Belgium one of EU's worst performers in integrating migrants into labour market

Belgium is one of the weakest links in the European Union (EU) when it comes to integrating people with a migration background into the labour market. This is the conclusion of a study by the Belgian universities of UGent, UAntwerpen, ULB and UMONS, as reported by Het Nieuwsblad and Le Soir on Monday.

Migration has been identified as one of the critical issues for the 9 June elections. This is not surprising, given that on 1 January 2023 first- and second-generation migrants represented 17.8 per cent and 16.6 per cent of the Belgian population.

To provide an objective basis for discussion, a team of French- and Dutch-speaking researchers conducted a systematic literature review of all 35 scientific publications since 2010 on the labour market outcomes of migrants in Belgium.

Even those with a migrant background who are employed perform less well on average than their counterparts without a migrant background

The systematic review shows that Belgium performs poorly in integrating people with a migrant background into the labour market. "Even those with a migrant background who are employed perform less well on average than their counterparts without a migrant background," explains labour economist Professor Stijn Baert (UGent). "They are paid less on average, more often have jobs below their educational level and are more likely to end up in precarious employment situations."

Second generation

In contrast to many other countries, the second generation, children born in Belgium with at least one migrant parent, shows little improvement. "Although they grew up in Belgium, go to school here and speak the national languages, they hardly have better job opportunities than their parents," says Louise Devos, a doctoral student in labour economics at UGent.

Women with a migration background face an even greater disadvantage than men. "This is particularly true for those with a non-EU background", says labour economist Professor François Rycx (ULB). "Due to their origin and gender, women from non-EU countries are doubly disadvantaged in terms of access to work, overqualification (being overeducated for the work they do), and wages".

Discrimination is cited as an explanation for poorer labour market outcomes in 63 per cent of the studies considered. Practical tests continue to provide direct evidence of ethnic discrimination. According to the researchers, this discrimination often seems to stem from employers' belief that colleagues or clients do not like working with people from migrant backgrounds. In this respect, the researchers suggest that policy efforts to stimulate sufficient market competition are warranted.


Illustration picture shows a waiting room at Brussels regional employment office Actiris, in Brussels © BELGA PHOTO BENOIT DOPPAGNE

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