Chapter 1. International job matching for labour migration: bridges and divides

This chapter reviews the barriers to international employment matching which continue to hamper international recruitment, as well as the intermediation channels available for employers and migration candidates to overcome such barriers. It then provides a detailed overview of publicly led instruments for international employment matching as currently implemented across the EU. It discusses the potential added value of such instruments as compared to private tools, and the conditions necessary for this potential to materialise.


The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.


On occasion, labour market actors search for job matches beyond national borders. Similarly, employers may look for international candidates when they face qualitative or quantitative shortages. Potential migrant workers often need to find a job before their arrival since a job offer is either a necessary or a preferential requirement for labour migration. However, high information barriers and related costs – as compared with local recruitment – make hiring from abroad challenging.

This chapter reviews the barriers to international employment matching which continue to hamper international recruitment, as well as the intermediation channels available for employers and migration candidates to overcome such barriers. It then digs deeper to provide a detailed overview of publicly-led instruments for international employment matching implemented across the EU, and to discuss the potential added value of such instruments as compared to private tools and the conditions for this potential to materialize.

Public activities in support of international job matching are classified based on the extent of public authorities’ involvement in actual recruitment. At one extreme, leveraging their regulatory prerogatives on migration and labour market management, public authorities can create smoother conditions for international labour demand and supply to spontaneously match. To facilitate this process, public authorities may also make available matching and information tools similar to those provided by private intermediation actors. At the other extreme, public authorities can take a more active role in actual recruitment, for instance by implementing assisted recruitment programmes and pre-departure training and job matching initiatives in the context of bilateral agreements. The size of the population potentially targeted by each type of initiative may vary (e.g. small groups for assisted recruitment programmes, virtually all interested population for information tools).

Labour migration management aims to address economic and skills needs

The rationale for labour migration management is selecting and attracting foreign workers capable of making a positive contribution to the receiving country economy. This can be defined as the capacity to complement the local labour force, by filling qualitative or quantitative labour shortages, or, more broadly, as the capacity to bring skills that generate an added value for the economy. The ability to make a positive contribution to the economy is also seen as a predictor of migrants’ successful integration in the host society, which is a key goal of migration policy.

Labour migration policies across countries vary with respect to the relative emphasis they put on selecting and attracting migrants, and the set of admission and residence requirements they apply to this effect. These may involve conditions on the skills profile and/or on the type of employment migrant candidates can take up. Holding a qualifying job offer has traditionally been a necessary admission criterion for labour migrants in European countries, whose demand-driven migration systems largely delegate migrant selection to employers. The job offer requirement is meant to ensure that migrant workers can swiftly contribute to the host country economy and integrate in the society.1

Due to often weak economic integration outcomes for labour migrants admitted only on the basis of their skills characteristics, over the past decade the weight of the job offer requirement has also increased in the labour migration systems of settlement countries (such as Australia and Canada). These countries, which have traditionally implemented a more interventionist approach, with the state selecting applicants based on human capital characteristics meant to ensure long-term employability and broader contributions to the host society, have recently moved away from these purely supply-driven systems, towards hybrid models of labour migration management. In these new models, human capital criteria are applied to migrants who have a job offer in hand, with the job offer providing priority or higher ranking for migrants in complex selection mechanisms.2 However, securing a job offer from abroad is not easy for labour migration candidates, notably due to the information barriers and imperfections that both migrants and firms face in international employment matching.

Labour migration plays a limited role in migration to the EU

From the perspective of the EU as a whole, the main target group of labour migrants are citizens of non-EU countries, and this chapter therefore focuses on this group.3 As a destination for non-EU labour migrants, the EU stands in competition with many other destinations, especially in regards to highly-skilled labour migrants. By contrast, citizens of EU countries who exercise their right to free movement within the EU can be regarded as internal migrants. However, migrants from EU countries can serve as a useful benchmark for migration from outside the EU.

Figure 1.1 shows the main reason for migration given by migrants in the EU, distinguishing between those born in EU countries and those born outside the EU. Around 40% of migrants from EU countries indicate employment as their main reason for migration, irrespectively of their level of education. Shares are substantially lower for non-EU migrants: about 30% of non-EU migrants with a medium or low level of education indicate employment as main motive, and less than 25% of non-EU migrants with a high education level. This difference indicates that labour migration from non-EU countries, and in particular highly-skilled labour migration, has remained below its potential, using migrants from EU countries as a benchmark.

Earlier findings similarly suggest that the potential for labour migration to the EU is underutilised. In general, migrants coming to the EU tend to be younger and less educated than migrants to OECD countries outside Europe. In 2010, the EU hosted one-third of all highly-educated migrants residing in the OECD, compared to 57% hosted by the United States (OECD, 2016[1]) (Gubert and Senne, 2016[2]). At the same time, the potential for highly-skilled labour migration to the EU appears large: according to the Gallup World Poll 2011-2014, highly-educated persons who would like to move abroad name the EU/EEA more often as destination of choice than the United States (27% compared to 21%) (OECD, 2016[1]).

Figure 1.1. Reason for migration by skill level and place of birth, European Union, 2014
Migrants of working age (15-64)

Note: Denmark, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands are not included due to data availability. Values for EU-born refugees are not reliable due to sample sizes.

Source: European Labour Force Survey (Eurostat) ad-hoc module 2014 on the labour market situation of migrants and their immediate descendants,

Apart from labour migrants, those originally admitted for other purposes than work (e.g. study, family, humanitarian reasons) also represent a large pool of potential job seekers. Other-than-work migration channels may thus be functional alternatives to international recruitment, notably when smooth status change is possible. In the EU, over the period 2011-2015, status changes have amounted for at least two-thirds of the number of persons issued a residence permit for the first time for remunerated activities (European Migration Network, 2016[3]). International students who stay and find work after graduation can represent an important source of highly-skilled workers for OECD countries. As shown in Figure 1.1, the gap between EU and non-EU migrants with a high education level shrinks considerably when international students and labour migrants are considered together. However, while the EU is the single leading destination for international students (OECD, 2016[1]), often only a small fraction of graduates from non-EU countries stay (Weisser, 2016[4]).

Ex-post regularisation of undocumented migrants holding a job may also function as an alternative channel to international employment matching. While informally employing irregular migrants, employers may test their skills before engaging ex post in the official procedures for international recruitment. In the past, employers in countries with inefficient labour migration regulations and a significant pool of undocumented migrants, such as Italy or Spain, have had wide recourse to this strategy. In these countries, large-scale regularisation programmes for illegally employed migrants were cyclically implemented. Other countries have allowed for case-by-case regularisations – which are deemed a safer option to avoid stimulating a surge of irregular migration and illegal employment.4

Resident migrants may encounter greater challenges than natives in integrating in the local labour markets. However, barriers to international recruitment are generally higher. The remainder of this paper focuses on workers’ recruitment from abroad through legal channels, and provides a comprehensive analysis of this issue, encompassing both the viewpoint of potential migrants and employers. It discusses available intermediation tools to facilitate international employment matching, and analyses in particular publicly-led initiatives in this area. The conclusions present reflections on how to possibly improve the effectiveness of public involvement in international job matching and its standing among employers and migrants.

International job matching is undermined by practical difficulties

Labour markets – including those that transcend national borders – share a defining feature: job seekers need to be matched to vacancies. How well this process works strongly depends on how easy it is for job seekers and employers to come in contact with each other and assess the fit of the job seeker’s profile to the vacancy. Significant resources in terms of time, money and effort may have to be invested on both sides before a match results, and contacts may often fail to ultimately lead to a match.

The difficulties or “frictions” involved in international job matching are considerable, making recruitment from abroad significantly more difficult than domestic recruitment: large geographical distances, language barriers and foreign qualifications can all create additional costs compared with domestic recruitment. This helps explain why employers are often not particularly keen on recruiting migrants from abroad. Many country-specific studies show that even in cases of labour shortage, employers has not usually considered recruitment from abroad (Box 1.1).

Figure 1.2 presents survey evidence of the main obstacles labour migrants in the EU encounter in their job search. While only some concrete obstacles were surveyed, the lack of language skills and lacking recognition of foreign qualifications were highlighted. Highly-educated labour migrants seem to be more often affected by lacking recognition of their qualifications. Highly-educated labour migrants from within the EU seem least affected by difficulties with restricted rights to work or related to origin, religion or social background. Overall, irrespective of origin and level of education, between 60% and 70% of labour migrants appear to encounter difficulties in their job search in the EU.

Figure 1.2. Labour migrants’ difficulties in job search, European Union, 2014
Main obstacles to finding a (better) job encountered by labour migrants of working age (15-64)

Note: Figures refer to individuals who are either not employed or are employed but report being overqualified for their job. Labour migrants are identified by employment being their main (self-declared) reason for migration. The value for restricted rights/ background of highly-educated EU-born persons is not reliable due to sample sizes. Denmark, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands are not included due to data availability.

Source: European Labour Force Survey (Eurostat) ad-hoc module 2014 on the labour market situation of migrants and their immediate descendants,

Box 1.1. Surveys show employers’ reluctance to recruit from abroad

In the UK, a study by the SQW consultancy in 2010 found that hiring foreign workers was mainly unplanned (i.e., from the locally available pool) and only 10% of surveyed businesses stated that they would consider recruiting migrants from outside the EEA (Chen and Ward, 2013[5]). In Norway, on average, 14% of employers recruit or try to recruit from abroad, and international recruitment mainly happens in a handful of sectors (OECD, 2014[6]). In Austria, a survey carried out in 2010 revealed that employers consider active recruitment from abroad as only the sixth measure to take when trying to fill a vacancy (OECD, 2014[7]). Higher-ranked options include nationwide recruitment efforts, hiring contract workers, training staff and offering flexible working hours.

Similarly, in Germany, only one in four employers who struggled to fill vacancies tried hiring workers from abroad, and only about half succeeded (OECD, 2013[8]). Faced with growing shortages, only one in three large employers would consider the option of recruiting foreign workers in the near future and this share halves for SMEs (15%). The numbers are low also in Sweden, where a survey by the PES revealed that only 4% of businesses who suffered from shortages eventually recruited migrant workers (Chen and Ward, 2013[5]).

The surveys above do not distinguish among different skill levels. However, employers seem more willing to recruit internationally highly skilled employees. The Corporate Recruiters Survey Report 2016 found that more than half surveyed companies would hire or consider hiring international graduates, especially in consulting, technology, manufacturing and finance (Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), 2017[9]).

In order to facilitate international job matching, the sources of frictions in this matching process need to be understood. To some extent, frictions in international matching are located in the same places as in domestic matching: making initial contact, exchanging information between the job seeker and the employer, assessing the suitability of the match needs by both sides, reaching agreement through negotiations. As in domestic matches, job seekers may have to relocate and employers may have to adapt workplaces. However, international job matching typically involves a number of additional difficulties:

  • Language barriers: many steps in the matching process will be more difficult if the job seeker does not have a high proficiency in the language of the destination country. In particular, making initial contact, gathering information, and agreeing on the terms of employment is more tedious for both sides when there is a language barrier. Misunderstandings can lead to considerable disappointment and set back or even derail the matching process. Additional costs are incurred when preparing applications or job descriptions in a foreign language and providing certified translations of official documents.

