3. Labour market outcomes of Ghanaian emigrants

In 2015/16, approximately 384 000 Ghanaian migrants of working age (between 15 and 64 years old) were living in OECD countries. More than three-quarters (78%) participated in the labour market. This participation rate was 5 and 4 percentage points higher than among the foreign and native-born populations of OECD countries. While Ghanaian migrants participate in the labour market at almost equal rates to other ECOWAS migrants, they evidence higher employment rates (70 and 65%, respectively). They also present lower unemployment rates (10% for Ghana-born emigrants, compared to 15% for the average emigrant from ECOWAS countries), which point to a better insertion in the labour market of Ghanaian emigrants.

As shown in Figure 3.1, labour market participation varies significantly across the main destination countries. Higher employment rates are observed in English-speaking countries, reflecting consolidated corridors in the case of the United Kingdom and the United States, and the importance of language as a critical element in labour market integration. In the United States and the United Kingdom, employment rates among Ghanaian migrants were also higher than among the native-born in 2015/16 (+9 and +5 percentage points in the United States and the United Kingdom, respectively). More recent data from the United States confirms the tendency: in 2017/19, Ghanaian migrants’ employment rates were 6 and 9 percentage points higher than among the foreign and native-born populations, respectively.

Conversely, in Germany and Italy, employment rates are much lower (54 and 53%, respectively). Ghanaian migration to Germany displays three main patterns: educational migration, humanitarian migration and family reunification (Morath, 2015[1]). Such patterns reflect in reasons for admission to the country. As explained in Chapter 1, Germany almost exclusively issued permits for family and humanitarian reasons to Ghanaian nationals between 2010 and 2020. The predominance of asylum seekers, family dependants and students over labour migrants may account for the low employment rates of Ghanaian emigrants in Germany.

Migration to Italy also displays patterns of humanitarian migration and family reunification, particularly after 2015 (see Chapter 1). Between 2000 and 2020, Italy hosted 19% of all asylum seekers from Ghana. According to (Marabello and Riccio, 2018[2]), while the agricultural sector of southern regions and the industrial and manufacturing sectors of the North attract Ghanaian male migrants, the majority of Ghanaian migrants have entered the country through family reunification. The fact that Ghanaian women are overrepresented in the share of recent migrants (who arrived in Italy less five years ago) reflect this pattern. The low unemployment rates among women, which are further described below, help explain Italy’s overall low unemployment rates.

Compared to the average migrant to the OECD area and ECOWAS migrants, Ghanaian migrants display, on average, a better insertion in the OECD labour market, with employment rates 3 and 5 percentage points higher, respectively (Figure 3.2). However, the comparative advantage of Ghanaian migrants is only evident in English-speaking countries, with the highest differentials observed in the United Kingdom. In Germany and Italy, conversely, employment rates among Ghanaian migrants are 13 and 6 percentage points lower than for the average migrant, respectively. More minor differences are observed in comparison with the ECOWAS migrant population.

Two leading destinations, where more recent data are available, provide evidence on other variables influencing labour market insertion. In terms of duration of stay, in the United States and Italy, employment rates of Ghanaian migrants increase the longer they have been settled in these countries (Figure 3.3). Among recent migrants – those who have arrived in the country within the past five years -, 32 and 63% were employed in Italy and the United States, respectively. Employment rates rise by 11 and 28 percentage points, respectively, among settled migrants (those residing in the country for over ten years). Relatedly, the acquisition of citizenship also appears as an important factor influencing access to the labour market. The employment rates of Ghanaian migrants with Italian citizenship are 9 percentage points higher than among non-naturalised migrants. In the United States, 84% of Ghanaian migrants with American citizenship are employed, versus 72% of those without American citizenship. The latter result holds even when controlling for the duration of stay.

Between 2010/11 and 2015/16, the employment rates of Ghanaian migrants have remained relatively stable in the OECD area (Figure 3.4), with an increase of 1 percentage point during this period, a rate almost on par with the native-born population but weaker than the rate observed among ECOWAS migrants and the foreign-born population more generally. The evolution of employment rates, however, varies across destination countries, reflecting different stages of economic recovery in the aftermath of the 2008 global recession and the 2010 Eurozone debt crisis (Figure 3.5).

The picture is mixed in the English-speaking countries. In the United Kingdom and Canada, employment rates increased by 6 and 3 percentage points, reflecting a greater recovery than among the native-born populations. In the United States, the employment of Ghanaian migrants bounced almost at the same rate as the native-born population, although at a slightly lower rate than the foreign-born. Nonetheless, the average level of employment among the latter remained 7 percentage points lower than among Ghanaian migrants.

