Ukraine Migrant integration

Migration supporting regional development: Lessons for the Ukraine refugee crisis

By the beginning of May  2022, in the wake of Russia’s large-scale aggression against Ukraine, almost 6 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, had left their homes for neighbouring countries seeking safety from the war. The sudden arrival of so many refugees has placed massive stress on essential services, such as housing, income, education, health care and childcare, in receiving cities and regions.

Learning from previous crises

Dealing with the immediate humanitarian needs of Ukrainian refugees is the top priority. But even if it is uncertain how long the refugees stay in their receiving countries, the lessons from previous refugee crises, such as the Yugoslavian refugee crisis in the 90s, teach us the importance of helping refugees into jobs swiftly, not least given the benefits to mental well-being.

Migration brings benefits…

The arrival of migrants in OECD regions is not a new phenomenon. In 2019,  5.3 million new permanent migrants settled in OECD countries, many moving from one OECD country to another. These included doctors, nurses and scientists, and many key workers working in typically lower-paid but essential jobs. The value of these workers was shown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, a recent OECD report shows there are also broader benefits to host communities. Higher migration can lead to a rise in regional income per capita, international trade and fuel new ideas and innovations, as witnessed by rises in patenting activity for example.

…but migrants need support to integrate

Efforts are needed to integrate migrants of all forms. While the labour market outcomes of migrants have improved across OECD regions in the past decade, migrants as a whole were around 4 percentage points less likely to be employed than native-born individuals in OECD countries (2019).

In large part, these differences reflect the gender gaps in employment. Male migrants for example, have similar employment rates to native-born males. In contrast, female migrants are significantly less likely to be employed than female natives in most regions, driven by higher economic inactivity of female migrants.

Within the EU, there are also stark differences between EU and non-EU migrants. Compared to migrants from EU countries, non-EU migrants have a 10 percentage-point lower employment rate. This reflects a pool of untapped talent. Indeed migrants’ skills are not fully capitalised on in most OECD regions.

In 2019, a higher share of migrants (40%) than native-born (35%) had completed tertiary education, but highly qualified migrants often work in jobs that do not match their qualifications. Better using migrants’ skills can make a difference for regions in a variety of sectors that face labour shortages.

Finding the right home

New OECD analysis of migrant data in regions and municipalities shows that migrants are concentrated in and around cities. More than 80% of all migrants live in metropolitan regions with more than 250 000 people, and capitals attract nearly twice as many migrants as the rest of the country.

While many factors determine where migrants settle within countries, existing migrant networks and a dynamic labour market often play an important role.

Cem Özgüzel and Lukas Kleine-Rueschkamp

Subnational data on Ukrainian refugees are currently not available. However, similar settlement patterns will likely emerge at least in the short-term. In Western Europe, refugees will likely settle in cities and regions with dynamic labour markets or larger diaspora communities. These places have a history of receiving migrants, which might help them manage the influx of new refugees.

To date, regions in neighbouring countries have received the bulk of refugees so far. The large influx of migrants and relatively little local experience in integrating foreign-born populations are already posing challenges.

Lessons for managing Ukrainian refugees

Considerable uncertainties exist, in particular around the duration of the war in Ukraine and when refugees might safely return to their homes. Yet evidence suggests that both Ukrainian refugees and their host communities could benefit from effective integration policies.

The temporary relaxation of visa requirements within EU economies, which de facto provides Ukrainian refugees with the benefits equivalent to EU internal migrants, will certainly help accelerate that process. This will also help foster integration beyond labour markets – in particular providing access to child care, health, education and other social services – which is especially relevant for Ukrainian refugees, the vast majority of whom are women and children.

Further measures are needed locally including specific training, language and reskilling programmes to strengthen the possibility of finding jobs in local demand, particularly for women migrants given they typically face greater challenges in finding work than men. These targeted, place-specific programmes will be essential in supporting Ukrainian refugees, whether they remain in their host communities or return home and help drive progress wherever they live.


Read more on our latest report: The Contribution of Migration to Regional Development.

Cem Özgüzel
Economist at | Website

Cem Özgüzel is an Economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Cem is an applied economist with research interests focused on international migration, labour markets and regional economics. He holds a B.A. in Economics from Galatasaray University, a M.A. in Applied Economics from University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne and a Ph.D. in economics from Paris School of Economics.

Lukas Kleine-Rueschkamp
Economist at | Website | + posts

Lukas Kleine-Rueschkamp is an Economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris. His main areas of research interest are in political economy and development, with a particular interest in political institutions and state capture in developing countries, the economic consequences of conflict and civil wars, and urbanisation in developing countries. He has a BSc in Economics from the University of Bonn. He was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley before gaining a Master of Philosophy in Economics and a PhD in Economics from the University of Oxford.