  • Higher information barriers: gathering information on available candidates and channels to recruit them is more complex for international recruitment than for local hiring. When foreign workers abroad are identified, in order to hire them, employers need to collect information on labour migration procedures, their length and costs, and any other obligations incumbent upon employers, along with the specific rules on the salaries and working conditions employers must offer. Similarly, potential migrants may find it more difficult to gather information on employment opportunities, job-hunting strategies, working conditions, the migration schemes available and their regulations, as well as the rights associated with the migration status for the principal applicant and possible family members. Acquiring information on the comparability of foreign qualifications with domestic ones, and on recognition and licensing procedures may be an additional burden.

  • Limited access to networks: recruitment is often facilitated by local networks – whether formal or informal (family, friends, colleagues, clients, partners, etc.). Migration candidates may have limited or no access to these networks. As a result, a significant matching channel may be closed to them. Similarly, the difficulties of identifying trusted referees for foreign candidates may put off employers. Ethnic or diaspora networks may partly compensate the lack of local networks, although they may lead to sub-optimal matching. The range of jobs available might be quite limited, and job seekers might be more hesitant to bargain about the terms of employment.

  • Limited opportunity for face-to-face interviews before hiring: geographical distance and international mobility restrictions for third-country nationals mean that candidates would need to travel possibly long distance to sit an interview, and invest resources in travel visa application, when needed. On the employers’ side, these same elements may be a deterrent to inviting off-shore applicants for an interview. Interviews via video link can only partially address this problem because they might put candidates at a disadvantage compared to those who can present themselves in person and because many recruitment procedures necessarily include a face-to-face interview at least at a later stage.

  • Burdensome and unpredictable migration procedures: depending on the level of efficiency, openness, transparency and predictability of the labour migration system in a given country, potential candidates and employers may face greater or lesser uncertainty on applications’ success chances, time-lapse between submission of the application and issuance of the required documents and permits, as well as the costs involved in these procedures. Unpredictability, along with overly tight migration regulations are among the greatest deterrents to foreign recruitment as delays in filling vacancies may have negative consequences for firms, and particularly for SMEs. Figure 1.3 shows to what extent employers in OECD countries feel constrained by immigration laws. The same flaws may put off migration candidates, and notably the most skilled and sought after professionals who may prefer to look for alternative opportunities in other countries.

  • Higher costs: gathering the additional information involved in international job matching – directly or through the intermediation of consultants and agencies – filing migration applications, waiting for their outcomes, fulfilling credential recognition requirements (if needed) all translate into supplementary costs for employers and migrants as compared with those involved in local matching. Even when local labour shortages or skill needs are acute, the high costs involved in foreign recruitment may lead firms to choose sub-optimal alternatives, such as increasing the workload of existing staff, hiring workers who are not sufficiently fit for the job, or dismiss expansion or internationalisation plans (OECD, 2013[10]). In the long-term these choices can lessen the firm’s economic gains, and even harm the local economy. Similarly, migrants for whom international job matching through legal migration channels is unaffordable may choose to resort to alternative routes, including irregular migration.

Figure 1.3. Employers’ satisfaction with labour migration laws, OECD countries, 2015
Index of employers indicating to be constrained in hiring foreign labour by immigration laws, from 0 (lowest) to 10 (highest)

Note: Figures are based on surveys data on employers’ approval of “immigration laws do not prevent your company from employing foreign labour”.

Source: Institute for Management Development (2015), World Competitiveness Yearbook 2015, Lausanne,

  • Intercultural differences and discrimination: cross-country differences in work cultures and expected behaviour can lead to misunderstandings that complicate the job matching process or, in case either party is alienated, terminate it. Such differences can for example relate to standards in application writing, formality in communication, or dress codes at the interview. The job matching process can be entirely undermined when employers harbour prejudices about a candidate’s behaviour and performance based on origin country, ethnicity, religion or skin colour. Candidates might also have prejudices concerning the mentality or the working conditions with a foreign employer.

  • International relocation of the family: where job seekers from abroad intend to bring family members, the concern for their needs can weigh on every stage of the matching process. Compared to relocations within a country, a range of additional issues arises when the family relocates across borders. The regulations on residence and work permits for family members can vary widely, often depending on the labour migration scheme used by the principal migrant. Due to requirements of further documents, proof of sufficient resources by the principal migrant, or administrative delays, it is not guaranteed that the family can arrive together with the principal migrant and a protracted time of uncertainty can ensue. Further challenges relate to finding adequate housing and managing the transition of children from one school system to another.

  • Transfer of social security: through previous employment, labour migrants may have acquired entitlements to social security, and transferring them to the social security system of another country or to a particular employer might be possible only within limits or not at all. While some degree of transferability has been arranged between a number of OECD countries, details vary and lengthy administrative processes can be involved.

The various frictions involved in international job matching over and above job matching within the same country likely affect some job seekers and employers more than others. As an obvious example, job seekers who are already on the territory of the destination country do not face entry procedures anymore, they likely have better access to local networks, and they can attend face-to-face interviews as easily as native-born candidates. Such advantages are the main rationale behind job-search visas that have been introduced in a number of OECD countries to facilitate the job search of highly-skilled labour migrants.

In general, highly-skilled persons might find it easier to navigate the process of international job matching. Labour migration schemes for highly-skilled target groups typically feature fewer conditions for the principal migrant, more generous rules for family members or faster administrative procedures with little uncertainty about the outcome. Thanks to their skills, these labour migrants may be in a better position to learn the host country language, gather relevant information, and arrange for the recognition of qualifications or the transfer of social security entitlements. In addition, as they have already held well-paid jobs, they can more easily afford the costs involved. At the same time, highly-skilled persons typically search for more complex job profiles, possibly with more complex selection procedures. By consequence, they might encounter certain additional difficulties. For example, as shown in Figure 1.2, highly-educated labour migrants may be more affected by lacking recognition of their foreign qualifications.

Figure 1.4 depicts the share of labour migrants in the EU who had found a job before arrival in the destination country. As labour migrants might ideally want to arrange a job prior to their arrival, this measure indicates to what extent they have achieved this despite the frictions. The share among labour migrants from EU countries again serves as a benchmark: half of the highly-educated and 28% of those with a medium or low education level had found a job before arrival. The corresponding shares were somewhat lower for labour migrants from outside the EU: 45% of the highly-educated and 19% of those with a medium or low education level. This might reflect frictions notably from migration procedures that only apply to non-EU migrants. However, a larger difference than between EU and non-EU migrants arises between education levels: the shares of highly-educated labour migrants are 22-26 percentage points higher than for labour migrants with a medium or low education level. This difference suggests that highly-educated labour migrants encounter fewer difficulties. However, these figures may also be influenced by irregular labour migrants who often have low or medium education levels and arrive without pre-arranged jobs.5

Figure 1.4. Labour migrants with pre-arranged jobs by education and origin, European Union, 2014
Labour migrants of working age (15-64)

Note: Labour migrants are identified by employment being their main (self-declared) reason for migration. Denmark, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands are not included due to data availability.

Source: European Labour Force Survey (Eurostat) ad-hoc module 2014 on the labour market situation of migrants and their immediate descendants,

Similarly, large firms might find it easier to engage in international recruitment than small or medium-sized enterprises. Large companies can both leverage greater human and financial resources to address the higher information obstacles, and face relatively lower unit-costs in light of the economies of scale they can realize through more frequent international hires. In the Netherlands, for example, highly-skilled labour migrants are over-represented at firms with more than 100 employees but under-represented at firms with less than 10 employees (OECD, 2016[10]). However, this could also reflect the stronger export orientation of larger firms.

The remainder of this chapter explores how international job matching can succeed despite the practical difficulties highlighted above. The next section examines a comparatively easy way to address a range of frictions: the establishment of marketplaces for matching. The following section considers how public or private intermediaries can support matching. Next, policies are identified that can reduce specific frictions. The last section underlines the potential benefits of a better fit: facilitating international job matching will not only lead to more matches but also to better matches between job seekers and vacancies.

Marketplaces and intermediaries may facilitate international job matching

Marketplaces can alleviate many of the frictions associated with international job matching. When job seekers and employers are, by more than one measure, far from each other as in the case of international recruitment, establishing a dedicated marketplace can bring them closer together. Marketplaces can boost both the quantity and the quality of matches.

More broadly, the matching processes can be facilitated by intermediaries who act as “match-makers”, actively bringing together the two sides of the market and arranging individual matches. In the context of international job matching, the involvement of intermediaries can be particularly useful and help reducing several kinds of frictions. Experienced intermediaries can disclose to their clients access to networks which they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. International employment intermediation actors can often operate in several languages and can bridge language and geographic distances also through an international network of partners.

For international job matching, the following kinds of marketplaces and intermediaries may be most relevant:

Online job boards and platforms

In recent years, marketplaces established by online platforms have been spectacularly successful in bringing together supply and demand that were previously distant: offers of private accommodation for tourists, venture capital investors and entrepreneurs, sellers and buyers of second-hand goods. Similarly, the web as a collector of information has allowed the development of low-cost and immediate tools of job matching, even beyond the local labour market (Kuhn, 2014[11]). Open search engines that connect users to companies’ web-pages, or more structured platforms, like LinkedIn, or Xing allow employers and job candidates to look for suitable offers from all over the world at no cost. By channelling information into a fixed set of criteria, such platforms help reduce information barriers in international job matching. Furthermore, since the platforms can be used in multiple languages, they also help overcome language barriers.

Traditional job banks have also gone on-line, tremendously expanding job matching opportunities – in theory – across borders. Some of these are managed by public authorities, and linked with the immigration process. This is the case, for instance, with the Australia’s SkillSelect, Canada’s Job Bank or the NewZealandNow database and the related SkillFinder tool, which, however, all involve restrictions to access to vacancies by migration candidates (Box 1.2)

Job fairs

Job fairs are a traditional tool to reduce information barriers in employment by allowing employers and job-seekers to meet in person, in some cases based on a pre-selection by sector or skills. They can be organised by public authorities, private stakeholders (e.g. a given industry, a multinational or private recruitment agency), or a combination of both – as in the case of job fairs for graduates of public universities organised in cooperation with private firms.

International job fairs are costly and may be administratively burdensome when they involve authorization for foreign workers to travel to the event venue. As a consequence, they are rare, and involve much smaller numbers of vacancies and profiles than online job-boards and platforms. Accurate targeting of participants is an essential condition for the cost-effectiveness of job fairs as an international job-matching tool. One way of achieving this may be to combine the advantages offered by on-line matching platforms (notably, the size and international nature of the market) and those offered by job-fairs (notably, the depth of the contact between the prospective employer and candidate) by using the filtering tools of on-line job boards to pre-select the most suitable candidates for in-person matching events, as it was done for the LookSee Wellington initiative in New Zealand (Box 1.2).

