Labour Market Mobility

Key Findings

Labour market integration happens over time and depends on the general policies, context, immigrants' skills and reason for migration. Certain effective employment policies may be too new and small to reach the many non-EU citizen men and women in need, who rarely access any training or benefits.

Ranking 2014Score


How many immigrants could be employed?

In the average European country, 1/3 of working-age non-EU citizens are not in employment, education or training. The number of non-EU citizens not in employment, education or training are highest in countries such as BE, FR, GR, ES and lowest (around 20-25%) in Nordics, CY, CZ, PT, NL, CH, UK. This is less common among men & high-educated (1/4) than among women & low-educated (40%).


Do immigrants have equal rights and opportunities to access jobs and improve their skills?

Labour market mobility policies would barely qualify as slightly favourable in most countries. Most family and long-term residents can immediately access the private labour market, public employment services and training. But immigrants looking for the right job or a new degree will have to find one without the help of the social safety net or strong targeted programmes to recognise their skills or foreign diplomas and orient them to jobs and mainstream services.

Immigrants have better access and targeted support in traditional countries of immigration, Western Europe and JP/KR, with the weakest rights and opportunities in CY, IE, TU and most Central European countries. Access, support and rights differ significantly across countries, even between the traditional countries of immigration. Immigrant workers enjoy greater access and rights as workers in CA and, to some extent, the US, but greater targeted support in NZ and, to some extent, AU. Whereas in Europe, BE, EE, FR, and LU are wasting the economic potential of many of their non-EU citizens by providing some targeted support but closing many sectors to them. Countries recently dependent on migrant workers (CZ, GR, IT, PL, ES) may treat them equally as workers under the law, but often ignore the specific challenges of the foreign-born. PT emerges as the only new country of immigration with a favourable framework for labour market mobility, both for immigrant and emigrant workers.

Labour market mobility is one of the few areas of integration policy where the majority of countries are continuing to invest in reform, with improvements in 20 countries since 2010 (on average +6 points). Only NL undermined its support to target the specific needs of immigrant workers, due to the new government's approach to mainstreaming and austerity. Major legal reforms in new countries of immigration use EU law to improve their legislation (e.g. GR, HU, LV) and catch up with basic access and information for immigrant workers and entrepreneurs. More established countries of immigration continued to pilot and expand targeted support, which is relatively new and weak in most countries. Immigrants in AT, BE, EE, FI, FR, DE, PT, SE, US will see several new targeted support measures, and qualifications may be better recognised in CA, CY, DE, LU, PT.


Access to labour market

  • Not all foreign residents with the right to work have equal access to the full labour market. 24 MIPEX countries now grant immediate access for family migrants, but still delay full access for labour migrants
  • Often only nationals (or EU nationals) enjoy equal opportunities for public sector jobs (equal access in 15 countries, but very limited in 10: FR, LU, mostly Central and Southeast Europe)
  • Greater access to labour market and public sector in longstanding destinations & major countries of labour migration
  • New countries of immigration have granted equal access under EU law (recently IT, GR, PL) and opened to immigrant entrepreneurs (recently GR, HU, PL), but others have also restricted access for workers and family (e.g. CZ, IE, NL, SK)

Access to general support

  • Most immigrants can access public employment offices, higher education & vocational training, often thanks to EU law (e.g. CY, CZ, GR, LV)
  • However many immigrants as temporary residents or workers cannot equally access grants and scholarships to obtain these new degrees (equal access granted in 10: NO & several in Southern and Central Europe)
  • Procedures to recognise skills and foreign qualifications are also very new (e.g. CA, DE) and only facilitated in 9 countries: AU, CA, CY, DE, EE, IS, NL, SE, UK, with some positive elements in 8 more (e.g. BE, DK, NO, NZ, PT)
  • Few countries have a clear procedure to recognise skills and experience from work abroad

Targeted support

  • Targeted support is the major area of weakness in most countries. Rarely are general services able to address the specific needs of the foreign-trained, very low-educated, young arrivals or migrant women
  • Immigrants in most countries only receive targeted information on their rights and recognition procedures (e.g. most recently, AT, CA, CY, EE, FR, IS)
  • Most targeted policies are very new and limited to Western Europe, often in response to immigrant employment statistics, but requiring political will (e.g. cuts due to NL mainstreaming and UK austerity)
  • Targeted work-related trainings in 10 (mostly job-specific language training in Western Europe, EE, JP/KR, recently US)
  • Specific bridging/work placement programmes for high or low-skilled in 8 (Nordics, DE, AU/CA/NZ). Employment mentors/coaches for newcomers in 12 (recently Nordics, AT, BE, FR, DE, JP/KR, PT)

Workers’ rights

  • Once migrants find jobs, they generally enjoy the same working conditions and access to unions as nationals
  • These workers, who pay full taxes, are nevertheless excluded from parts of the social security system in half the MIPEX countries (e.g. AU/NZ/US/UK and new countries of immigration), with full access in 14 countries (CA, Northern & Southern Europe)

Best Case & Worst Case

This is a composition of national policies found in 2014 in at least one of the 38 countries

Best case

A migrant with the right to work and live in the country has the same chances as everyone else in the labour market. From day one in the country, she and her family members can start applying for any job in the private or public sector. She gets her qualifications from abroad recognised. She can then improve her skills through training and study grants. The state encourages her by targeting her specific needs - for example, she can take language courses focused on her profession. Job mentors and trained staff help her assess skills and use public employment services. Once employed, she has the same rights as all workers in the country.

Worst Case

Where a migrant cannot fully contribute to the country’s economic life, his skills and ambitions go to waste. He must wait 5 years to have the same right as nationals to work, study or start his own business. Even then, he is barred from working in many sectors and professions. In the meantime, he has to look for work on his own, without any general or targeted support. Because his foreign qualifications are not recognised, he may have to give up his career to take whatever job he finds. Employers do not have to provide him with the same working conditions or social security as his co-workers.


