OECD countries prioritize education to improve inclusion of migrants and refugees

international migration outlookThere’s a deluge of reports on migrants and refugees just out. The 2018 International Migration Outlook, OECD’s report on migration flows and policies was released last week. Reflecting the tone of the latest UNHCR report on the rise of the number of those forcibly displaced, the OECD Report shows that, last year, one in ten people living in OECD countries were foreign-born and around 5 million new permanent migrants arrived. In addition, levels of temporary foreign workers and international student numbers have reached record levels.

The Outlook concentrates on labour market integration, which is linked indisputably to education, such as the extent to which migrants speak the language of their host country or the qualifications and skills they arrive with are recognised. While it may be inadequate to paint a picture of inclusion simply by the extent to which a new arrival can access the labour market, the emphasis on ensuring that they do not experience frustration by having their skills wasted is an important one.

Language skills seen as crucial for integration

Across OECD countries, many countries focus on language skills to help newly arrived migrants and refugees integrate in their societies.  Adding to some of the country initiatives mentioned in the new report from the European Migration Network, the OECD report mentions others, such as Denmark, which sees language skills as so important that they are providing incentives for migrants and refugees to acquire them. Others, such as Austria, the Czech Republic, Norway, and Poland are, instead, making language tests a compulsory element for certain permit decisions.

Improve recognition of qualifications

Despite having relatively high education levels in comparison to natives in their host country, foreign-born workers in the OECD area are concentrated in low-skill occupations, often because their skills and qualifications are not being recognized. The Outlook tells us that, on average, one in three tertiary educated migrants is over-qualified. This is about 12 percentage points greater than for natives.

The recognition of formal qualifications ‘continues to develop’ in the region. Efforts in this regard pay off. It is pointless having qualified people sit in your country and not let them put their skills to use. In Luxembourg, for example, a new law simplified the recognition procedure and created registers of professional and qualifications titles. Similarly, several OECD countries, such as Norway, are now developing systems to help recognize vocational qualifications.

Help children join national education systems

international migration outlook 2Amongst the most vulnerable migrants are clearly children, which the Report says ‘can often have difficulties integrating quickly enough into school systems after arrival’. In order to prevent long periods of interrupted education, the third draft of the Global Compact on Refugees contains a lucid target on this issue: “More direct financial support and special efforts will be mobilized to minimize the time refugee boys and girls spend out of education, ideally a maximum of three months after arrival.”

Already setting an example in this regard, Luxembourg introduced changes in August last year that have extended multi-lingual education programmes to early childhood education with the help of care service vouchers. Similarly, Sweden introduced a new Budget Bill this year making preschool mandatory and is carrying out a review to look at ways of increasing the attendance of newly-arrived children.

In Norway, an amendment to the Education Act has been introduced, specifying that all children are entitled to primary and lower secondary education no later than within one month after arrival. And in Lithuania, an amendment in May last year helps asylum-seeking children to fulfil their right to pre-school and pre-primary education within three months of lodging an asylum application.

Countries are also taking additional steps to ensure that unaccompanied minors can access their rights.  In Chile, a no-cost special visa has been created to help children access education independent of their parents’ visa situation, for example. And there are moves to help those who have arrived late into their host country’s education system. Sweden has made several changes, including providing individual study plans for children that follow them from school to school.

But what this Report does not cover is what children are being taught and the extent to which education, per-se, is a given good. Speaking the local language and finding gainful employment may be a bonus but will mean nothing if there are discriminatory attitudes.

The next Global Education Monitoring Report, due out on November 20th, will be examining education systems around the world to see where the set up of schools and institutions is inclusive of migrants and refugees, and to ensure that these initial, more practical steps being carried out by OECD members in this report will bear fruit.  Sign up to receive it when it is released.


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