Box 1.2. A cross-border job board operated by public employment services: EURES

In the EU, free mobility means that public employment services can assist employers in filling vacancies with jobseekers from across the EU. Since 1993, the European network of Employment Services, EURES, has been developed to support the free movement of workers by facilitating job matching across the EU (as well as EEA countries and Switzerland). EURES functions through an EU network of advisors from the national PES of participating countries, and a matching platform, the EU job mobility portal ( In most participating countries, the advisors can simply flag existing entries of vacancies in their databases, so that they also appear in the EURES platform. This signals that the employer is interested in filling this vacancy from abroad.

Despite this, also in the EU, the recourse to public employment services by local employers to fill vacancies through international recruitment is limited. According to a survey carried out by the European Job Mobility Laboratory in 2011, less than 15% of the 3 672 responding employers used the PES to recruit from abroad, while 30% had recourse to private employment agencies, 40% to newspapers, magazines and journals, and more than 50% to on-line services (Coughtrie and Fuller, 2011[12]). A 2014 EURES impact assessment from the European Commission estimated that EURES provided around 150 000 placements per year, of which two thirds originated from the portal and one third from EURES advisors. It is not possible to determine the market share of placements compared to total intra-EU mobility for employment. The reference figure of overall intra-EU mobility flow of around 1.5 million citizens in 2015 provides some indication, although not all placements are for an extended period, and somewhere between half and two-thirds of mobility is for employment.

The limited depth of EURES in terms of vacancy market share alongside with the uneven percentage of PES vacancies published on EURES across participating countries have undoubtedly affected its performance as an intra-EU job matching tool. To tackle these flaws and enhance the role of EURES in intra-EU matching as well as placement assistance, the new EURES Regulation adopted in 2016 has opened up to partnerships with private employment services, and has made it mandatory for EURES members and partners to make available on the EU job mobility portal all vacancies publicly available at the national lavel, and equally share all job applications and CVs of workers who have allowed dissemination of this information.

Sources: (European Commission, 1993[13]); (European Parliament, 2016[14])

Informal networks and diaspora ties

Personal networks are important labour market intermediation tools. Evidence suggests that employers hire migrant workers more often through informal channels, such as professional and personal networks and word of mouth (Chen and Ward, 2013[5]; IOM, 2013[15]; OECD, 2011[16]; McKay, 2009[17]) (for opposite evidence, see (Behtoui, 2008[18])), which are used to reduce the risks of adverse selection. This is especially true for low skilled workers, whose abilities may be less difficult to assess on paper and for which a trustworthy employee or professional partner may be a guarantor. Similarly, SMEs may prefer to recruit through informal networks due to lower capacity of human resource departments and the greater relative risk of poor hire in a small firm.

Personal networks in international recruitment often stem from diaspora ties, which may create sectoral employment opportunities for a given ethnic group. In Sweden, for instance, the Swedish Migration Agency statistics (IOM, 2013[19]) show that employers who recruit Iraqi workers often recruit only Iraqi workers. Migrants already in countries of destination may also play an active role in international recruitment services by leveraging their networks and migration chains, e.g. in the agribusiness sector (Semprebon, Marzorati and Garrapa, 2017[20]). Many diaspora initiatives include professional networking activities meant to facilitate professional circulation.

University and alumni networks

For skilled employment, universities and alumni associations can act as networks for international job matching. University career services often organise job fairs, thus offering foreign companies and local graduates the opportunity to market themselves internationally (IOM, 2013[19]). Networks such as Holland Alumni – catering to all international graduates of Dutch universities – include online notice boards for jobs, PhD positions and internships.

Private recruitment agencies and immigration consultants

The private sector offers a wide range of services to support international recruitment, from targeted help with immigration procedures, which may be provided by immigration consultants or lawyers, to full packages involving complementary training, placement and settlement services, which are typically offered by international recruitment agencies. Using private support makes the procedure less time consuming for employers, who outsource recruitment tasks; however, it moves the responsibility of candidate screening and, in some cases, recruitment on to third actors, who charge rents for their ability to reduce uncertainty and risk.

Box 1.3. Most commonly used employment intermediation channels among migrants to the EU

For the EU as a whole, Figure 1.5 shows which job search method labour migrants from outside the EU have used to find their current job. The main job search method relies on personal contacts through relatives, friends or acquaintances: 28% of highly-educated non-EU labour migrants and more than 60% of those with a medium or low education level have found their current job this way. Using a private employment agency is an important job search method for highly-educated labour migrants from outside the EU, as indicated by 10% compared with 6% for those with a medium or low education level. Private employment agencies thus play a more important role than other formal intermediaries, notably the public employment services (PES) or education institutions (whose exact shares cannot be identified). Overall, almost half (48%) of highly-educated non-EU labour migrants found their job through intermediation by family, friends, private agencies, the PES or education institutions. Among those with a medium or low education level, this reaches three-quarters (74%).

Figure 1.5. Job search method used by non-EU labour migrants to find the current job, European Union, 2014
Labour migrants of working age (15-64)

Note: Sample sizes are too small to identify a separate share for the PES or for education institutions. Non-EU labour migrants are identified by a country of birth outside the EU, not by nationality. Labour migrants are identified by employment being their main (self-declared) reason for migration. Denmark, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands are not included due to data availability.

Source: European Labour Force Survey (Eurostat) ad-hoc module 2014 on the labour market situation of migrants and their immediate descendants,

In Canada and the United Kingdom, for instance, intermediation from immigration consultants and lawyers is widely used. International recruitment agencies and consultants may organise their services across industry lines or roles in companies (e.g. top executive search firms, or firms recruiting workers in tech). Fee-based headhunting services are common in the British financial sector (IOM, 2013[19]) and are growing in the tech sector. The same model is also used in the agribusiness sector when large-scale recruitment occurs. For instance, in Sweden, where there is a consolidated migration channel of berry pickers from Thailand, Swedish employers rely on a few large recruitment agencies based in Thailand (IOM, 2013[19]). The British agribusiness sector also relied upon recruiting agencies before the 2004 EU enlargement (McCollum and Findlay, 2015[21]). Private agencies are also used in the United States in the temporary agricultural programme (Martin, 2016[22]).

Other available evidence and consultations with employers suggests that employers for whom international recruitment is routine – notably, large firms and firms operating in sectors highly dependent on foreign labour – often rely on the same private intermediation channel which they have come to trust. Conversely, employers for whom international recruitment is a one-off or new experience may struggle to access such channels.

To date, the availability of and recourse to private employment intermediation agencies’ services to establish international labour matching at the middle of the skills spectrum (i.e. beyond the very highly-skilled/specialized profile on one hand and the low-skilled on the other) is rarer. Yet, these are in many cases the most sought-after and most difficult to identify profiles internationally.

Market size, reliable information and connection with the migration process are key to success of international employment intermediation tools

Network effects are a defining feature of marketplaces and other intermediation tools for job matching. Essentially these are agglomeration effects: the incentives to participate depend on the number of existing participants. Matching is typically expected to function better on “more crowded” marketplaces with many participants, as initial contacts may be made faster and the greater variety of participants allows for more optimal matches. Similarly, experienced intermediation actors with a broad portfolio of relevant clients are expected to offer better opportunities of appropriate employment matches across borders. Therefore, both job seekers and employers exhibit a tendency to find larger marketplaces and the established intermediaries who manage them more attractive. For example, preferences of employers and job seekers – and migrant jobseekers in particular – to locate in cities, despite higher costs, have long been linked to the larger local labour market available in cities (Andini et al., 2013[23]).

The success of marketplaces and intermediaries for job matching also strongly depends on the accuracy and reliability of the information supplied on vacancies and candidates’ profiles. In the case of open marketplaces, such as on-line job boards, the job descriptions and terms of employment that employers indicate in vacancy postings may be very hard to verify, and likewise for the information conveyed in job seekers’ profiles. Both sides may have an incentive to exaggerate the benefits of their offer so as to generate more contacts or mislead the counterpart into a match which favours one side. International job matching through private employment agents or consultants may offer more guarantees in this regard, if they properly assess and filter offers. However, private intermediation is not always reliable; profit-making agencies may exaggerate credentials or job characteristics, push clients to suboptimal matches. In many OECD countries, concern remains over private employment agencies, some of which misled large numbers of labour migrants and exploited their dependency (OECD, 2016[24]).

In the context of international job matching, the risks stemming from adverse selection and suboptimal matches are higher than in local recruitment, especially when – as is largely the case in Europe – the employment offer drives the migration process. Employers may find out that they have not recruited the best candidate only after investing a great deal of time and money to go through the administrative steps required to get the foreign worker on the job. Labour migrants who have accepted a job based on unreliable information may find themselves dependent on their employer for their residence permit, and more susceptible to accept poor and exploitative working conditions in order to remain.

International employment matching platforms and other networking tools both virtual and in-person are likely to be more successful when they bring together a considerable number of potential employees and employers, and when profiles are accurately pre-screened and trustworthy.

Moreover, tools can benefit from being connected with actual migration opportunities. In the absence of smooth migration pathways for foreign candidates who are able to secure a job offer from a local employer, even the most sophisticated and reliable international employment matching tools have no value.

The case for public involvement in international job matching

Due to their remit over migration and employment regulations as well as their resources, public authorities are uniquely positioned to provide marketplaces and other employment intermediation tools which support successful job matches across borders throughout the skills spectrum.

Publicly-led international job matching initiatives may reach broader user-groups and ensure equity

Experience with job matching within a country strongly suggests that currently private-sector marketplaces would not serve the entire market but cater mostly to high-skill segments or particular occupations and sectors, including at the lower end of the skills spectrum, while the most comprehensive marketplace might be operated by a Public Employment Service (PES). Similarly, not all employers can afford the fee-based services of private recruitment agencies and consultants, while personal and ethnic networks are, by definition, only accessible by restricted groups of people. Private no-fee job-matching platforms have emerged which offer to fill these gaps, yet so far they have not been used all throughout the skills and occupational spectrum.

In theory, public marketplaces may be broader than private ones. Other intermediation tools may also reach a broader user group as they are typically offered free of charge. Thus, state involvement in international job matching may be justified by concerns over equity. On the side of employers, the greater difficulties faced by SMEs, relative to large employers to afford private intermediation tools and fill vacancies through international recruitment. On the side of migrants, the greater barriers that candidates with less skills, resources, and/or networks may encounter to get access to reliable information and trustworthy employment offers across borders.

Moreover, state-led marketplaces may help avoid that the network effects involved in matching lead to a quasi-monopoly of a single private platform, as has been observed for social media. State-led solutions have been preferred in similar circumstances to prevent a monopoly from imposing high prices for access or from providing poor quality due to lack of competition. The concern for the quality of services arises equally when a dominant publicly-provided platform faces little competition.

