As international migration has risen in recent decades, the proportion of migrants with university degrees has also increased – with the most recent migrants to developed countries likely to be the best educated – according to just-released statistics from the OECD.
One third of immigrants who arrived less than five years ago in OECD countries, or some 5.2 million people, are tertiary educated. This has enormous human capital implications for both sending and destination countries.
“On average, the proportion of higher education graduates is greater among recent immigrants than for the native-born populations of the OECD countries (24%) or for longer standing immigrant communities (27%),” according to an OECD report presented at a conference held on 5 October in Paris, on identifying and better using migrants’ skills.
Harnessing the Skills of Migrants and Diasporas to Foster Development, prepared in cooperation with France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, found that in Canada, Australia, Ireland and the UK more than half of recent migrants are higher education graduates.
The finding that new immigrants are better educated reflects “both the selective nature of migration to OECD countries and the increase of the education level of young people in countries of origin,” it said.
Since 2000 in the OECD area – which comprises 34 of the world’s most developed countries – the number of migrants that have university education has increased significantly, according to the Paris-based international organisation.
“Although educational attainment levels increased in most origin countries, the emigration rates of the highly educated also increased. This indicates a faster outflow of university graduates than the increase in their number in the origin country,” the OECD said.
In Europe, Australia, Canada and New Zealand an average of nearly 16% of immigrant workers of Asian or Sub-Saharan African origin, and 13% of those from the Middle East and North Africa, are employed as professionals and more than 11% are in skilled technical jobs.
In the United States, one out of every six immigrants from Africa is a professional in either the health care or education sectors. One in 10 Asian immigrants to the US are in the information technology sector, and 12% of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa have managerial responsibility.
Other changes in migration demographics
In addition, a growing number of migrant women are no longer arriving for family related reasons but for employment.
This is particularly the case for skilled women. Nearly four million women with degrees settled in OECD countries between 2000 and 2006, 1.7 million of them from less developed countries.
Among recent migrants – those arriving in the last five years – the proportion of migrants with higher education is higher for women at 33% than for men at 31%. Gender differences are largest in African countries such as Malawi, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.
A second OECD report, Connecting with Emigrants: A global profile of diasporas, was also released at the conference with new and detailed analysis of migrant populations by country.
It noted that in absolute numbers some 1.7 million highly educated migrants within the OECD area are from India, 1.3 million from the UK, 1.3 million from the Philippines, 1.2 million from China and one million from Germany.
“These five largest highly educated migrant populations account for around 26% of all tertiary educated migrants in the OECD area,” the report said.
However, with substantial over-qualification among migrants, and lack of recognition of their qualifications, policy-makers are beginning to understand the need to better use inbound human capital.
According to data available for 23 OECD countries, 26% of immigrants with a university degree hold low- or medium-skilled jobs compared to 29% of native population.
“It is the differential more than the absolute level that indicates the scope of the problem,” according to the Harnessing the Skills report.
Migrants who are well integrated into the labour market tend to acquire new technical and linguistic skills and progress professionally. However, “those in jobs not corresponding to their qualifications run the risk of incurring a long-lasting loss of human capital,” it said.
In such circumstances the international transferability of qualifications takes on a new light, with an urgent need for attention in destination countries to assessing qualifications and quality and content of curricula in other countries.
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