Conversely, in other European countries, the trend is more negative. Ghanaian and ECOWAS migrants were similarly affected in Germany, and the employment gap with the native-born population increased during this period. While the employment rate for the native-born increased by 2 percentage points (1 percentage point for the foreign-born), ECOWAS and Ghanaian migrants’ share in employment decreased by 5 and 8 percentage points, respectively. Further, unemployment rates also dropped in both countries (-10 percentage points in Germany and -4 percentage points in Italy), but inactivity rates rose sharply (+10 percentage points in Italy and +16 percentage points. in Germany). The dynamic is partially explained by the hardships faced by recent migrants in labour markets between 2010 and 2015 (OECD, 2016[3]). Emigrants already settled in these countries saw their situation unchanged, in general, but those recently settled faced more difficulties finding work opportunities in the aftermath of the economic crises.

While the labour market tends to be unfavourable to women, foreign-born women face a double challenge, both as immigrants and as women. Despite improvements in migrants’ labour market outcomes, immigrant women are more likely to be unemployed than men (OECD, 2020[4]). The same trend applies to Ghanaian migrants: in 2015/16, the employment rate for women was 64% compared to 75% for their male counterparts, a gap of 11 percentage points (Figure 3.6). The absence of significant differences in terms of educational attainment rules out any human capital-related explanation for such disparity. The gender gap observed among Ghanaian emigrants is similar to that observed for ECOWAS emigrants in OECD countries. Nonetheless, the gap is narrower than for the average migrant population (17 percentage points.) or the native-born (15 percentage points.).

There is substantial variation across destination countries: the largest gender employment gap is observed in Italy, with a difference of 39 percentage points between men and women (Figure 3.7). Italy is a particular case in that the gender gap among the native-born is also the highest among the main destination countries, suggesting that, overall, women fare worse than their male counterparts in the labour market. Educational attainment does not account for this gap, as there are no significant differences between Ghanaian men and women. However, women are overrepresented among those who arrived in Italy within the past five years, confirming that men emigrate first and their families follow. Similar patterns of family reunification, reflected in lower employment rates among women, are also observed in the United States and Germany.

Conversely, in Canada and the United Kingdom, the gender employment gap is significantly lower and suggests that, within these corridors, women also emigrate as independent professionals. In the United Kingdom, the gender employment gap is 3 percentage points, the lowest among the main destinations and lower than among the native and foreign-born, as well as among ECOWAS migrants.

Regarding the relation between education and employment, Ghanaian emigrants with higher educational attainment fare better in the OECD labour market: in 2015/16, the employment rate among the tertiary educated was 82%. Such rate drops by 10 percentage points among those with medium educational attainment (upper secondary). It lowers by an additional 18 percentage points for those with low education (up to lower secondary).

Employment rates among Ghanaian migrants in OECD countries were higher than among the average migrant and ECOWAS migrants at all educational levels suggesting higher employment returns to education for Ghana-born individuals. In fact, tertiary-educated migrants from Ghana fare almost as well as tertiary-educated native-born individuals.

However, despite their better insertion in the labour market, Ghanaian emigrants of working age remain more vulnerable than the native-born population. Indeed, Ghanaian migrants were more often unemployed at all levels of education than the native-born. At low and medium education levels, 15 and 11% of Ghanaian migrants, respectively, were unemployed compared to 12 and 8% of the native-born.

Further, the positive returns to education for Ghanaian emigrants are not observed across all destination countries (Figure 3.9). In Italy, the employment rate of those with tertiary education (5%) is substantially lower than those with low and medium education levels (51 and 65%, respectively). Although not in the same proportions, Ghanaian migrants with a tertiary education also fare worse than those with lower educational attainment in Germany. More than half of Ghanaian migrants with tertiary education were inactive in 2015/16. Nevertheless, a common feature of both countries is the very small proportion of highly educated individuals among the Ghanaian migrants of working age, accounting for 8 and 4% in Germany and Italy, respectively. Moreover, many of these highly educated migrants arrived only recently, further explaining their low employment rate. Results should therefore be interpreted with caution.

High employment returns to education among Ghanaian migrants are only evident in the three main English-speaking countries of destination. In the United States, just over half (54%) of low-educated Ghanaian migrants were employed in 2017/2019, compared to 77 and 85% of those with a medium and high level of education, respectively. At high levels of education, Ghanaian migrants are close to full employment, similarly to the native-born population.