Publicly-led international job-matching initiatives can offer greater guarantees on a smooth labour migration process

International job matching is subject to labour migration laws and regulations that may only be applied by public authorities. This includes implementation of labour market tests, the decision about admission of a job seeker, issuance of residence permits, recognition of foreign qualifications and questions concerning the transferability of social security. Where an international job matching platform is linked to a migration management and selection system involving the pre-screening of candidates for admission requirements, employers can be confident that candidates are eligible for immigration.

State-led initiatives in international matching have a unique asset in that they can directly address the regulatory barriers or inefficiencies that hamper foreign recruitment (e.g. cumbersome migration rules and procedures for the recognition of foreign qualifications).

Besides the economic growth rationale of public support measures, public intervention in international job matching may also be motivated by public interest in ensuring compliance with applicable regulations by employers, recruiting agents and migrants themselves.

Publicly-led job-matching also protects users from the risks of undue rent-taking, illegal employment practices and other forms of misuse of information power, since there is no incentive for rent-taking or supporting suboptimal matching.

Box 1.4. Mixed experience with marketplaces operated by public employment services

The broad expertise in job matching, overview of vacancies and of labour market trends at the national level could represent key assets for the PES to play a strong role in support of international recruitment. Moreover, the involvement of the PES in the implementation of the labour market test puts the PES in a unique position to ensure that international recruitment covers only those cases where local workers are missing or where international workers could bring added value. Given its institutional capacities to implement complex procedures of administrative approval, such as those required for labour market tests, the PES could also be charged with a formal pre-selection of job seekers and vacancies for admission to a publicly provided marketplace. Use of the PES can also be mandated, either in general (mandatory publishing of all vacancies) or within the framework of international recruitment (as part of the labour market test). Many countries impose mandatory advertising requirements with the PES for all vacancies for which international recruitment is sought (see Table 3.A1.2 in OECD (2014[25])).

The PES mandate is primarily to implement employment policies for local jobseekers, rather than to fill vacancies with workers from outside the country. This has hindered its role in international job matching. As priority is given to local job matching, the PES rarely acts as a match-maker for non-resident job seekers and such services are not necessarily integrated into more general employment services.

There are some notable exceptions to the very limited role of PES in international matching. Through the EURES network (Box 1.2), public employment services in EU countries do engage in match-making across borders, albeit with a limitation to job matching within the EU. In Korea, under the Employment Permit System, public authorities cooperate with employment agencies in countries of origin to find candidates and assign them to eligible employers in collaboration with the Korean PES. Within the German PES, the agency for International Placement Services (ZAV) is dedicated to international job matching and has cooperation programmes with the PES in migrants’ countries of origin (notably in the Western Balkans and in Africa) – implemented by GiZ – that facilitate international job placement in target occupations. In Canada, migrants in Express Entry without a job offer are encouraged to register in the Job Bank, administered by the PES. Their profiles are thus visible to employers together with those of job-seekers residing in the country.

On paper, the PES appear well-placed to operate a marketplace for international job matching, provided the marketplace offers significant added value that makes it more attractive for job seekers and employers than marketplaces in the private sector. However in job matching at the national level, public employment services in several EU countries struggle to secure a competitive market share and to intercept a large portion of labour demand and applications. The same problem has been observed in the EURES system and portal for international job matching that public employment services of EU countries jointly operate at the European level (Box 1.2).

Moreover, the PES have often been associated with low and medium, rather than with highly-skilled, vacancies and job seekers. This skewed representation may be at odds with the migration system and labour migration needs (which are often more oriented towards highly-skilled segments) and could prove an obstacle to attract vacancies for high-skill jobs. Ultimately, employers interested in recruiting from abroad may still prefer other intermediation channels.

Publicly-led international job-matching initiatives: typology and overview

Publicly-led initiatives to facilitate and enhance international job matching may be categorised based on the extent to which public authorities are involved in actual recruitment (Figure 1.6). At one extreme, public support aims only at creating the most favourable conditions for employers and workers to meet. Employers select potential workers and vice versa, and the final decision to hire the individual candidate lies with employers only (while actual admission still rests with public authorities). At the other extreme, public authorities actively assist recruitment, co-operate with origin country counterparts (including public employment agencies), set the standards for pre-departure and post-arrival training and integration support, and have a say in the selection of candidates to present to employers, who do not necessarily meet or test them before hiring.

Figure 1.6. Degree of public intervention in international recruitment in different public initiatives in support of international job matching

Source: OECD Secretariat analysis.

Initiatives that create smoother regulatory conditions and opportunities for job search

Direct intervention on migration and employment-related regulations and their implementation is a state prerogative. While easing or smoothing labour immigration rules and related procedures is often a burdensome and complex exercise, for it involves political capital as well as legislative and/or administrative reform, this is where public intervention can make a big difference in addressing information barriers and costs in international recruitment, as compared with private initiatives.

More favourable migration regulations

Acting on migration regulations, public authorities may for instance opt to lower regulatory barriers for economic migration candidates to enter in the country and seek employment. This eliminates distance and allows employers and candidates to meet spontaneously or for interviews, thus also reducing part of the information risks and costs. Other obstacles may remain, including difficulties with the recognition of foreign qualifications, or with obtaining a work permit at a later stage. Existing examples of countries opening up their travel and migration regulations to allow for spontaneous matching between employers and migration candidates include:

  • granting short-visit visas coupled with the possibility of an in-country status change to work permits. In Sweden, labour migration candidates are allowed to make in-country work permit applications after visiting an employer facing labour shortages. Similarly, in Ireland, highly skilled migrants are granted visas for job interviews and allowed in-country status changes if selected.

  • granting temporary work-permit exemptions (to citizens of selected countries), as allowed in Poland for citizens of Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the Republic of Armenia under the employer’s declaration of intent to hire.

  • granting temporary job search visas (generally to highly skilled migrants), as allowed in Germany, the Netherlands (‘orientation year for highly educated persons’), and in Norway for a restricted group of skilled migrants. Purely supply-driven labour migration channels are still available in some settlement countries like Australia and Canada but may also be somewhat equated to job-search permits, in the sense that a job offer is not an absolute requirement for labour migration, and the matching can take place once the migrant is already in the host country. However, the selection process for these streams is very complex and competitive, as part of a peculiar migration strategy which has traditionally embedded long-term socio-economic and demographic objectives in the selection of labour migrants, who are granted permanent residence.

To support international job matching, public authorities may also act on regulations in key policy areas related to labour migration, notably rules of labour market access such as labour market testing and foreign qualifications recognition procedures.

Smoother labour market testing

Labour market testing is a widespread labour migration management tool across OECD countries (Table 1.1), used to protect the local labour from potential adverse effects of international recruitment. Countries may choose to make the labour market testing procedures less lengthy and/or more transparent to alleviate the deterrent for firms to recruit from abroad.

Many countries require employers to advertise vacancies locally – with public employment services and/or media – for a set period of time before being able to hire workers from abroad, so as to prioritise domestic labour force and/or demonstrate the unavailability of local workers to fill the job vacancy at the prevailing wage and working conditions. In line with this rationale, exemptions to the labour market test (LMT) may apply, notably for shortage occupations. Countries may adopt looser or tighter versions of LMTs, depending on the current labour market outlook and on how they interpret the trade-off between protecting local labour force and facilitating international matching for employers with unfilled or under-filled positions.

Table 1.1. Labour market tests imposed on non-EU migrants in EU countries, 2015

EU Blue Card

National programme for highly qualified

General national programme


Yes (most cases)

Yes (some cases)



Allowed (but not applied)




Yes (except shortage occupations)



Czech Republic














Yes (some cases)















Yes (except pre-approved employers)

Yes (except pre-approved employers)







Not if salary >3 times the average or shortage list























Slovak Republic
















Source: 2018 Revision by the Secretariat of Table 4.2 in OECD/EU (2016[26]).

Examples of mechanisms and reforms that countries have adopted to reduce the LMT burden for employers include:

  • expanding LMT exemptions, as was recently done in Canada. In 2013, Canada tightened its labour market testing requirements under the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), assessing both vacancy and employer compliance. Responding to employers’ concerns over the disproportionate constraints that the need to obtain a LMIA-backed job offer represented from some categories of permanent labour migration candidates (e.g. foreign workers already in Canada on LMIA-exempted temporary work permits, and intra-company transferees), in November 2016 the Canadian government introduced several exemptions to the LMIA requirements for candidates in Express Entry;

  • loosening LMT requirements, as was done in Sweden after the 2008 liberalisation of labour migration regulations, by loosening advertisement requirements and removing the obligation for employers to consider applications from local candidates received in response to vacancy publication, making the LMT nominal. Employers were encouraged to seek the non-binding opinion of the relevant trade union (OECD, 2011[27]).

The trade-off between promptly allowing employers to fill job vacancies with foreign workers and the need to give locals priority to see and apply for jobs is a controversial one, and despite decades of experience with LMTs, there is still debate over the optimal balance in response to changing economic goals and needs (OECD, 2014[25]).6

Smoother recognition of foreign qualifications

Making foreign qualifications recognition procedures more transparent and smooth is another key step to facilitate employment matching for professionals who were trained abroad – regardless of whether they reside in the country (e.g. asylum seekers, refugees and family migrants willing to access employment in their host country) or apply from elsewhere – as employers have a greater trust in local-equivalent qualifications. In regulated professions (e.g. doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, engineers, architects, as well as a wide range of skilled trades) formal recognition of foreign qualifications is a mandatory precondition to access the local labour market.

In EU countries, lacking recognition of foreign qualifications appears to be an issue especially for highly educated labour migrants from outside the EU (Figure 1.7). In this group, 29% indicate this as the main or second obstacle that keeps them from finding a suitable job. For highly educated mobile workers from within the EU, this share is only 18%, which likely reflects the achievements of a long-term process of harmonisation of qualifications standards between EU countries, and facilitated recognition rules under the EU Professional Qualifications Directive (EU PQD). The difference between highly educated labour migrants from within and outside the EU therefore hints at the potential for facilitating the validation and recognition of qualifications from outside the EU. Through appropriate measures, job obstacles for highly educated non-EU labour migrants could be reduced considerably. In contrast, among labour migrants with a medium or low education level, the shares affected by lacking recognition of foreign qualifications are essentially the same for migrants born within or outside the EU (14% and 13%, respectively).

At the same time, labour migrants from outside the EU tend to make less use of tools to have their foreign qualifications recognised in the host country, according to evidence from 2008 (Figure 1.7). The difference is small for highly-educated labour migrants: in this group, 28% of those born in the EU use such facilities, compared with 25% of those born outside the EU. A larger difference arises for labour migrants with a medium or low education level, 18% compared with 7%. The shares of labour migrants whose highest qualification is recognised because it was obtained in the host country are similar across origins (around 10% for highly-educated migrants and about 5% for migrants with a low or medium education level). Together, these results suggest that labour migrants from outside the EU find it more difficult or less cost-effective to have foreign qualifications recognised.

