Integration of migrants: socio-economic lessons from Denmark

The socio-economic effects of integration policies in Denmark provide many lessons.

The socio-economic effects of integration policies in Denmark provide many lessons.

©Jacob Batter/CC/Wikimedia Commons/ DR

Danish model

Language training and boosting the labor market are the most effective measures for the long-term integration of refugees, according to data collected in Denmark.

Atlantico: The literature has shown that a lack of integration leads to an increase in unemployment risks and a decrease in income and GDP generated by immigrants. You have sought to find out what the socio-economic effects of integration policies are. How did you proceed?

John Peri : In a research program spanning several years, we assessed a series of changes/reforms in refugee integration policies that were adopted by Denmark between 1980 and 2016. Denmark allows researchers to access to very detailed data on work life, education, crime, family and other economic variables for each refugee and so we were able to identify the policies to which each refugee was subject and track them over time. In addition, we only considered policies that were adopted with a clear ‘treatment’ and ‘control’ group, i.e. two similar groups of refugees, one who received and the other which did not receive the treatment of the policy, because that is how it is possible to establish a causal link. impact of a policy.

As the government did not really “carry out any experiments”, it was necessary to invent “quasi-experiments”, that is to say accidents which made it possible to distinguish a treated group from an untreated one, such as introducing a reform with a very specific start date so that the candidates of the day before were not qualified and those of the next day were. Then we tracked their jobs, salaries, criminal charges, family and children for at least 18 years.

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So far, however, studies have shown that the effects of integration measures are limited in the long term. How can this be explained?

There are very few rigorous studies of the long-term causal effects of policies. There are “correlation studies” that compare refugees who received different or no policies, but ignore the fact that these are different in many ways. Also, there aren’t many individual data sets that can follow individuals for 20 years, therefore, a true assessment of the impact of policies on refugee employment, jobs and other results has been very imprecise so far.

You have identified four measures that have a significant effect in Denmark. What are they?

The first is a policy that identifies job shortages (unfilled positions) in Denmark, offers these jobs to newly arrived refugees and provides them with rapid training. We can only assess the impact of this policy after 1-2 years as it was only introduced between 2013 and 2018, but it appears to increase employment by 5%.

The second and most effective policy concerns language courses. An increase of 400 hours of language instruction over 3 years in 1999 produced a 6% increase in employment and annual earnings of $3,100 (in 2015 prices) in the long term (up to 18 years later). the lesson). These are very significant improvements equivalent to a quarter of the income of the refugees. We also found that language lessons particularly improved the incomes of refugees whose initial language was very different from Danish (non-Latin) which is generally a very disadvantaged group (many Afghans and Iraqis).

The third effective policy is to place refugees in places where labor markets have high employment rates. Strong labor demand helps them find jobs and gives them an employment and income advantage even 15 years later.

The other policies we evaluated did not have significant long-term effects. One was to reduce the initial social transfers that refugees receive, which only increased employment in the short term, but not in the long term. The other was to place refugees in places with more people from their own country, which did not help their economic success.

Why do these measures work in particular?

Teaching language skills seems to be the most effective policy because it opens many doors. A better language allows refugees to return and be better educated, allows them to get jobs using communication skills that are better paid. It is likely that this also increases their chances of finding out about the jobs. We also find that it increases the likelihood that their children will complete secondary school, probably because the refugees have become more sensitive to local education.

What should the government do to maximize the socio-economic effects of refugee integration?

The resulting recommendation would be to teach the language well and intensively in the early years, and to allow refugees to settle in cities and labor markets that offer many job opportunities. Initially, they should be supported by transfers, which later (in 1-2 years) will no longer be needed as refugees with better skills join the labor force. Finally, connecting them to jobs that natives do not do, but which are in demand and can pay well, such as helping the elderly, personal services in health care, and similar jobs, will increase their ability to work and increase their income.

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