Page last updated at 13:14 GMT, Wednesday, 10 September 2008 14:14 UK

Migration fears unjustified, OECD

By Steve Schifferes
Economics reporter, BBC News

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Rich countries should not scorn low-skilled migrants, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Many rich countries are trying to encourage permanent migration by highly skilled migrants, while restricting less-skilled immigrants to temporary status, the OECD says.

But OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, says "constructing a country's migration policy on the assumption that labour immigrants will only stay for a short time is not the way to go. It is neither efficient nor workable".

Cycling repeated waves of temporary workers in and out of a country to work at the same jobs is inefficient

The OECD, which represents the world's richest developed countries, says that in 2006 there were four million permanent migrants, and 2.5 million temporary migrants admitted by its members.

But it does add that the rate of increase in migration is slowing, and it expects the looming slowdown in OECD countries will lead to lower flows of migrants.

The OECD also points out that most migrants decide to return home regardless of government policy. It estimates that 20% to 50% of migrants leave the host country within five years.

According to the group "cycling repeated waves of temporary workers in and out of a country to work at the same jobs is inefficient.

"Enforcing such a scheme on employers entails substantial economic and political costs."

The OECD says that in the longer term, with declining populations in many OECD countries, there will be an increased need for both skilled and unskilled labour which migrants will need to fill.

Political battles

A number of OECD countries - including the US, UK, France and Italy - have tightened up their immigration policy in recent years in response to political pressures and popular concerns as the economic slowdown has intensified.

Changes have included tighter checks on employers who are hiring illegal immigrants, additional requirements for professional skills or education before being admitted, and tougher border controls.

Others, such as Spain and Ireland, are considering such measures.

It is no coincidence that Spain, Italy, and Ireland have seen the biggest increase in the share of immigrant workers in the labour force.

However, the number of asylum seekers admitted has fallen to its lowest level in 20 years, with just 282,000 admitted by the 30 nations of the OECD.

The biggest increase in the last five years has been in the number of foreign students admitted, which has gone up 50% from 2000 to 2005 across the OECD as a whole.

The US, UK, Australia and France have seen the biggest increase in foreign student numbers.

But the OECD points out that there has been little planning for how countries might benefit from such temporary migration.

Asian immigrants

The countries which are sending the largest number of migrants are China, Romania and Poland.

The report also points out that the majority of immigrants to European OECD countries come from within Europe or North Africa.

Around 60% of sub-Saharan African migrants, and 80% of migrants from Asia, go to other OECD countries like the US and Australia.

Just over one in 10 people in OECD countries are migrants, with Finland and Austria seeing the biggest increase.

The OECD member countries are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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