Figure 1.7. Recognition of foreign qualifications, European Union, 2008/14
Labour migrants of working age (15-64)

Note: Labour migrants are identified by employment being their main (self-declared) reason for migration. Lacking recognition of foreign qualification may be indicated as main or second obstacle. Denmark, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands are not included in Panel A due to data availability; Finland and Malta are not included in Panel B.

Source: European Labour Force Survey (Eurostat) ad-hoc modules 2008/2014 on the labour market situation of migrants and their immediate descendants,

Streamlining the procedures for the recognition of qualifications can substantially improve labour migrants’ ability to market their relevant skills to employers and reduce the risk of overqualification (OECD, 2014[25]). For employers, it reduces the time needed for a qualified foreign recruit to start working and expands the overall pool of qualified candidates available to swiftly fill vacancies. Yet, since professional regulations are meant to ensure public safety and protection by denying labour market access to workers whose qualifications are below local professional standards, there are often limits to the extent to which access to regulated professions by foreign-qualified candidates may be streamlined. Existing examples of public intervention in the area of qualifications recognition to improve international job matching include:

  • linking foreign credentials assessment with migration procedures by pre-screening candidates’ qualifications, as in Australia and Canada where most of the labour migration streams require candidates to provide proof of local-equivalent educational qualifications, along with relevant language skills;

  • allowing and encouraging pre-departure recognition of qualifications, as in Germany, where the 2012 Federal Law on Recognition of Foreign Qualifications has made it possible for prospective labour migrants to have their foreign qualifications assessed prior to arrival in the country. The procedure is supposed to be completed within three months of receiving all necessary documents. Similarly, in Canada initiatives like the Canadian Immigrant Integration Project (CIIP) help labour migrants bound for Canada to prepare for their integration at destination with support for pre-arrival assessment and/or recognition of foreign qualifications;

  • concluding mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) with target countries to facilitate local labour market access for workers qualified in these countries, as under the EU Professional Qualifications Directive (EU PQD); the Trans-Tasman MRA (TTMRA), the France-Québec umbrella agreement for the mutual recognition of qualifications, the ASEAN MRAs, as well as bilateral MRAs (Rannveig Mendoza et al., 2017[28]);

  • Drawing inspiration from streamlined procedures recently introduced in OECD countries to address the labour market integration needs of refugees (OECD, 2017[29]). The procedures facilitate the qualifications recognition process for specific groups of migrants already in the country (generally those with skills which are in high demand). In Sweden, for example, a fast-track recognition procedure involving on the job testing, bridging training and mentoring has been available since 2015 to refugees enrolled in the introduction programme and who have qualifications in several shortage occupations in the health, hospitality and teaching sector. This approach to recognition requires that the worker is already in the country, and is applicable to training programmes and to residents, but can be integrated into training in the origin country.

Figure 1.8 provides a measure of the restrictions on foreign entry into selected regulated professions. This shows, for instance, while restrictions on entry into engineering appear comparatively low, they can be high for accounting and legal professions. National governments do not control all the policy levers of qualifications recognition and professional accreditation for labour market access, as various other actors have a stake in this process – including local authorities, education providers, and, crucially professional regulatory bodies. In many OECD countries professional bodies play – by law or de facto – the role of labour market gatekeepers for foreign qualified professionals. As a result, there are often limits to the extent to which governments can facilitate professional qualifications recognition to improve international employment matching. This likely concerns a substantial part of vacancies: throughout EU countries, regulated professions account for sizeable shares of total employment, ranging from 14% in Denmark to 33% in Germany (Figure 1.8).

Figure 1.8. Restrictions on foreign entry into regulated professions, OECD countries, 2017
Index scale from 0 (least restrictive) to 1 (most restrictive)

Note: Figures refer to a subcategory of the Services Trade Restrictiveness Index (STRI).

Source: OECD Services Trade Restrictiveness Index Regulatory Database,

Figure 1.9. Proportion of licensed workers in total employment, EU countries and United States, 2015 or latest available year
Employees aged 15 and above

Note: The figure the United States refers to 2008.

Source: EU Survey of Regulated Occupations,, and Kleiner and Krueger (2013[30]),

The pre-screening of qualifications for labour migration candidates in Australia and Canada, for example, does not amount to full professional recognition, and foreign-qualified migrants with a job offer in a regulated profession would still need to get licensed by the local professional body before starting to work. Nonetheless, and particularly in labour migration systems which create pools of candidates (as the two-step EoI selection systems in Australia, Canada and New Zealand), embedding a publicly-coordinated pre-screening of qualifications in the migration application process has the advantage of reducing part of the uncertainty – and associated information costs – that employers have to face when recruiting internationally. For migration candidates themselves, it offers a certified tool to market their qualifications and a time-saving first step into the recognition process.

Most often governments do not have the full remit over the conclusion of MRAs either – and in fact, in some cases (e.g. the Washington Accord in Engineering or the MRA between Architectural Licensing Authorities of Canada and the United States), MRAs have been concluded among professional bodies themselves without a great deal of public involvement. Regardless, governments can still play an important role by leveraging political capital and broader international relations to trigger the MRA negotiations and ensure that these bring results, as well as in monitoring and sustaining the implementation of MRAs. Thus, among the existing MRAs, those which grant a wider liberalisation of labour market access for professionals qualified in the partner countries – such as the EU PQD or the TTMRA – were embedded into broader economic or political integration processes. Negotiating and implementing MRAs is a complex and time consuming exercise which is more likely to be successful when broader economic or political interests are at stake on each side and/or where the professional qualifications standards of participating countries and bodies on each side are harmonised to some extent or at least compatible. By consequence, MRAs involving both developed and developing countries are rare, except when these are part of regional integration processes (as with the ASEAN MRAs which, however, present implementation challenges). This can prove a serious limitation for the recognition of qualifications from developing countries.

MRAs and other public interventions to facilitate local labour market access for foreign-qualified professionals may be linked to migration and mobility regulations – as in the case of the EU PQD which is meant to serve intra-EU mobility, or with the qualifications pre-screening in settlement countries. However, these interventions do not affect migration regulations themselves, and do not per se make them more liberal. Migration candidates who benefit from streamlined qualification recognition procedures are still subject to the applying migration regulations (e.g. MRAs themselves do not exempt candidates from immigration authorization).

Initiatives that provide targeted information and matching

In order to help migrants and employers overcome information barriers in international matching, countries can provide information on migration and employment regulations, practices and available support. In principle, as compared with the provision of information by informal networks and private agencies, public information tools come with the advantage of being free of charge for the user, as well as more authoritative, if comprehensive and regularly updated. Indeed, migration and job-matching information made available through diaspora or personal networks may distorted by community or individual experience, and may therefore be partial, outdated, or not perfectly relevant to the employer/candidate’s situation. The provision of targeted information by private agencies generally comes at a cost, which might not be affordable by all migration candidates and employers.

To provide value added information tools, public channels ought to be comprehensive, well-designed, advertised and accessible by the different target stakeholders. Comprehensiveness of information is better achieved when the public tool stems from a whole-of-government effort to support international recruitment. Provision of information is more effective when multilingual, user-friendly and easy to find; simultaneously available through different channels (e.g., web-portals, live chat, hotline, email), up-to-date and active (e.g., e-mail alerts and newsletters).

Content can include real experiences, for example, interviews with migrants and employers, videos of the cities and working environment, and direct contact with mentors in the countries of origin. Matching tools such as job listings and interactive vacancy-migrant profile pairings may also be linked to information provision. Employers and migrants have different information needs for international matching and should be targeted separately. Differences by company size, employment sector, and skill level can also be made. Employer associations can be a primary source of targeted information for their members and may be especially effective in disseminating it through existing channels of communication (Box 1.5).

Box 1.5. The role of employer associations in supporting international recruitment

Over the past decade, employer associations – whether representative of public or private employers – have been increasingly involved in the migration debate. In countries and/or sectors affected by shortages of domestic workers, employer associations have actively supported their members’ international recruitment efforts by lobbying with national governments (and the EU administration) for more demand-driven and open migration regulations, as well as by providing targeted information tools. In some cases, as in the health sector, public employer associations have themselves engaged in international recruitment campaigns.

In the United Kingdom, against persistent shortages of health professionals, international recruitment is one in four core priorities of the workforce recruitment and planning agenda of the National Health Service (NHS) Employers organisation, which gathers British public health sector providers. To support employers, alongside lobbying the UK migration authorities and advisory bodies for regulatory adjustments, the NHS Employers also includes comprehensive section on international recruitment with updated information on regulations, resources on issues such as language assessment and upskilling as well as a code of practice for international recruitment (

In Sweden, where the berry-picking industry is heavily reliant on international recruitment, the Forestry and Agriculture Employer association provides relevant information to its members through published guides and meetings with the Migration Board, the Tax Authorities and the Public Employment Service (IOM, 2013[19]). Similarly, a guide produced by the Federal Association of German Employers (BDA) provides information on recruiting migrant workers, both from abroad and among those already resident on the territory, including refugees (BDA, 2016[31]).

Publicly-run labour migration information tools can take various forms, including comprehensive web portals, published guides for employers and migrants, information centres in countries of origin and pre-departure programmes for migrants. Countries may use a combination of different types of tools. Existing examples of public labour migration information tools in OECD countries include:

  • comprehensive portals for migrants and employers, as in Germany, where the web-portal Make it in Germany, 7 a joint initiative of the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, and the Federal Employment Agency, provides labour migration and international matching information tailored to qualified professionals and employers. The website section dedicated to prospective migrants contains multilingual information on occupations in demand (including available job listings from the Federal Employment Agency), labour migration and social security regulations, opportunities for family members as well as life in Germany. It also links to another government-run website, Recognition in Germany,8 which provides a search engine for foreign professionals to access tailored information on the recognition procedures that they would have to apply for depending on their prospective occupation and work location. The employer section features detailed information on migration regulations, as well as diversity management and integration. Best practices in these areas are also presented. To enhance interactivity and accessibility the portal has a mobile application version and includes email, chat and hotline services. Similar initiatives exist in Estonia, where the Work in Estonia9 website provides tailored information to both employers and prospective migrants; in New Zealand, where the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment runs the New Zealand Now10 portal which functions as a matching tool between prospective migrants and employers through a registration feature; and in Sweden, with the Working in Sweden11 portal. The European Commission has created an Immigration Portal, which provides an overview of migration regulations and links to national websites; national sites presenting the labour market and explaining how to seek work are linked where relevant. The EU Portal mostly refers to national sources, so the depth of information on how third-country nationals can seek employment depends on whether and how such information is presented on the national sites. In parallel, the Europass revision launched with the 2016 Skills Agenda for Europe has provided for the Europass online platform to include information on qualifications and qualifications frameworks or systems; opportunities for validation of non-formal and informal learning; recognition practices and relevant legislation in different countries, including third countries.

