Canwest News Service/Financial Post
June 30, 2009

Peter O’Neil, Europe Correspondent

PARIS – Western countries were urged Tuesday to keep their ports of entry open to newcomers despite an economic crisis that has disproportionately hurt migrants and has, in some cases, increased racist attitudes.

Instead, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development urged its members to come up with better programs to help immigrants adapt in their new homelands.

“International migration is not a tap that can be turned on and off at will,” OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria told a news conference.

The Paris-based think-tank, funded by Canada and 29 other member countries to provide governments with economic and social policy advice, said immigration to many western countries has fallen due to the economic crisis and more restrictive government policies.

A new OECD report said immigrants are among the first to lose their jobs during the crisis, with the unemployment rate in countries like the U.S., Spain and Ireland almost doubling since the crisis began.

But the OECD noted that the problem of an aging workforce in western countries won’t vanish, so governments need to improve efforts to help them become better trained and more integrated into the job market.

OECD officials noted that Canada hasn’t lowered its immigration targets, and pointed out that there appears to be little evidence of resentment in Canadian towards immigrants, particularly in comparison with tensions that have been building up in many European countries.

However, officials also acknowledged that Canadian immigrants who have arrived in recent decades have had a tougher time than previous generations of Canadian immigrants in fully integrating.

The OECD report cited handicaps for recent newcomers such as geographic isolation in their new countries, relatively poor education compared to native-born persons, and their “cultural or ethnic visibility” compared to earlier waves of immigrants.

“Despite these handicaps, there are many success stories in all countries among immigrants and their children, who have brought to their new homes social and economic diversity and dynamism and without whose presence most countries would be both different and poorer,” the report stated, before citing the recent gains by some far-right parties in the recent European Parliament elections.

“Migration remains a politically delicate issue and one easily exploited for electoral ends.”

Reference: Financial Post