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Russia’s War Against Ukraine Generates Historic Migration Flows

OECD International Migration Outlook 2022 says that Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine generated a historic outflow of people, largely women and children, in Europe fleeing the war. By mid-September 2022, close to 5 million individual refugees from Ukraine had been recorded across the EU and other OECD countries.

The slowdown of international migration witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic was reverted in 2021 due to a strong economic recovery, increasing labour needs and a resumption of visa processing. Yet 2022 has been marked by even further flows resulting from Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine, which has triggered a refugee and humanitarian crisis at a scale unforeseen in Europe since the Second World War, according to a new OECD report. For more than four decades, the OECD has been monitoring migration trends annually through this Migration Outlook.

“OECD countries reacted to the Ukrainian refugee crisis decisively and quickly, coping with sudden and unexpected inflows of people seeking protection with unprecedented and overwhelming support,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said. “OECD countries are putting the lessons from previous crises into practice. We must continue to take bold actions to confront the challenges during the next phase of this humanitarian crisis. This will be key to providing the necessary support to Ukrainian refugees and pave the way to rebuilding Ukraine.” 

While the initial support of the Ukrainian refugees has been essential, going forward countries need to explore “dual intent” solutions that give refugees quick access to integration support and further build their skills without hampering a possible return to Ukraine once the situation allows, says the report. Investing in language skills is key to facilitating smooth entry into labour markets and society at large. It is also important to ensure that Ukrainians’ existing skills are better assessed and recognised, while providing affordable and durable housing.

Permanent migration flows to OECD countries bounced back by 22% in 2021, after a record fall in 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis. Initial data suggest that the increase in permanent migration flows is continuing in 2022, according to a new OECD report. OECD countries received 4.8 million new permanent immigrants in 2021, still more than half a million fewer than in 2019. The United States remained the largest destination in 2021, at 834 000 people, up 43% on 2020. Canada received a record of over 400 000 new permanent immigrants, more than double the 2020 figure.

Family migration increased by 40% in 2021 and remained the largest category of inflows, accounting for more than four in ten new permanent immigrants to the OECD. Labour migration to OECD countries rebounded by 45% in 2021 to 750 000 workers, the highest in more than a decade. This was partly driven by large increases in Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States.

This year’s Outlook also includes a special focus on international students. In 2020, there were 4.4 million international students enrolled in the OECD, making up 10% of all tertiary students. The United States was the leading destination (22% of all international students), followed by the UK (13%) and Australia (10%).

Former international students are an important feeder for labour migration. Students changed to a work permit accounted for about half of all admissions for work in France and Italy, and more than one in three in Japan. In the United States, former study (F1) permit holders accounted for 57% of temporary high-skilled (H1B) permit recipients. International students are also an important source of revenue in many OECD countries. In the OECD as a whole, direct export revenues in nominal terms from international students increased from over EUR 50 billion in 2010 to over EUR 110 billion in 2019.

Iuliia Tore

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