Enhancing labour-market integration of immigrants in Canada

by David Carey, Head of Canada Desk, OECD Economics Department

Canada has long taken in more immigrants relative to its population than most other countries. Immigration policy in Canada aims to promote economic development by selecting immigrants with high levels of human capital, to reunite families and to respond to foreign crises and offer protection to endangered people. Economic immigrants, who are selected for their skills, are by far the largest group. The immigration system has been highly successful and is well run. Outcomes are monitored and policies adjusted to ensure that the system’s objectives are met. Immigrants and their children are better integrated in Canada based on a variety of indicators than in most other countries. Immigrants selected for their skills earn substantially more than other immigrants, indicating that selection is succeeding in identifying immigrants with the greatest potential for labour market integration.

Canadaimmigrationblog 2018

A problematic development is that immigrants’ entry earnings fell sharply relative to those of the comparable native-born in recent decades. Important causes of the fall include weaker official language skills and a decline in the returns to pre-immigration labour market experience.

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In response, immigration policy has been changed to select immigrants with better earnings prospects. More are selected for their human capital, and greater weight has been given to official language competence, age (inversely related to foreign work experience) and Canadian work experience. Recently, the selection system was overhauled with the introduction of Express Entry, which only invites candidates with the highest point scores to apply for permanent residence and gives employers a greater role in selection. The system would be still more effective if more weight were given to skilled Canadian work experience in selection and applications from candidates with skilled work experience and a relevant job offer were processed before others.

Canada also has an extensive array of programmes that facilitate integration. The Targeted Employment Strategy for Newcomers facilitates foreign-credentials recognition and helps immigrants gain Canadian work experience in their profession. Bridge programmes, which help with post-secondary credentials recognition in regulated occupations, and mentoring programmes, which help immigrants overcome underrepresentation in high-quality jobs by developing professional networks, have proved effective and should be expanded. The federal government’s settlement programmes are extensively used but it is not clear whether utilisation patterns reflect differences in needs or availability. There are large differences in efficiency of government language programmes, pointing to possibilities for reorganisation to improve outcomes.


OECD (2018), OECD Economic Surveys: Canada 2018,  OECD Publishing, Paris.

The refugee crisis: a challenge but also an opportunity for improving policies to integrate immigrants into the Dutch labour market

By Gabor Fulop, Analyst, & Rafal Kierzenkowski, Senior Economist
The Netherlands Desk,  Country Studies, OECD Economics Department

The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe has particularly affected the Netherlands. Asylum requests surged in 2015 to nearly 60 000 (Panel A), more than three times the yearly average of 2010-14. This is a significant challenge for the authorities, who need to provide decent housing and help these people finding a job for the time they will stay in the Netherlands as refugees, which could be much longer than expected. Getting work is key for refugees to develop social contacts and economic independence, and acquiring new skills could be helpful for those refugees who eventually return to their own country. Therefore, good policies to facilitate the labour market integration for migrants are critical.

The past record of integrating immigrants is mixed. Although at about the OECD average, the skills of first- and second-generation immigrants are well below those of natives and below those of immigrants in the best performing OECD countries (Panels B and C). In parallel, the gap in labour force participation—those who have jobs or are looking for a job—between first-generation immigrants and natives is the largest in the OECD (Panel D). Many policies that would support job prospects of immigrants would also benefit refugees. Studies of past inflows of refugees show that the proportion of those of working age participating in the labour market is around 45% after being five years in the Netherlands (Vluchtelingenwerk, 2014), which is much lower than the 80% of natives.

Skills and labour market outcomes of immigrants are weak


Source: Statistics Netherlands (2016), “Asylum requests” in Population, Statline, January; OECD (2013), PISA 2012 Database; OECD (2013), OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills; and OECD (2015), “Employment, unemployment and participation rates by sex and place of birth“, OECD International Migration Statistics (database), October.

The 2016 Economic Survey of the Netherlands  highlights the following reforms for improving the labour market integration of immigrants, which could also benefit refugees:

  1. Ensuring high equity of compulsory education

Raising the quality of early childhood education and care would help immigrant children, including by improving language proficiency. Stepping up training would provide teachers with the tools to work with students with disadvantaged backgrounds, and reflecting such skills in wages would attract more qualified teachers. Raising student mobility between tracks at secondary schools would foster the development of skills, including for students with immigrant background, and would avoid those with low socio-economic background being trapped in low-qualified jobs.

  1. Recognising and upgrading skill sets

Better recognition of foreign qualifications and informal skills would help immigrants to find work that matches their skills. Creating programmes that combine work experience and on-the-job training beyond formal education, especially for immigrants with low qualifications, would help them to demonstrate and upgrade their informal skills. Developing language courses would also support access to jobs.

  1. Promoting job search and recruitment

Further lowering the cap on severance payments would make permanent contracts more attractive to employers, which would help refugees and immigrants to find jobs and to support their skills because permanent work tends to come with more skill development. The government has recently increased the earned income tax credit for lower income-earners, which is welcome. Further reduction of effective tax rates on labour income would sharpen incentives to get a job. Reinstating an equal employment policy would help to overcome discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity.

Whereas the refugee crisis poses an immediate challenge, it also provides an incentive to improve labour market integration policies of immigrants. This would result in better job prospects benefiting all parties involved, the migrants and the Netherlands.


Vluchtelingenwerk (2014), IntegratieBarometer 2014 (Integration Barometer 2014).

OECD (2016), OECD Economic Surveys: Netherlands 2016, OECD Publishing.