EU Science Hub

Integrating migrants: education and vocational training key to address disadvantages

Jan 06 2017

Migrants are still systematically lagging behind their native peers across the EU in terms of acquired skills and education. While their performance varies a lot across groups and EU Member States, it is interesting to notice that first-generation migrants who arrived still young – before the age of 15 – and second-generation migrants overall perform better than the rest of first-generation migrants, sometimes nearly as well as their native counterparts. This shows the key role education – including vocational training – can play in the successful integration process, according to a JRC study.

'Educational outcomes and immigrant background' analysed school performance of children and young adults (between 15 and 34 years), and skills of working-age population, making a comparison between immigrants and native Europeans. The work contributes to a wider effort of understanding immigrants’ education journey leading to qualifications and skills in support of improving integration policies in the EU and was carried out at the request of the Commission’s Directorate-General for Education and Culture.

The authors base the study on data on the skills and knowledge of 15-year old pupils; and on young adults, with information on early school leaving, individuals neither in training/education nor in employment, tertiary education attainment and employment rate of recent graduates. A snapshot of the skills of the adult population is also provided. The data comes from OECD’s 2012 Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) survey; OECD’s 2012 Survey of Adult Skills of its Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC); and from the 2014 Labour Force Survey (LFS) ad hoc module on the labour market situation of migrants and their immediate descendants.

According to the study, first- and second-generation migrant students have a much higher rate of low-achievement than natives. The figures are particularly striking for first-generation migrants, for whom the low achievement rate exceeds 30% in maths, science and reading in most countries across the EU, while for native the rates are usually below 15%. Only in countries with a long tradition of attracting highly educated migrants, such as the UK and Luxembourg, there are first-generation migrant students who perform better in mathematics than their top-performing native counterparts. The same broadly holds for Ireland, which is a newer destination for highly educated migrants.

The analysis shows that early school leaving (leave education and training with only lower secondary education, or less) is extraordinarily high among first-generation migrants, especially those who arrived after the age of 15. This finding, together with employment rates among low-skilled migrants that are higher than among low-skilled natives, suggests that greater efforts on vocational training and work-based training for migrants could help this group improve their skills and make progress in their professional careers.

Furthermore the study shows that a significant share of migrant human capital is underused. This is particularly true for migrants with higher levels of skills as they have lower employment rates than natives. Further measures could help the full socio-economic integration of adult migrants. More data is needed to better understand migrants’ skills and employability, as the attempts to compare the status of migrants across Europe revealed data are scarce and limited.