The employment rate of Ghanaian emigrants with a high educational level was even higher in the United Kingdom: 88% were employed in 2015/16. This rate is 10 percentage points higher than for ECOWAS migrants and all foreign-born migrants. In Canada, the increase in employment rates from one level of education to the next was relatively linear: 52% for those with a low level of education, 67% for those with a medium level, and 79% for highly educated migrants.

Despite the relatively high employment rates among tertiary-educated Ghanaian emigrants, there remains a significant mismatch between their qualifications and their occupations’ skill levels. In 2015/16, almost half (43%) of tertiary-educated migrants from Ghana in OECD countries were overqualified in their occupation (Figure 3.10). If this rate was almost on par with the ECOWAS average (42%), it was significantly higher than for all foreign-born and native-born individuals (35 and 29%, respectively). Nonetheless, there are no significant differences between men and women, and these differences are less pronounced than among the native and foreign-born populations.

Across the main destination countries, there was no substantial variation in over-qualification rates. In the main English-speaking countries, where educational attainment is the highest, over-qualification rates did not exceed 45%. Among these three destinations, Canada was the only country where Ghanaian migrants were overqualified to a larger extent than other ECOWAS emigrants.

More recent data (2017/2019) from the United States confirms that over-qualification rates remain high, but affect women to a lesser extent than men: 38% of Ghana-born women were overqualified versus 43% of Ghana-born men. The recognition of a tertiary education diploma also plays an important role in accessing high-skilled positions. A third of Ghanaian emigrants who attended college or university in the United States having arrived before the age of 18 or between 18 and 24 are overqualified. Conversely, over-qualification rates affect 49% of those who arrived at an older age. The duration of stay also mitigates over-qualification: a third of settled emigrants from Ghana (having arrived in the United States more than ten years ago) are overqualified compared to 58% of recent emigrants from Ghana (having arrived in the United States less than five years ago). Relatedly, the acquisition of American citizenship improves access to high-skilled jobs: 38% of Ghana-born Americans are overqualified, a rate 15 percentage points lower than for Ghanaian emigrants without American citizenship (53%). These results are robust when controlling for duration of stay.

Over-qualification rates among Ghanaian emigrants reflect in their occupational distribution at OECD countries of destination, as they tend to be overrepresented in low-skilled occupations. A third (34%) of Ghanaian emigrants of working age held an elementary occupation in 2015/16, compared to less than one-tenth of the native-born (Figure 3.11). The share of Ghanaian emigrants in elementary occupations is twice the share among the foreign-born (17%).

In OECD countries, excluding the United Kingdom and the United States, Ghanaian emigrants are mainly occupied in craft and related trades occupations (17%), services and sales occupations (14%), and as plant and machine operators (11%). If both men and women are mainly employed in elementary occupations, Ghanaian women are overrepresented in services and sales (20% versus 10%). Men are overrepresented in craft and related trades occupations (23% versus 7%) and as machine operators (15% versus 4%).

One in ten Ghanaian emigrants were engaged as professionals (9%) and 2% as managers, compared to 17% and 5% among the native-born. Overall, 19% of Ghanaian emigrants occupy high-skilled positions, either as managers, professionals or technicians and associate professionals.

The occupational distribution of Ghanaian emigrants varies by destination country (Figure 3.12). In Italy and Germany, the majority are employed in elementary occupations (40 and 47%, respectively), compared to 7% in Canada. In the latter country, almost half (43%) of Ghanaian emigrants are employed in high-skilled occupations, either as professionals, technicians or managers. Particular needs in the Canadian labour market and related migration policies explain these results. Canada welcomes the highest number of high-skilled workers thanks to an elaborate immigration system (OECD, 2019[5])

An overrepresentation in health-related occupations compared to the native-born characterises the occupational distribution of Ghanaian emigrants in English-speaking countries. This phenomenon has been documented in the literature as it represents an important challenge for national health care provision (Anarfi, Quartey and Agyei, 2010[6]; IMO MHD RO Brussels, 2011[7]; IOM, 2020[8]). Emigration intentions of health professionals from Ghana are very high (49% of nurses in 2013/2014) due to a combination of factors, which include low wages, difficult working conditions, low social status (Pillinger, 2011[9]) as well as exposition to violence (Boafo, 2016[10]). Ghana ranks among the top 20 origin countries of nurses working in the OECD area. While very few nurses in OECD countries were trained in Ghana (3%), more than a third (35%) of Ghana-born nurses, corresponding to 18 350 nurses, were working in OECD countries in 2015/16. Regarding doctors, 17% of those trained in Ghana and 30% of those born in Ghana worked in OECD countries in 2015/16 (Socha-Dietrich and Dumont, 2021[11]).

