentful or threatened by new people arriving, and see them as a burden on a society that is already struggling to cope with inequalities.
But we should also look at what kind of information is available to the public on migration policies.
Migration policies are complex. And given it is such a complex issue, migration can be easily misrepresented by the media.
For example, when looking at how migration is represented in the media of different countries, it’s easy to see how the national psyche is reflected and / or influenced.
Research by UNHCR shows that the tone and content of reporting on migration varies from country to country.
For example, French media are more likely to report on social and cultural issues, the US media on economic concerns, Australian coverage is negative, and the British press are more likely to frame refugees as potential threats to culture, welfare, security and the health system than any other country in Europe.
Compare this to coverage of refugees and migrants in Sweden and Germany, which is more positive.
It’s easy to see a general correlation between media representation, national mood and the direction of national politics.
In some cases, the media – especially in the UK – has dehumanised migrants, or used loaded language, such as “floods” or “invasions” of migrants.
And I’m afraid to say that research shows that there is an ethnic or islamophobia dimension to this. Data shows that people in Europe associate migration from predominantly Muslim countries as a security threat.
Chatham House analysis found that 55% of people agreed that migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped.
More generally, a 2016 survey by the Pew Research Center, found that most respondents in Poland, Greece, Hungary, Italy and the UK thought that refugees posed a major threat to their country.
And there is of course the role of social media, which has been documented as producing an “echo chamber effect”.
A study on the use of Facebook has shown that users tended to promote their favourite narratives, form polarised groups and resist information that doesn’t conform to their beliefs. Confirmation bias accounted for users’ decisions to share certain content, creating informational cascades within their communities.
Alarmingly, when deliberately false information was introduced into these echo chambers, it was absorbed and viewed as credible as long as it conformed with the primary narrative. So you can see how a person’s perception of migration, for instance, could be reinforced or heavily influenced by others with the same beliefs.
Discussion of migration can become very polarised, with little room for rational discussion.
This picture was used widely by the anti-European UK Independence Party in the run up to the UK’s referendum on Brexit, in June 2016. It is a picture taken at the Croatia-Slovenia border in October 2015. It was an exceptionally controversial photo.
It’s clear that migration became a big factor in the Brexit referendum, despite the many other – some would say more relevant – factors in the debate, such as economic and security matters.
And I recall after the vote on Brexit, there was a lot of talk about it being the areas with the lowest amounts of immigration that had mostly voted to leave the EU.
However, on closer inspection, this doesn’t appear to be the full picture.
It appears there is a correlation between areas with the highest levels of immigration—notably London—and those areas most likely to vote to Remain, which chart 1 above, shows.
But what chart 2 shows, is that when you consider the percentage-change in migrant numbers, rather than the total headcount, the opposite pattern emerges.
Where foreign-born populations increased by more than 200% between 2001 and 2014, a Leave vote followed in 94% of cases.
So it seems that it wasn’t high levels of immigration that worried people, but high rates of change, which can be linked to the perception issue.
For all the stakeholders involved, improving the quality of public information on migration and having a balanced debate is costly.
There is a political (and financial) cost for governments to engage in communication campaigns to explain the objectives of their policies and to evaluate them.
There is an opportunity cost for the media, especially in high competition environments, to try and provide an accurate and nuanced perspective, rather than going with attention-grabbing headlines.
And finally there is a time cost for the public to get access to more detailed or more balanced sources of information.
So what can be done? International migration is a sensitive issue in many countries, in part because it touches upon the very notion of the nation state.
Changes in the rules regarding who can enter or stay legally, can obtain citizenship or can vote, have implications for the composition of the host-country society and its institutions.
We need to start rebuilding trust in migration policies and institutions, in part by better enforcing existing laws and by tackling the challenges of irregular migration and illegal employment of migrants.
Scepticism about immigrants’ willingness to integrate into a host society is another challenge.
But indicators like the ones collected by the OECD in the publication Settling In provide information on the integration outcomes of migrants who arrived in past, which can help inform this debate.
Education has a big role to play of course, in encouraging intercultural sensitivity and respect.
Students could engage in experiences that allow an appreciation for diverse peoples, languages and cultures. By learning to appreciate the differences in the communities to which they belong – the neighbourhood, the school – young people can learn to live together as global citizens, and to appreciate diversity, which is so crucial to our success as a global community.
Promoting tolerance through education can be achieved by mainstreaming the principle of respect for human dignity and for cultural diversity across all subjects. The OECD is now testing these intercultural skills through our new Global Competence Framework, which is part of our Programme of International Student Assessments, or PISA.
There is a broad range of public policy tools that can be used to promote diversity, ranging from awareness campaigns, to anti-discrimination legislation, to quotas and active labour market policies. At the OECD, we are currently assessing which policies work best for which groups and why.
Another key challenge is to maintain the ability to respond to migration shocks.
To visibly remain in control of the situation and of its aftermaths, public policies must be able to adapt quickly.
Leadership and effective policy communication are also critical. When political leaders try to avoid the public debate on migration, extremists views have room to prosper.
And of course, it’s important to address the latent belief that others coming in hampers the opportunities of those already there – this means addressing inequalities.
Overly rosy approaches to migration issues are counterproductive and satisfy only those who are already convinced of the benefits of migration.
Acknowledging the challenges of migration and integration is a precondition for any effective communication strategy.
Countering extremist views on migration requires that each of us – politicians, journalists and citizens – take a hard look at the facts.
It is only once we disentangle myths from reality can we have an informed public debate on this critical issue.
 European Social Survey
 UNHCR, 2015; Crawley et al., 2016
 Benson and Saguy, 2005
 Berry et al., 2015; Crawley and McMahon, 2016; Doherty, 2015; UNHCR, 2015
 Allen and Blinder, 2013),
 A 2016 Chatham House survey of 10,000 people in ten European states found that 55% agreed with the statement that ‘all further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped’, with particularly strong support for this sentiment in Austria, Poland, Hungary, France and Belgium (Goodwin et al., 2017).
 Wike et al., 2016
 Echo Chambers on Facebook, Quattrociocchi, Scala and Sunstein, June 2016
 The Economist, data taken from the Office for National Statistics