Labour migration

Migration: Closing the gap between perceptions and true facts

How are migrants generally perceived? Are those perceptions correct? Read an interview with OECD Deputy Secretary-General Stefan Kapferer, who was the main speaker at the second thematic meeting of the Global Forum on Migration and Development.

Analysis | 29 April 2015
OECD Deputy Secretary-General, Stefan Kapferer
Q: What are public perceptions currently about migration in the OECD?
S. Kapferer: Public perceptions in OECD countries are frequently that migration cannot be controlled and is very costly. Native populations may feel that the borders of OECD countries are not secure. There may be a perception that migrants steal jobs and receive a disproportionate amount of social benefits in host countries. Finally, native populations may think that the percentage of migrants is very high, several times the actual level. Populist parties feed off and amplify these sentiments, and can influence national migration policy and legislation.

Q: Is this true?
S. Kapferer: No. There is a gap between perceptions and the true facts. Migrants pay more taxes and make more social contributions than they receive in benefits. They don’t steal jobs and don’t move to OECD countries only to receive benefits. They migrate to get out of poverty and live in a safe haven, but also to deliver economic benefits to their new home country. False perceptions are something we need to address. The media can play a role here in disseminating success stories and informing the public about the real situation.

Q: What are some key trends regarding migration to OECD countries?
S. Kapferer: In the last decade, the number of migrants in OECD countries has increased by 40 per cent. There are 117 million migrants in the 34 OECD countries, which amounts to more than 10 per cent of the population. Factors behind this trend are globalization, the need for a young labour force, the internationalization of education and marriage between nationals of different countries. Another interesting trend is that migrants are increasingly well-skilled and educated, with higher numbers having completed tertiary education.

Q: What should be done to counter negative public perceptions about migrants?
S. Kapferer: Awareness needs to be raised in political institutions, parliaments and within the public. We need to rebuild trust in institutions and migration policies. Leadership is required for effective policy communication. We need to tackle labour market integration. We need a rich public debate. This involves the notion of the nation-state, who can obtain citizenship—important questions for societies.

Q: What can the ILO do?
S. Kapferer: As an organization that includes unions, employers and governments, there is a role for each one of them to play. Often, less skilled people are more concerned about potential negative impacts of migration. Unions can help by informing all workers that migrants are not there to steal their jobs. Employers also have a key role to play by promoting fair business and recruitment practices. And of course governments are responsible for improving laws, policies and enforcement mechanisms to make sure these practices are implemented.

The meeting was organized under the auspices GFMD Chair, Turkey, and co-convened by Mexico and Greece.