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News announcement20 December 2017

Analysing prospects for immigrants on EU labour markets

This study analyses immigrants’ employment trends in Member States to help build a knowledge base for policies designed to maximise integration in the EU’s labour markets.

immigration building
© Fotolia, Jonny Lye, 2017

Over recent years, immigrants' chances of finding work in Europe have been heavily influenced by their education, skills and language levels but also by where they come from - and how long they have been resident in the country they move to. These remain important factors even when migrants are highly educated or have advanced language and job-related skills.

The 'employment gap' – the difference in rates of employment - between EU-nationals born in their country and immigrants varies widely across Europe. In 2016, there was a 30.1 percentage point difference in Swedish employment rates between Swedish nationals born in the country and immigrants, with a higher percentage of the former in employment. In the same year in the Czech Republic, the employment rate was 3.8 percentage points higher among immigrants than Czech nationals born in the country.

These findings are the result of a study on 'Patterns of immigrants’ integration in European labour markets', which explores the employment trends in EU Member States to help build a knowledge base for policies designed to maximise integration in the labour markets.

What's the picture across the EU?

The report used clusters of countries identified in the OECD-EU Settling In report to identify similar patterns in terms of employment gaps:

  • AT, BE DE, FR, LU, NL and the UK have a relatively high employment gap. This gap has been quite stable and there is little evidence that it is closing;
  • DK, FI, SE have the highest employment gap in the EU. The gap in these countries has also been stable except for a narrowing in Finland and Denmark in 2009, in the context of the financial crisis;
  • For the majority of Member States(CY, ES, GR, IE, IT, MT, PT, HR, CZ, EE, HU, LV, LT, PL, SK, SI) the trends fluctuated around 0, meaning that the gaps have been relatively low or even slightly positive (in favour of immigrants).
chart image
© European Union, 2017

What factors are driving the gap?

It's generally accepted that education and skills are central to an individual's job prospects. The report looked at these factors and others, finding that:

  • For immigrants, the country of origin is important. In the 2008-2015 snapshots analysed in the report, immigrants from Northern Africa and the Middle East had noticeably lower employment rates than those from other regions, even after breaking down the samples by level of education;
  • Higher educated immigrants have better job prospects, although they remain on a less-than-equal footing with their native counterparts;
  • The higher the gap in education and skills, the higher the employment gap. This is particularly true for language and numeracy skills;
  • For digital skills, the picture is somewhat different. In those countries where there is a larger proportion of immigrants with low digital skills as compared to the share of EU citizens born in the country who have the same skills, immigrants tend to have better employment prospects. This might be due to the fact that digital skills are often associated with specific job roles, although further investigation is required to fully understand the trend;
  • Length of residence is also important. It is more likely that someone will be in work if they have been in the country for longer than 5 years. However, this varies depending on where the person comes from and their level of education.
chart image
© European Union, 2017


The report comes from the European Commission's Knowledge Centre on Migration and Demography and explores employment integration trends in the context of a contribution to the European Semester, a process which always includes a focus on employment policies.

The EU has set a target to increase the employment rate of 20 to 64 year-olds to at least 75% by 2020. This could be done notably through the greater involvement of women, older workers and the better integration of migrants in the workforce. With around 35 million people born outside the EU now living legally in EU Member States, maximising the potential of immigrants to integrate in the job market will be vital to achieving this target, in particular in Member States where they represent a significant proportion of the working age population.

Related Content

Publication: Patterns of immigrants’ integration in European labour markets

OECD-EU Settling In report


Publication date
20 December 2017