‘No impact’ from additional refugees on Irish workforce population, says report

Stronger efforts needed to tackle illegal employment of foreign workers, says OECD

There will be "virtually no impact" from additional refugees on the workforce population in Ireland by December 2020, the latest International Migration Outlook report has found.

Despite public fears that an influx of migrants could impact the labour market of host countries, the report contends that this rise in numbers will be “small and concentrated on the working-age population” and increase by no more than 0.4 per cent by December 2020. Taking into account the low participation rates of refugees, the impact on the labour market as a whole will be limited to about “0.24 per cent”.

In Ireland, there will be “virtually no impact” from additional refugee inflows on the working-age population by December 2020, the report said. Participation by migrants in the Irish workforce rose by 2-4 per cent in 2016, almost entirely driven by working female migrants. Unemployment among migrants in Ireland dropped by nearly 10 per cent between 2012 and 2017.

The 2018 study, produced by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), highlights the need for stronger labour inspections, legal pathways for labour migration, more effective measures against informal employment and verification checks to tackle the illegal employment of migrant workers. Labour market policies which promote the integration of vulnerable refugees, particularly in terms of training and skills development, are also badly needed, says the report.


Citing the latest Eurobarometer survey, the report notes that almost half the European population mistakenly believe there are at least as many illegal immigrants as legal immigrants in Europe, while most believe there are even more illegal than legal migrants staying in Europe. No OECD country "remotely approaches these proportions", clarifies the report.

Illegal employment

Stronger efforts must be made both in Ireland, and internationally, to tackle irregular immigration and the illegal employment of foreign workers, the report warned.

The number of non-Irish nationals living in the State rose to 566,600 by April 2017, representing 11.8 per cent of the population. The largest group of non-nationals arriving in Ireland came from new EU member states while citizens from outside Europe only made up 2.9 per cent of the population.

The portion of immigrants who came to Ireland from outside the EU, Australia, Canada and the US rose to 27 per cent in 2017. This increase is explained by the rise in highly skilled migrants coming to Ireland for work and the arrival of international students. A total of 2,200 people applied for asylum in 2016, a drop of 30 per cent on the number of applications made the previous year. The highest number of asylum claims came from Syria, Pakistan, Albania, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

Migration flows into OECD countries, which include Europe, the US, Canada and countries across Latin America and Asia Pacific, dropped for the first time since 2011 with about five million new permanent migrations in 2017, down from 5.3 million the previous year.

Stefano Scarpetta, OECD director of employment, labour and social affairs, writes that the surge in numbers of refugees arriving in European countries has served as a “stress test for asylum, migration and integration systems”. The refugee crisis has “revealed a number of weaknesses in the capacity of host countries to cope with such a large and unforeseen inflow of people in need of protection”, writes Ms Scarpetta. However, the crisis has also led to a number of significant policy changes and international co-operation has reached unprecedented levels, he adds. “Never before have we been as mindful of the opportunities and challenges associated with international migration.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast