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Posted Saturday, February 23, 2008
Immigrants Better Educated in OECD


PARIS -- In most of the world's developed countries, immigrants are more likely to be overqualified for a job than local workers, according to one of the world's leading economic institutes.

A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based group backed by the governments of 30 leading industrialized countries, says that people who immigrate to OECD countries are on average better educated than those born locally.

Nearly one in four immigrants to the OECD has completed a university education compared with one in five native-born residents, according to the report. Yet the education level of immigrants is often not taken into account by employers. In Denmark, Greece, Italy, Spain and Sweden, for example, the percentage of immigrants doing a job for which they are overqualified is twice as high as for native-born workers.

The OECD says this difference reflects policies developed by OECD countries to attract highly skilled migrants. But at the same time, language barriers, difficulties in comparing diplomas and demand for low-skill jobs makes it harder for immigrants to find work that matches their abilities.

"As education around the world improves, the pool of highly skilled migrants is getting larger," said Jean-Christophe Dumont, a senior OECD economist who worked on the report, in an interview.

He said countries with small populations and poor education systems are the hardest hit by the loss of skilled workers. The brain drain affects mainly small African and Caribbean countries, according to the OECD report.

Within these regions, small countries such as Fiji, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Mauritius have more than 40% of their highly skilled population living abroad. With African countries such as Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Tanzania, more than half of doctors work abroad. There also is a gender dimension to the brain drain: Women from developing countries with university degrees are also more likely to emigrate to OECD countries than highly skilled men: 17.6% versus 13.1%.

"Countries are doubly hurt by the migration of highly skilled workers," said Isabelle Daugareilh, researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research, a French government-funded think tank. "Not only do they not get a return on the investment they made into the person's education, but they lose the person's specialist skills."

The trend of overqualified immigrants is particularly pronounced in Germany, Austria and southern Europe, where 70% of the immigrant populations are in low-skill jobs, the OECD report said.

"Often the mixture of discrimination by the employer coupled with the need to find employment as quickly as possible results in employment in a low-paid job," Ms. Daugareilh said.

Countries with more selective immigration policies offer more skilled employment, according to the report. In countries such as the U.K., New Zealand and Australia, about 30% of immigrants are employed in professional jobs.

In OECD countries as a whole, 50.6% of the foreign-born population have a low-skill job, while 26.1% have professional occupations. Migrants from Asia tend to be employed in professional jobs, it said.

Write to Max Colchester at max.colchester@wsj.com

Copyright 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Reprinted from The Wall Street Journal of Thursday, February 21, 2008.

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