  • guides and other forms of targeted information for employers recruiting from abroad, as in New Zealand, where the marketing team of the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment proactively support employers willing to recruit from abroad, or in Canada where the federal government publishes a Roadmap to hiring and retaining internationally trained workers12, with a specific focus on SME needs; and the website Hire Immigrants13 features a variety of resources to encourage and support employers hiring immigrants (both in-land and from abroad);

  • information centres and counsellors for potential migrants, such as the Migrant Resource Centres run by national authorities and agencies such as public employment agencies or international organisations in a number of migrants’ countries of origin (see ETF (2015[32]) and Chindea (2015[33]), for example); and dedicated desks or counsellors in destination countries’ embassies abroad – as the GIZ-trained migration advisors operating in India, Indonesia and Viet Nam;

  • pre-departure information programmes for potential migrants, such as the pre-departure integration and orientation component of the German Triple Win project,14 jointly run by the federal Employment Agency’s International Placement Services (ZAV) and GiZ, in cooperation with public employment agencies in partner countries of origin (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Philippines and Tunisia) for the placement of qualified nurses with German companies; or the Planning for Canada15 initiative managed by the Canadian Orientation Abroad and the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program with government funding, providing free of charge pre-departure orientation and training, support with credential recognition, networking and job-matching to principal applicants and their spouses bound to migrate to Canada.

These different public initiatives, however, also face specific challenges. Static web portals may fail to reach a large share of interested persons, while too much information may be confusing, and users may find complex portals difficult to navigate. If they include an outreach element, like pre-arrival programmes in countries of origin, they may turn out to be very expensive and to cover only a limited number of persons. More broadly, when publicly-led information provision – and, particularly, pre-departure training – is not matched with a transparent and efficient labour migration system as well as sufficient labour migration opportunities, this may backfire by sparking frustration, disenchantment and mistrust among employers and prospective migrants.

Assisted recruitment programmes

A more comprehensive involvement of public authorities in international matching and selection may occur with assisted recruitment programmes. These programmes, which are often embedded in bilateral cooperation (i.e. bilateral agreements or partnerships), offer to match labour demand and supply across the countries party to the agreement by leveraging the public authorities’ prerogative in migration management, alongside with structured accompanying measures (e.g. targeted training, pre-departure and post arrival provision of information and support to both involved migration candidates and employers), often provided in cooperation with NGOs and other private actors. Various public authorities in country origin – ranging from the local PES, to the ministry of foreign affairs, interior, education and labour – may be involved in these programmes.

The involvement of public authorities in bilateral labour matching programmes is more common in specific sectors – notably the agriculture sector where they are also partly geared towards reducing the risks of illegal employment practices and irregular migration or overstaying of seasonal workers. Bilateral labour agreements also offer a particular value for international matching in regulated professions, such as in the health sector, where they can facilitate effective selection and employability of foreign-qualified professionals through pre-departure and post-arrival support for the recognition of foreign qualifications, bridging training and other matching initiatives. Box 1.6 presents existing examples of assisted recruitment programmes implemented in OECD countries in the context of bilateral agreements.

Box 1.6. Publicly assisted recruitment programmes

A number of international recruitment programmes are assisted by public authorities in order to facilitate matching, notably seasonal worker programmes, such as the ‘Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programme’ (SAWP) in Canada, the ‘Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme’ in New Zealand, and the ‘Seasonal Worker Programme’ in Australia. These programmes all have a regional focus and target between ten and twelve neighbouring countries (Mexico and the Caribbean in the case of Canada, Pacific islands for Australia and New Zealand) in the context of institutional cooperation. Besides public authorities, accredited private recruitment agencies as well as civil society organisations are also involved in the recruitment and training/support activities.

These are consolidated programmes which have proven effective in helping to match unfilled seasonal vacancies, while providing economic support to neighbouring countries and also reducing the risks of irregular migration and employment. In 2015, more than 3300 seasonal vacancies were matched in Canada through the SAWP, while in New Zealand the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme placed 9 300 workers from the Pacific islands. Corresponding figures for the 2016 edition of the Seasonal Worker Programme in Australia amounted to just about 4 800 (Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 2017[34]).

Under Italy’s seasonal worker programme – which is subject to a quota, fixed at 17 000 for 2017 and open to workers from 28 countries – potential migrants can register to dedicated lists, as a means of fostering international matching. However, in practice, this option is rarely used and recruitment is most often carried out directly by employers, through informal channels. Spain also applies a ‘Collective Management of Hiring in Countries of Origin’ (formerly called “Contingente”) for seasonal workers in agriculture, whereby public authorities and employers participate in the selection of candidates in countries or origin in the context of bilateral agreements. In 2015, around 2 900 migrants were admitted under this scheme (Ministry of Employment and Social Security, 2017[35]).

Sectoral Assisted Recruitment Programmes in regulated occupations provide another example, such as the ‘Triple Win’ pilot project for nurse recruitment run by the International Placement Services of the German federal employment agency (ZAV) and the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ), in co-operation with the public employment agencies of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Philippines, and Serbia.1 Under this project German employers willing to hire a foreign nurse pay a fee (around EUR 3 700) to benefit from a comprehensive package of publicly-provided services including the selection of candidates, language and orientation training, qualification recognition and bridging training both pre-departure and post-arrival, as well as integration support. While judged satisfactory in terms of quality of matches and ethical recruitment, the programme has remained relatively small scale, with a total around 900 placements over the period 2012-16.

In light of the public safety issues at stake, the health sector is one where public assistance in international recruitment has been more common. In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service (NHS) has been very active in this area and has recently launched the International GP Recruitment Programme with an overall budget of 20 million GBP until 2020 to cover for the recruitment, relocation and training of qualified general practitioners.2 Pilots have also been implemented in the engineering sector, such as the 2012-13 joint ZAV and GIZ project offering traineeships and placements to engineers from the Philippines, Georgia, Vietnam and Tunisia (Desiderio and Hooper, 2015[36]).

Systematic publicly assisted recruitment as part of broader labour migration programmes (in term of duration – i.e. non seasonal – and scope – i.e. non sectoral) is rare. The Korean ‘Employment Permit Programme’ (E-9) constitutes an exception, building on strong cooperation between the Korean government and public employment service, and government agencies in sixteen Asian countries. These agencies select potential migration candidates on the basis of skills, work experience and language proficiency. The pool is then approved by the Korean government and managed by the employment service. When Korean employers express to the employment service the intention to apply for the EPS, they are proposed candidates selected from the pool. Matched candidates benefit from further training in Korea, and are allowed to stay in the country for an initial five-year period, renewable (OECD, 2019[37]).

1. GIZ, Sustainable recruitment of nurses (Triple Win),

2. NHS England, Recruitment schemes,

Assisted recruitment programmes can be a powerful supporting tool for international recruitment, provided that they serve clear – and genuine – international labour matching needs, and that they are designed around these needs, with the involvement of employers. Among the advantages these programmes may provide to employers is the availability of a pool of pre-selected candidates, whose qualifications and training have been preliminarily screened, and topped-up with additional training, and who may benefit from preferential migration channels and enhanced integration support, if sponsored. For migration candidates, besides crucial matching support, these programmes may also offer guarantees in terms of salary and working conditions – which, in the context of such programmes, tend to be closely monitored by public authorities – and, in some cases, also facilitation for housing and local integration.

Conversely, programmes whose objectives are mixed and where, for instance, the choice of target countries, is led by policy considerations which aren’t primarily labour migration policy considerations, and which do not take in due account employers’ needs and interests, are bound to failure. When programmes have limited relevance to employers – either because they were not properly tuned to serve employers’ needs, or because they have, as it is often the case, limited scope and reach, or lengthy procedures – they end up being undersubscribed, particularly if more straightforward recruitment tools are already available to employers (e.g., consolidated networks, irregularly residing migrants) (Box 1.7). Since assisted recruitment programmes are often the result of complex negotiation and implementation processes in the context of broader bilateral agreements between destination and origin country authorities and agencies, their failure to cater to the international job matching goals may result in the loss of significant public resources, and even harm diplomatic ties. Among potential migration candidates – notably those who were trained in origin countries but eventually did not manage to secure employer sponsorship, these programmes may spark frustration. Moreover, as assisted recruitment programmes embedded in broader bilateral agreements often have limited flexibility, an additional challenge is the difficulty to adapt them to rapidly shifting labour market needs at destination (e.g. an economic downturn that may reduce employers’ appetite for international recruitment overall).

A case in point is the Dutch ‘Blue Birds’ pilot project for circular migration with Indonesia and South Africa (Siegel and van der Vorst, 2012[37]). The project ran between 2010 and 2011 and was then discontinued. Only 8 matches took place over the period, out of 160 that were expected. Project failure can be attributed to a number of factors, including insufficient attention to the needs of employers. Similarly, in Italy, the pilot project launched in 2012, ‘Facilitate a responsible and effective circular migration of Mauritian workers to Italy’ has suffered from fading interest from employers, with no vacancy available in 2017, despite the availability of bridging training and on-line matching services.

Box 1.7. Pre-departure training for labour migration in Italy: mixed ambitions, limited results

Since 2002 the Italian legislation on immigration has allowed preferential quotas (Titolo di Prelazione) for the admission of migrant workers who have attended qualifying pre-departure training courses in the countries of origin. Within this framework, various projects have been undertaken, with national and EU funding and with the active involvement of some Italian Regions and Provinces, as well as NGOs and labour intermediation agencies.

The first pilots, developed directly by the Ministry of Labour in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration, were carried out between 2002 and 2005 in Moldova, Tunisia and Sri Lanka and involved a total of 550 workers in construction, manufacturing and personal care services. Several other projects were undertaken until 2011, with a few regions – notably Lazio, Lombardy, Tuscany, Umbria and Veneto – taking the lead, along with intermediation agencies such as Obiettivo Lavoro, which run projects involving a total of 700 nurses. Pre-departure training programmes were set up in a broader group of countries of origin co-operating with Italy in the fight against irregular migration.

According to data provided by the Italian Ministry of Labour, a total of about 3 000 workers were trained abroad under these projects over the period 2002-11. This is far fewer than the total 20 000 places reserved in the Italian immigration flow decrees from 2006 to 2017 for migrant workers who attended pre-departure courses in origin countries. Available figures on actual admissions are even lower: of the 1 629 workers trained in their countries of origin under programmes authorized by the Italian Ministry of Labour over the period 2006-11, only 720 were admitted to Italy through employer sponsorship, while 909 workers are, at least in theory, still available for recruitment.1 For the main origin country of trained workers, Tunisia, most trained workers were not recruited.

