• Insights

The International Day
for the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is celebrated annually on 21 March with the aim of promoting inclusivity, unity and respect for diversity. It provides an opportunity for individuals, communities and organisations to come together and renew their pledge to eradicate racism and promote equality. In marking this day, we have been examining recent trends and developments related to the intertwined issues of migration and integration.

International migration trends

Migration has been a common phenomenon in human history, as people have moved from one place to another in pursuit of better opportunities and living standards. This trend continues today, and as a result, many countries are becoming more ethnically diverse. However, this diversity also presents challenges, one of which is racial discrimination. The United Nations’ International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1) has a wide definition of the meaning of race discrimination, which encompasses not only colour, but “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” To better understand the integration of immigrants, we have therefore taken a look at recent migration trends. 

Recent data indicates that the number of permanent migrants to OECD countries (i.e. those who settled in their new countries) partially recovered in 2021, following a record decrease in 2020 due to COVID-related restrictions (2). In 2021, 4.8 million new permanent immigrants were counted in OECD countries, a 22% increase compared to 2020. However, this figure still falls short of the 2019 level by over half a million. The United States continued to receive the largest influx of permanent immigrants among OECD countries in 2021. 

In terms of people migrating for work to OECD countries in 2021, this too has restarted since the pandemic in significant numbers, with a 45% increase over the previous year, which represents over 750,000 workers, the highest figure in the past decade. Labour migration also accounted for 19% of total permanent inflows in 2021. The surge in labour migration can be attributed, in part, to a substantial increase in the United States, Canada, the UK and Italy. 

Employment rate of immigrants in OECD countries

In 2021, the employment rate of native-born individuals in OECD countries was on average 1% higher than that of immigrants, while the unemployment rate for immigrants was 3% higher. Nevertheless, the labour market outcomes of immigrants improved significantly in at least two-thirds of OECD countries in 2021, resulting in a narrower gap between them and the native-born. This is partly due to the cyclical nature of the jobs held by immigrants, as noted by the OECD. Immigrants’ labour market outcomes are more affected by cyclical changes, which means that a period of economic growth or recovery, such as in 2021, leads to a decrease in the employment and unemployment gap between immigrants and the native-born. 

Recent anti-discrimination initiatives

Over the past few years, migration and integration have been major priorities for numerous governments. Several European Union member states (3) have implemented initiatives to encourage inclusivity, diversity and integration. Countries such as Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany made notable strides in developing their own national action plans to combat discrimination and racism last year. 

The Netherlands appointed a National Coordinator against Discrimination and Racism tasked with drawing up a national programme with clear targets to run over a number of years. It has also declared the establishment of a State Commission to operate for four years with the aim of examining and suggesting solutions to minimise discrimination within government. Germany has chosen its first federal anti-racism Commissioner, whose responsibility is to devise a diversity approach for the federal administration and harmonise the government’s actions to combat racism. Last year, Ireland made significant progress in addressing issues of racism and promoting inclusion. The Anti-Racism Committee published a report and work began on developing a strategy for inclusion of Travellers and Roma people. Finland launched a programme to ensure that organisations benefit from diversity, including initiatives to match immigrants to their skills. Canada has issued a call to action on diversifying the public service and announced that anti-racism representatives would be placed in every sector of its departments. In Australia, the state of Victoria has launched an Anti-Racism Taskforce to develop and implement its first state-wide anti-racism strategy, whilst New Zealand has established a new Ministry for Ethnic Communities to promote their inclusion. 

In conclusion

The steps being taken by governments referred to above illustrate a growing acknowledgement of the importance of encouraging diversity and inclusion. These initiatives aim to ensure that individuals from a migrant background are not subject to discrimination and are afforded the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Such actions are critical in establishing a world where diversity is embraced as a strength and people can live without bias or discrimination. However, there is still a long way to go in achieving parity for migrants, and more must be done to ensure that their rights are fully protected. 


1. https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/international-convention-elimination-all-forms-racial 

2. OECD, International Migration Outlook 2022 

3. OECD, International Migration Outlook 2022 

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