Chapter 4. Policy approaches for the integration of refugees and other vulnerable migrants

This chapter provides a series of recommendations for ensuring better integration of refugees and other vulnerable migrants. It summarises recommendations in areas ranging from initial arrival, social integration, institutional support and co-ordination among actors, and international co-operation.


This report aims to help OECD countries be better prepared to ensure integration of refugees and other vulnerable migrants, notably in the context of sudden and large inflows. Building on the recommendations of the Global Compact on Refugees [as well as on previous OECD work (OECD, 2016[1]), and drawing on the recent experience of OECD countries synthesised in these pages, the report identifies a number of policies that can support the fair and effective integration of refugees and other vulnerable migrants.

The study has discussed a number of different target groups, each with different needs. The following summary may serve as a policy toolkit to be drawn on by countries, according to national circumstances and in line with domestic legislation. Five main areas for concrete action are identified.

Smoothing the transition from reception to integration

The immediate needs of vulnerable migrants and people seeking international protection are covered at reception by providing temporary shelter and subsistence, as well as emergency health services. For school-age children, continuity of education is also essential. However, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants who have a high probability of remaining need to start the integration process as quickly as possible. The following actions can support this transition:

  • Implement fair and fast processes for identifying the vulnerabilities of recently arrived migrants to assist decision making on asylum claims.

  • Adapt reception and integration support services to the specific needs of each migrant in a situation of vulnerability, with special attention to migrant children and women.

  • Ensure that integration services, including language training, are available as soon as possible for those with a high probability of remaining. Rapid access to economic opportunities for this group will give labour market integration a head start.

  • Work with local receiving communities, if possible before arrival, to address their needs as well as potential concerns regarding the reception and integration of incoming vulnerable migrants.

  • Develop contingency planning or emergency response plans at national and regional levels for all stakeholders involved in the reception and integration of refugees and other vulnerable migrants in case of mass inflow. Co-ordination mechanisms should be in place that can be rapidly activated.

Improving short- and longer-term employability and access to social services

Support to refugees and other vulnerable migrants that will improve their employability can help them realise their full economic potential. This is of utmost importance in terms of economic impact for the host country, but also for acceptance and social inclusion in the local community. The following actions can help economic and social integration:

  • Profile, recognise, develop and apply their skills – bringing to bear formal and non-formal qualifications – including through skills recognition systems, access to general education, flexible vocational training, and employment counselling.

  • Promote early access to language training, adapted to the skill profile of beneficiaries and tailored to the development of occupation-specific language skills.

  • Facilitate access to public employment services and employment promotion schemes such as wage subsidies and other incentives, public work schemes, internships and access to temporary work agencies, as appropriate.

  • Identify and address obstacles to geographic mobility, to ensure that refugees and other vulnerable migrants are not prevented from moving to take up better employment opportunities within the country.

  • Support initiatives to advance social inclusion, including through integration courses focused on host society values as well as migrants’ rights and duties.

  • Facilitate the introduction of unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable migrant children in both the school system and in apprenticeships by providing individual support and adequate transition support, notably to equip them with language and other requisite skills.

  • Improve the resilience of health and education systems to large inflows of vulnerable migrants, and better exploit the potential of technology and innovative approaches to deliver health care and training, notably in less populated areas.

Promoting economic and social acceptance

While labour market integration and economic self-reliance enable social integration, they do not guarantee it. More action is needed to make sure that refugees and other vulnerable migrants find their way in the host society. Areas of action can include the following:

  • Ensure that employers and employers’ associations are involved in facilitating integration of refugees and other vulnerable migrants in the workplace through partnerships involving private sector and local authorities.

  • Remove institutional obstacles to entrepreneurship for refugees and offer packages of support to those with entrepreneurial potential – including coaching and mentoring – to help them create their own jobs and build professional and social networks.

  • Support social partners and civil society – including local communities, charitable groups and diasporas – in integration efforts, to foster a sense of belonging.

  • Support equal working conditions between national and migrant workers by implementing fair recruitment practices and minimum wage coverage, by formalising informal work for those having a legal right to work, and through providing access to remedies against discrimination and exploitation.

  • Develop sound communication strategies to inform the public about the integration process of refugees and other vulnerable migrants, so as to increase awareness of the challenges they encounter and of the benefits of successful labour market integration.

  • Use websites, social media and other means of communication to inform refugees and other vulnerable migrants about opportunities, rights and obligations related to social and labour market integration in host countries and reintegration in origin countries.

Supporting sub-national authorities

Granting the fundamental role of national integration policies and the impetus often provided by government-led strategies, sub-national authorities often play a significant role in implementing important components of national policies, and may also provide key integration services through their own policies. It is therefore important to ensure proper support for their actions and appropriate co-ordination among different levels of government. Support can be provided through these actions:

  • Ensure that dialogue on integration policies is held with local and regional authorities and among sub-national governance levels.

  • Encourage local authorities to reach out to refugees and other vulnerable migrants and ensure equal access to local public services and opportunities for instance by providing early guidance, setting up one-stop-shops with civic and administrative information available in several languages.

  • Provide the incentive for effective co-ordination among public and non-state actors at the appropriate scale for refugee integration, and define standards and norms in service delivery.

  • Elaborate and implement dispersal policies in concert with local authorities, taking into account housing capacity, the local labour market situation, and available access to integration and social services.

  • Ensure that funding is commensurate with the distribution of competencies and the relative caseload at different government levels and across regions.

Increasing international co-operation on crisis management and integration

Continuity of services through the migration journey, as well as co-ordination of the different actors at national, regional and international levels, is central to effective integration systems. Co-operation should be developed in the following areas:

  • Co-ordinate among countries of first asylum, transit countries and host countries to speed up processes and better target services to different categories of vulnerability. Find means to transmit information, for example regarding health situations and educational attainment, collected by states and their agencies at different stages of the journey. Ensure that this information is shared in the context of resettlement or relocation.

  • Co-ordinate among host countries to develop appropriate early warning systems and to share good practices and responsibility, as no country alone can address large and sudden inflows of refugees and other vulnerable migrants. Take this international dimension into account in national contingency planning and emergency response plans.

  • Address long- and short-term needs with inputs on humanitarian-development-peace coherence, in order to better identify specific issues that need to be addressed. Develop regional multi-stakeholder response plans to improve coherence in humanitarian assistance and development approaches to forced displacement.

  • Find the right types of financing to address crisis, fragility and forced displacement situations. Extend progress at the global and regional level to the national level.


[1] OECD (2016), Making Integration Work: Refugees and others in need of protection, Making Integration Work, OECD Publishing, Paris,

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