Figure 1.10. Reserved quotas for pre-departure training abroad in annual flow decrees (2006-17)

Source: Ministry of Labour, Italy

Since the economic crisis in 2009, pre-departure trainings have been geared to integration rather than labour market objectives, and have been carried out in the countries of origin of migrant workers already residing in Italy with the objective of preparing their family members for successful integration upon family reunification.

All in all, the the Titolo di Prelazione has not translated into an effective tool for international employment matching. Mixed goals, insufficient language training and technical knowledge of migrant workers, and long procedures explain employer reluctance to use this channel for international recruitment.

Similarly, the facilitated labour migration conditions offered in France to selected groups of migration candidates from countries signatory of the accords de gestion concertée,2 have fallen short, due to lack of employers’ awareness and interest (OECD, 2017[39]).

1. Italian Ministry of Labour, international job matching platform, .

2. With Senegal in 2006, with Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Benin in 2007, with Tunisia, Cape-Vert, Burkina Faso and Cameroon in 2009; with Mauritius, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia (and under discussion with Lebanon); with Russia in 2009.

Engaging with employers

In demand-led labour migration systems employers drive the international job-matching process. Without employer involvement, even the most sophisticated publicly-led initiative for international recruitment is bound to failure. Yet, employers’ buy-in cannot be taken for granted. As the above examples have shown, many public initiatives for international job matching have struggled to attract employer interest. As a result, matching platforms have remained underpopulated and assisted recruitment programmes have not resulted in a cost-effective tool to fill labour shortages through migration.

Even at the national level, publicly led initiatives for employment matching have at times suffered from a negative reputation among employers. For instance, PES have often been regarded as skewed towards low-skilled client profiles and job offers and have thus played a limited role in matching demand and offer for skilled professionals. Similarly, in countries where the migration process has proven too cumbersome and lengthy to meet employer needs, employers also mistrust the capacity of ad hoc publicly led international job matching initiatives, including targeted assisted recruitment programmes, to produce optimal employment matches. Such initiatives have often gone undersubscribed and have failed to bring together sizeable and relevant markets for international job matching.

Often public interest has been perceived as not aligned with the real needs of the industry, for instance when assisted recruitment programmes have been created mainly as a compensation for countries co-operating on the fight against irregular migration rather than to cater to real labour needs. Conversely, examples of industry-led international training and recruitment initiatives exist which have resulted in sizeable numbers of optimal employment matches across borders (Box 1.8). Success is largely due to effective networks between employers, recruitment agencies and training institutions, and on direct employer involvement on curricula. One key lesson of these private intermediation success stories is the importance of securing employer buy-in at the outset – at the moment of setting the training parameters or other building blocks of the programme – rather than seeking it only at the end of the process, when trying to secure recruitment opportunities for programme participants.

Involving employers in the design and implementation of international job matching initiatives comes with its own caveats. In occupations like seafaring, where jobs and employers are themselves international and where consolidated international training and quality standards exist, allowing international employers to drive local training curricula along with the recruitment process has not proven to be socio-economically harmful for origin or destination countries. However, in other occupations, notably in the health sector, concerns may arise for instance over brain drain from origin countries, or service quality standards. Similarly, when permanent-type international migration is predominantly driven by immediate employer demand, long-term demographic and socio-economic goals which fall typically under public interest may go neglected.16

Box 1.8. Training for international recruitment in the seafaring and health industries

Seafaring is often an international occupation, since most of the world’s seafarers are employed on ships that are owned by firms in one country, often fly flags of convenience at sea, and are staffed by multinational crews. A mix of private and public institutions trains seafarers to standards established by the International Maritime Organization (, and graduates are often recruited by private staffing firms that have relationships with particular shipping firms. As of 2012, most of the world’s 1.4 million seafarers were from Asia and Eastern Europe; the Philippines alone accounted for about 250 000.

International recruitment in the seafaring occupation largely relies upon trusted networks connecting shipping firms with specialized recruitment agencies and training centres – both public and private – in origin countries. The existence of standard curricula competency certificates established by the 133-member International Maritime Organization (the Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping, STCW) also concurs to reduce information barriers – and risks – and hence facilitates international employment matching.

In the Philippines, for instance, both government and private schools train seafarers and provide them with the STCW certification. Ship owners are actively involved in training, by providing equipment and advice on the curriculum. Moreover, schools have relationships with specialized private employment agencies, which in turn have relationships with shipping firms. Hence, the incentive to maintain quality standards passes from schools to employment to shipping firms. This creates network effects which minimise the risks of adverse hires for employers, while ensuring that schools maintain a good reputation and that students have appropriate returns on their investments in education.

Opposite to the seafarer example, occupations in the health sector rely on national training standards and certifications. Hence, direct international recruitment of health professionals from abroad can only happen when the qualifications acquired by the foreign professionals are equivalent or recognised as equivalent to the local qualifications allowing access to professional practice in a given country. The few cases of functioning Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) in the health sector – and, notably, the EU Professional Qualifications Directive – allow for this, as do efficient qualifications recognition procedures which can be initiated when the foreign worker is still in the country of origin. Another way of overcoming the qualifications barrier in foreign recruitment is training in origin countries to the destination country standards.

In India, the Philippines and other developing countries private schools exists which train doctors and nurses to destination country standards. These private schools have features similar to the seafarer model, with respect to employer involvement or training to standards required in particular foreign countries, worker investment in training, and networks that link schools with recruiters and foreign employers, as well as incentives to achieve and maintain high test pass rates for graduates and satisfactory performance abroad.

The private nurse-training systems in the Philippines allow students to get loans for training that can be repaid via higher foreign earnings. Many of these loans are from relatives already abroad rather than banks or other lenders due to the absence of assurance of successfully completing the training and finding a foreign job.

Government-run training institutions are generally less flexible in adopting and enforcing training to foreign country standards, and they often find it difficult to mix local taxes and foreign aid to train some or all workers to another country’s standards and expect some to stay behind. Brain drain concerns come into the equation. Hence, some governments require those who attended government-subsidized schools training to foreign standards to serve a year or two in rural or remote areas at low wages and poor conditions. This, however, may increase the desire to emigrate as soon as possible.

Striking the optimal balance between employer involvement and public interest remains a difficult yet essential exercise for the success and long-term sustainability of any international job matching initiative.

Table 1.2 presents advantages and disadvantages for the main forms of public involvement in international job matching: (re-)designing regulation on labour migration and related areas, providing targeted information and marketplaces to both job seekers and employers, acting as an intermediary in the matching process, and supporting the operation of assisted recruitment programmes.

Table 1.2. Public initiatives to support international recruitment, their elements of success and drawbacks


Elements of success


Favourable regulatory conditions

- Liberal temporary labour migration channels:

- Open labour migration system;

- (or) Restricted and low-risk target group (highly-skilled, students, neighbouring partner countries);

- clear paths for status change and longer-term residence;

- Safeguards against welfare dependency;

- Employer involvement in design. Reasonable, predictable and transparent labour market testing procedures: Exemptions for shortage occupations;

- Exemptions/less stringent requirements for specific low risk groups.

Transparent and smooth qualifications recognition procedures and rules of labour market access for foreign-qualified professionals:

- Pre-screening migration candidates for qualifications; Allowing pre-departure qualifications recognition and support;

- Concluding and effectively implementing MRAs with target countries and/or in target sectors to facilitate labour market access for qualified professionals from partner countries;

- Supporting international comparability of qualifications and skills;

- Facilitating recognition procedures and accelerating access to professional practice for foreign qualified professionals in shortage occupations

- Risk of misuse and over-staying;

- Poor monitoring mechanism;

- Low awareness and trust among employers.

- Risk of unfair competition with local labour force.

- High cost of qualification pre-screening may discourage candidates;

- Limited trust of local employers in qualification equivalencies;

- Resourceful MRA negotiation and implementation processes

- Autonomy of professional bodies from central government and fragmentation of qualifications recognition actors;

- High cost of bridging mechanisms for highly qualified professionals (e.g. medical doctors);

- Harm to public safety protection principle and industrial standards.

Provision of information

- Comprehensive, reliable and updated information, integrated with multiple information channels, covering a wide range of topics (migration options, labour market, qualifications recognition, life-style, work culture, etc.);

- Multilingual, user-friendly, easy to find information;

- Multi-channels and personalised exchange options (email, hotline, chat, offices) and newsletter or email alerts to keep users up-to-date;

- Tailored information for employers and potential migrants, addressing specific needs (e.g. for employers, diversity management, benefits of recruiting abroad), by profiles (e.g. SMEs, highly skilled workers);

- Displaying genuine experience, e.g. interviews, video, etc., or linking with mentoring opportunities.

- When static not effective in reaching out all interested persons;

- When a dynamic element is included (e.g. pre-arrival programmes in countries of origin), costs are high and the number of persons covered lower;

- Too much information can create confusion and over-complication;

- When information is disconnected from actual migration and employment matching opportunities it can spark frustration and backfire

Intermediation of job matching

- Integration with information services and the migration management system (e.g. through pre-screening, by skills and eligibility to migration programmes;

- Employers’ involvement and awareness;

- Targeted for specific sectors or skill level;- Substantial number of vacancies and CVs available; - Information displayed in English;

- Tools matching vacancies with CVs;

- Careful technical implementation.

- Low share of available vacancies and CVs (as with PES or EURES);

- Low quality of vacancies and profiles (e.g. only low and middle-skilled)

- Low trust among users and adverse selection;

- Poor technical implementation and flaws in the matching mechanism;

- Poor marketing and mainstreaming.

Assisted recruitment programmes

- Genuine and clear labour migration and international job matching goals;

- Broad stakeholder involvement, including countries of origin authorities and employers;

- Development of professional networks in countries of origin and destination;

- Specific target, by skills, sectors, countries of origin;

- Migration paths available to programme participants;

- Training component to align migrants’ skills with the skills in the countries of destination;

- Certification component of skills and qualifications.

- Lack genuine labour migration goals and channels;

- Lack of interest by employers;

- High costs for the administration or for employers;

- Excessive bureaucratisation;

- Poor technical implementation; - Presence of easier migration alternatives which make the programme irrelevant;

- Conflicting goals between origin and destination countries.

Source: OECD Secretariat analysis.

Benefits of making international job matching easier

The previous sections have discussed how marketplaces, intermediaries and specific policies can reduce frictions in international job matching. This section briefly explores the benefits that come with lower frictions. In general, if international job matching becomes easier, both employers and potential labour migrants will be more willing to engage in it. Marketplaces for international job matching thus grow in size, but also in variety as the new participants may have different profiles. The increase in size and variety is reinforced through network effects: marketplaces with a greater number of employers are more attractive for labour migrants, and marketplaces with a greater number of labour migrants are more attractive for employers (Diamond, 1982[39]).