In Canada, 11% of Ghanaian migrants in employment held a health-related position in 2015/16, of which 59% were health professionals. These shares were similar for ECOWAS emigrants but 3 and 4 percentage points higher than for all native- and foreign-born workers, respectively. In the United Kingdom, about 5 800 Ghanaian migrants of working age were employed as health professionals, corresponding to 9% of all Ghanaian workers in the country. In addition to health professionals, a substantial share of working-age migrants from Ghana in the United Kingdom held a personal-care occupation (15%), including nurses.

In the United States, more than a quarter of the Ghana-born working population held a health care-related occupation in 2017/2019: 14% were employed as health care practitioners or held another technical occupation and 15% were employed in a health care support occupation (Figure 3.13). Ghanaian migrants hold such positions at higher rates than the native-born (9%, corresponding to -20 percentage points). Further, female Ghanaian migrants hold health-related occupations at higher rates than their male counterparts (46% versus 16%). In contrast, Ghana-born men are mostly represented in transportation-related occupations (15%), followed by office and administrative support occupations (11%).

In two African countries for which there are data available, the occupational distribution of Ghanaian migrants reflects a high concentration in agricultural and services occupations. Half of the Ghanaian migrants in Benin and Togo were occupied as skilled agricultural and fishery workers at the last censuses. Services and related trades occupations also employ significant shares of Ghanaian male migrants. In Benin and Togo, two-thirds and a half of women, respectively, were employed as service workers. The agricultural sector also employs a significant share of Ghana-born women (38%).

The labour market insertion of Ghanaian migrants in OECD countries is relatively positive. More than three-quarters of those aged between 15 and 64 years old participate in the labour market and evidence low unemployment rates. Nevertheless, employment rates vary substantially from one destination country to the other. Ghanaian migrants are employed at higher rates than the native-born population in English-speaking countries. Conversely, in Germany and Italy, countries of more recent immigration, where other types of migration patterns other than labour migration predominate, Ghanaian migrants present low employment levels. Insertion into the labour market is even more difficult for women born in Ghana.

Nevertheless, employment returns to education are high for Ghanaian emigrants, particularly in English-speaking countries. Still, almost half of tertiary-educated Ghanaian emigrants in the OECD area are overqualified in their occupations. Indeed, a substantial share of Ghanaian workers holds elementary occupations in OECD countries. In English-speaking countries, however, Ghanaian emigrants, and women in particular, are overrepresented in health care related occupations.


[6] Anarfi, J., P. Quartey and J. Agyei (2010), Key determinants of migration among health professionals in Ghana.

[10] Boafo, I. (2016), “Ghanaian nurses’ emigration intentions: The role of workplace violence”, International Journal of Africa Nursing Sciences, Vol. 5, pp. 29-35, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijans.2016.11.001.

[7] IMO MHD RO Brussels (2011), National Profile of Migration of Health Professionals – Ghana, International Migration Organisation Regional Office Brussels.

[8] IOM (2020), Migration in Ghana: A Country Profile 2019, International Organization for Migration.

[2] Marabello, S. and B. Riccio (2018), “West African Migrations to Italy: Anthropological Analysis of Ghanaian and Senegalese Politics of Mobility in Emilia Romagna”, Revue européenne des migrations internationales, Vol. 34/1, pp. 127-149, https://doi.org/10.4000/remi.

[1] Morath, V. (2015), The Ghanaian diaspora in Germany.

[4] OECD (2020), International Migration Outlook 2020, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/ec98f531-en.

[5] OECD (2019), Recruiting Immigrant Workers: Canada 2019, Recruiting Immigrant Workers, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/4abab00d-en.

[3] OECD (2016), International Migration Outlook 2016, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/migr_outlook-2016-en.

[9] Pillinger, J. (2011), Quality healthcare and workers on the move: International migration, Public Services International.

[11] Socha-Dietrich, K. and J. Dumont (2021), “International migration and movement of doctors to and within OECD countries - 2000 to 2018: Developments in countries of destination and impact on countries of origin”, OECD Health Working Papers, No. 126, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/7ca8643e-en.

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