Are immigrants acquiring new skills?

The uptake of education and training seems to be higher among non-EU men and women, including the low-educated, in countries facilitating labour market mobility and lower in those restricting job and training opportunities. Only 17% of working-age non-EU citizens were recently enrolled in education or training, according to EU-wide estimates from 2011/2. Uptake of education and training was much higher (around 1/3) and more equitable for men/women and high/low-educated in NL and Nordics (up to 42% in SE). Hardly any non-EU adults (<9%) were accessing education and training in several parts of Central and Southern Europe (e.g. EE/LV, HU, SI, CY, GR, IT). Overall, uptake of education and training was only slightly higher among women, but much higher among high-educated men and women in most Western European countries (esp. AT/DE/CH, FR, IT).

Most unemployed non-EU citizens must find a new job without the support of unemployment benefits. According to 2011/2 rough estimates from a selection of EU countries, only around 1/3 of non-EU citizen men and women who were unemployed last year received any unemployment benefit. These numbers appear slightly lower for women. Access to unemployment benefits seemed to be possible for the majority of unemployed non-EU citizens in AT, BE, FI, CH, around half in FR, but only for small numbers in HR, CY, DE, GR, UK.


What other factors explain whether immigrants find skilled and well-paid jobs?

  • High employment rates (≥70%) in Nordics, AT/DE/NL/CH, AU/CA/NZ/US, JP vs. lower rates (≤60%) in HR, GR, IT, ES, TU
  • ≥2% average GDP growth since 2010 in TU, KR, Baltics, PL/SK, DE/LU/CH, MT, SE, AU/CA/NZ/US, but negative growth in Southern Europe (HR, CY, CZ, IT, SI, ES, PT)
  • Most flexible employment protection legislation in English-speaking countries, Nordics, HU, JP, NL, CH & most rigid in TU, BE/FR/LU, EE, NO, Southern Europe (GR/IT/SI/ES/PT) 
  • Majority of recent migrants coming with temporary work or study permits in English-speaking countries, Southern Europe, JP/KR, CZ, IS, MT, PL, CH
  • Large numbers coming with some exposure to the language in English-speaking countries (except US), BE, FR, PT, ES


Are immigrants employed in qualified and well-paid jobs?

The long-settled non-EU-born (10+ years' stay) are on average only slightly less likely to have a job than non-immigrants with the same gender and level of education, though the gaps are greater for the high-educated and for women. Data on employment rates from 2011/2 suggest that, on average, non-immigrants are just 10% more likely to be employed than long-settled non-EU immigrants. No major employment gaps emerged for long-settled low or high-educated immigrants in IE, IT, ES, PT, UK or for low-educated immigrants in FI, CH, CY, GR, SI. Employment rates for the low-educated are similar for immigrant and non-immigrant men in the majority of countries, but 20% lower for immigrant women on average. In contrast, the gaps in employment rates are higher among the high-educated, especially for high-educated immigrant women and especially in BE/NL, DK/FI, CY/GR/SI. Employment gaps are generally similar for immigrant men vs. women in the Nordics, Southern and Central Europe, but greater for immigrant women in AT/DE/CH, BE/FR, FI, UK.

In terms of employment quality, long-settled non-EU immigrants are often still in worse jobs than non-immigrants, with the high-educated twice as likely to be over-qualified for their jobs and the low-educated 2.5 times as likely to be living in poverty. High-educated men and women are much more likely to be working below their qualifications, especially in Southern Europe and Northwest Europe, with only the exceptions of IE, PT and UK. Low-educated workers are much more likely to experience poverty, with wages and benefits below their needs, especially in BE, DK, FR, LU, NL.

More – but not necessarily better – jobs tend to go to immigrants in countries with flexible & growing labour markets and more open labour migration & study channels, especially for immigrants speaking or learning the language. However, immigrants' labour market integration is not simply explained by the general policy/context and their individual skills. Research finds that employment outcomes are better for immigrants who get legal access to the labour market, a formal recognition of their foreign degree, a new domestic degree and/or domestic work experience. Targeted policies may be too new, small-scale or general to achieve these objectives. Whether each country's policies obtain these effects in practice depends on the implementation and the national context. A few Northern European countries submit their policies to robust evaluation, whose results will allow us to understand the link between employment policies and outcomes for immigrants and similar groups on the labour market.


What do we learn from robust studies?

So far, only certain general and targeted employment policies can be directly associated with better labour market outcomes for immigrants and a lower incidence of employment discrimination. Robust evaluations collected through this project (see Bilgili 2015, also Liebig and Huddleston 2014 and Butschek and Walter 2014) suggest that what works for non-immigrants also works well for immigrants, especially for the low-educated, although these programmes work better when applied early and targeted to immigrants’ specific needs. Immigrants benefit the most from programmes providing early work experience. Some evidence also suggests that early work-focused introduction programmes can also boost employment outcomes, so long as their focus is country-specific vocational trainings and the programme is combined with work experience to avoid the 'lock-in effect of courses. Other rather effective programmes include start-up funds for immigrant entrepreneurs and job search assistance (identifying migrants’ skills and helping them look for jobs). More indirectly, facilitating naturalisation, a secure residence and a secure family life seems to have positive effects on boosting labour market outcomes for certain immigrants (Bilgili et al. 2015). 


New results of MIPEX

We are pleased to announce that the new results of MIPEX (2014-2020) will be published by the end of 2020. MIPEX 2020 will include 52 European and non-European countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, EU28, India, Japan, Mexico, US and much more. Stay tuned!