Among several possible destinations for labour migrants, those with a greater number and variety of employers will often appear more promising. Therefore, reducing frictions in international job matching can substantially increase the competitiveness of a particular destination. In the case of the EU, for example, a well-functioning common system for international job matching can help attract highly-skilled labour migrants from outside the EU who might also have opportunities in several other destinations. Due to the network effects that favour size, a marketplace for the entire EU would likely be more attractive for labour migrants from outside the EU than marketplaces at the national level. If many candidates would register – perhaps exclusively – with the marketplace at the EU level, employers across EU countries would also have a greater incentive to join, thereby reinforcing its attractiveness for potential labour migrants. Especially the highly-skilled migrants who seek very specific vacancies might prefer large marketplaces for their variety. The pre-selection for a marketplace at EU level could be valid for several EU countries with comparable requirements, which would save labour migrants going through multiple procedures. Information on the respective requirements could be provided for all EU countries. As a by-product of a unified and transparent marketplace, however, employers from across the EU would enter into competition for the same candidates, which might disadvantage employers in low-wage regions.

Another important effect of lower frictions arises because the employers and labour migrants involved adjust their search strategies: if search becomes easier, it will more often lead to a good match, in the sense that the profile of the labour migrant corresponds well to the job requirements. While both employers and labour migrants may accept a mediocre match when high frictions make it difficult to find a better match, many will only settle for a good match when frictions are low. Reducing frictions should therefore improve the sorting of labour migrants across the available jobs, with several desirable consequences: better use is made of labour migrants’ skills, so that they are more productive and make a greater economic contribution to the host country. Labour migrants themselves likely experience greater job satisfaction and are less inclined to leave again.

One way to measure how well labour migrants are matched to jobs is offered by overqualification rates. Panel A of Figure 1.11 shows survey data on subjectively perceived overqualification among labour migrants. Highly-educated labour migrants from outside the EU report feeling overqualified significantly more often than highly-educated labour migrants from within the EU, which is likely linked to higher frictions for non-EU migrants. By contrast, labour migrants with low or medium education levels indicate roughly the same incidence of overqualification, below the levels for highly-educated labour migrants. This indicates that overqualification would become less frequent if transferring a tertiary education from outside the EU became easier. Panel B of Figure 1.11 shows that labour migrants from outside the EU are often held back from finding a job that corresponds to their qualifications due to lack of recognition of foreign qualifications or restricted rights to work. More generally, Panel B shows that a large majority of overqualified labour migrants are affected by frictions that complicate finding a better job and thereby maintain the incidence of overqualification.

Since reducing frictions such as restricted work authorisations enable labour migrants to change jobs more easily, this would allow for greater mobility across employers, occupations and regions. In the EU, the same logic extends to mobility across EU countries (Poeschel, 2016[40]). Labour migrants who are more mobile find it easier to take up opportunities elsewhere and might therefore experience faster career progression (Ruhs, 2017[41]). In addition, mobile labour migrants are in a better position to avoid unemployment. Therefore, lower frictions can support labour market adjustment and sustain employment among labour migrants (Kahanec and Guzi, 2017[42]).

Figure 1.11. Links between frictions and overqualification of labour migrants, European Union, 2014
Labour migrants of working age (15-64)

Note: Labour migrants are identified by employment being their main (self-declared) reason for migration. Overqualification is self-declared and limited to employed persons. Denmark, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands are not included due to data availability.

Source: European Labour Force Survey (Eurostat) ad-hoc module 2014 on the labour market situation of migrants and their immediate descendants,


Across OECD countries, securing a job offer from abroad is a key prerequisite, or preferential criterion, for skilled labour migration. However, various information barriers and costs – stemming from the geographical distance between prospective employers and migration candidates, limited familiarity with labour markets, education and training systems and professional networks on both ends, and from the complexity of labour migration regulations – make international job matching challenging and largely explain employers’ reluctance to hire from abroad, even in the presence of severe skills shortages.

Employers who recruit internationally – most often large firms or firms with international operations, and companies led by immigrants – have often recourse to private intermediation tools to overcome practical barriers. Migration candidates may also use such tools to improve their chances of appropriate matching and successful migration. Private intermediation tools may be formal, as in the case of information, matching and placement services provided by private recruitment agencies, immigration lawyers and counsellors, or informal, as personal and professional networks which are a widespread information and matching channel in both local and foreign recruitment. At the intersection between private networks and more formal channels, web-based employment matching platforms have also sprung up over the past five years. Yet, their use in support of international employment matching remains currently limited to the highest and lowest ends of the skills spectrum and technical occupations.

Moreover, private intermediation channels for international recruitment, and particularly those offering the more comprehensive packages, may be costly, and hence not affordable for all employers. Support available through personal and diaspora networks, while generally free of charge, may sometimes lead to skewed selection and suboptimal matching. At times, in sectors which employ low-skilled migrants, the risk of abuse and unfair treatment by unscrupulous private intermediaries cannot be excluded. Finally, information bottlenecks and costs stemming from complex – or restrictive – migration and employment regulations, or from opaque and cumbersome qualifications recognition systems cannot be resolved by private intermediaries alone.

Publicly-led initiatives aimed at reducing information barriers in foreign recruitment, and enhancing international job matching, also exist, and often consist of information and/or job-matching platforms, advisers or packages which may function similar to private tools.

Publicly-led information and matching tools have a unique advantage over private ones when they link to or are integrated within the labour migration management system and with policies that tackle regulatory hurdles to labour mobility. This is notably the case when public authorities pre-screen candidates for minimum immigration requirements, language level and qualifications equivalency, and make them available to employers in banks or pools. This reduces uncertainty about the these candidates’ likelihood to swiftly complete the administrative steps necessary to be admitted in the country, once sponsored, as well as to successfully integrate. For example, this would be achieved by an Expression of Interest system that pre-selects job seekers and vacancies based on their eligibility under labour migration laws. The way such systems function in Australia, Canada and New Zealand is examined in the following chapter. Similarly, when lists of vacancies and suitable candidates are established in the context of bilateral labour agreements or effective pre-departure support packages linked with actual migration opportunities at destination, the value added of publicly-led intermediation tools is clear.

Size effects are crucial to the cost-effective functioning of international job-matching marketplaces and intermediation tools. In theory, public involvement may offer added value also in this respect as publicly-led intermediation initiatives may be accessible to broader groups of employers and migration candidates as compared to private tools, and cover a broader portion of the skills spectrum. Yet, in practice, a number of public initiatives to facilitate international job-matching have failed to attract interest from employers. In general, the financial and governance efforts required for the implementation of public tools and initiatives in support of international recruitment are better justified when these tools and initiatives get sufficient attention from end-users. This is better achieved when these initiatives are complementary to existing private instruments – rather than a mere duplication – and offer equal or more guarantees in terms of fairness, trustworthiness, and/or are more comprehensive.

Complementarity stems from the exclusive prerogative of public authorities over labour migration management rules (i.e. admission and residence conditions), and labour market access regulations (e.g. labour market testing and shortage lists, rules for recognition of foreign qualifications and access to professional practice by foreign-qualified workers). Hence, public intervention in support of international recruitment can make a real difference when compared with private support if it tackles bottlenecks in migration and employment regulations. For instance, by making labour market testing and qualifications recognition more efficient or facilitating status change for certain categories of migrants. More targeted tools such as bilateral agreements may also offer value in international recruitment, provided that they are genuinely shaped and implemented with the primary goal of serving more efficient international employment matching and professional mobility.

Fairness and trustworthiness of publicly-led international job matching mechanisms are a result of them being provided free of charge and by actors who do not pursue private interests (which may occasionally conflict with the best interest of employers and migrants) and are committed to ensure compliance of all involved stakeholders. This levels the playing ground between the large and/or international firms who can afford targeted private intermediation support and the large number of SMEs for which this is not a viable option.

Comprehensiveness of public support tools for international job matching may only stem from the active involvement of all key stakeholders – and primarily employers – in the design and implementation of such tools. Setting up and managing matching platforms, pools or targeted assisted recruitment programmes is costly for the public purse. Pools and programmes which go undersubscribed because, for instance, employers do not advertise vacancies or look for candidates through these tools, or because of low interest among migration candidates themselves are a waste of public resources. Internally, employers may lose trust on the capacity of public authorities to cater effectively to their international recruitment needs and, more broadly, the public opinion may lose its already very limited appetite for public intervention in support of labour migration. Internationally, undersubscribed and failed tools and agreements may send a negative signal on the country’s genuine attractiveness for international talent and may durably affect the country’s branding in this respect, or even harm diplomatic relations (in the case of bilateral agreements failing to meet the expected labour migration targets). Similar considerations would apply for any public intervention in international matching which would eventually be EU-wide rather than at the national level.

Public initiatives bear the promise to play a unique role in support of international job-matching by fully unlocking the potential of well-managed skilled migration to contribute to economic growth and competitiveness. However, for this to realize, securing active buy-in from all key stakeholders is crucial. At the national and EU level, public authorities committed in putting forward the international talent agenda have a compelling interest in effectively engaging with employers, social partners, migrants, private recruitment agencies as well as public employment services, as a stepping stone for any international matching and recruitment initiative capable of advancing the talent agenda.


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← 1. While the outcomes of migrants who arrive with employment already secured are better than those of other migrant groups, the integration outcomes are not the subject of this paper. The question of balancing job offers with human capital and long-term adaptability is addressed in more detail in (OECD, 2017[29]) and (OECD, 2014[25])

← 2. See (OECD, 2017[29]).

← 3. EU citizens enjoy labour mobility rights in the Internal Market, which exempt them from general labour migration requirements in all EU Member States.

← 4. During the last 20 years, regularisation programmes in Europe have covered more than 3.2 million persons, two-thirds of which were in Italy and Spain; while case-by-case regularisations 280 000 persons, mainly in France and Germany (Brick, 2011[44]).

← 5. The labour force surveys capture labour migrants who are or were irregular migrants at a given point in time. In some OECD countries, such as Southern European countries, a significant proportion of regular labour migrants entered the country illegally and benefitted from ex-post regularisation. The surveys may capture, to a greater or lesser extent, this group.

← 6. The European Commission proposed certain parameters for the LMT in the 2001 “Proposal for a Council Directive on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purpose of paid employment and self-employed economic activities” (COM/2001/0386), which stated (Art. 6(2)): “If employers have published a job vacancy via the employment services of several Member States, e.g. by means of the European Employment Services Network (EURES), for at least four weeks and if they have not received an acceptable application from within the EU labour market […], they will be allowed to recruit from abroad […]. In order to prevent fraud, the published job vacancies must contain realistic, reasonable and proportionate requirements for the offered post and competent authorities shall check this”.

← 7. For more information, see

← 8. For more information, see

← 9. Work in Estonia,

← 10. New Zealand Now,

← 11. Sweden,

← 12. For more information, see

← 13. For more information, see

← 14. For more information, see

← 15. For more information, see

← 16. It was to address this shortcoming that the initially decisive point premium for a qualifying job offer under the Canadian Expression of Interest system was drastically reduced one year into implementation.

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