Migration and employment

Changes in the size of the working-age population affect more strongly the foreign-born than the native-born for whom such changes are hardly noticeable from one year to another. This is notably due to the impact of net migration. In most OECD countries, employment rates for immigrants are lower than those for native-born persons. However, the situation is more diverse if one disaggregates employment rates by educational attainment.


The employment rate is calculated as the share of employed persons in the 25-64 population (active and inactive persons). In accordance with ILO definitions, employed persons are those who worked at least one hour or who had a job but were absent from work during the reference week. The classification of educational attainment shown is based on the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) categories. Generally speaking, “low” corresponds to less than upper secondary education; “intermediate” to upper secondary education; and “high” to tertiary education. Tertiary education includes programmes of high-level vocational education whose graduates feed into technical or semi-professional occupations.


Data for the European countries are from the European Union Labour Force Survey. Data for other countries are mostly taken from national labour force surveys. Even if employment levels can at times be affected by changes in survey design and by survey implementation problems (e.g. non-response), data on employment rates are generally consistent over time.

However, comparability of education levels between immigrants and the native-born population and across countries is only approximate. The educational qualifications of some origin countries may not fit exactly into national educational categories because the duration of study or the programme content for what appear to be equivalent qualifications may not be the same. Likewise, the reduction of the ISCED classification into three categories may result in some loss of information regarding the duration of study, the programme orientation, etc. For example, high educational qualifications can include programmes of durations varying from two years (in the case of short, university-level technical programmes) to seven years or more (in the case of PhDs).

The EU28 aggregate is a weighted average.


Labour market outcomes of immigrants and native-born vary significantly across OECD countries, and differences by educational attainment are even larger. In all OECD countries, the employment rate increases with education level. While people with tertiary education find work more easily and are less exposed to unemployment, access to tertiary education does not necessarily guarantee equal employment rates for immigrants and native-born persons. In all OECD countries but Chile, employment rates are higher for native-born persons with high educational qualifications than for their foreign-born counterparts.

The situation is more diverse for persons with low educational attainment. In the United States, Luxembourg and to a lesser extent in some southern European countries such as Italy and Greece, foreign-born immigrants with low educational qualifications have higher employment rates than their native-born counterparts. The opposite is true in most other countries, in particular in Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom. The higher employment rate of foreign-born persons with low educational attainment in some countries may reflect the persistent demand for workers in low-skilled jobs which are hardly taken up by the in-coming cohorts of native-born workers.


Further information

Analytical publications

Statistical publications

Methodological publications


Table. Employment rates of native- and foreign-born population by educational attainment


Gap in employment rates between foreign- and native-born population by educational attainment
Percentage points, 2014