On the move: Supporting highly educated migrants in Europe Case: Erasmus+ project ILO

By  Tiina Wikström 28.04.2022

We live in very complex times. Our world is constantly facing massive changes and challenges, such as conflicts and wars, climate change, Great Resignation, and poverty. Countries are also struggling with political instability, lack of fair education, and population ageing. Globally, these issues create ever-changing kaleidoscopic patterns that are difficult to control or fully understand and even less to safely predict. However, these global threats and at times opportunities keep people on the move. The Erasmus+ project ILO studies one of these migrant phenomena, namely supporting the employment and integration of highly educated migrants in Europe.

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Always on the move

Throughout our human history, people have always moved and migrated for many reasons. Some have tried to escape an invading army, some have feared for their life due to their political or religious opinions, some have searched for a better environment and a better income for their families, and some have been forced to leave because of extreme climate conditions. There have always been different pushing and pulling factors that have influenced the global flows of people and in this way promoted social, cultural, and economic transformations in different societies.

Evolving and complex migration

As indicated in World Migration Report 2022 by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), under the United Nations, migration is a complex issue, often targeted by misinformation and politicization. Therefore, examining the shifts of migration and mobility in terms of scale, direction, demography, and frequency may help us understand how migration is evolving. Due to the seismic event of COVID-19 pandemic, it has no longer been business as usual. The pressure to respond to the pandemic has caused many political and other leaders to set aside such key values as inclusion, sustainability, cooperation, equality, and collaboration that all affect migration as well. In addition, Europe is now experiencing a massive crisis and upheaval with millions of people on the move, and the global uncertainty with tech-related developments, value chain disruptions, and climate change as well as wars and famines on many continents create further complexities in these matters.

Migration includes both short-term and long-term factors that influence the magnitude and intensity of movement. At times, the need for a safer place is imminent and forces even millions of people to involuntarily relocate, creating a whole new situation in the receiving countries and continents. On the other hand, some developments are gradual and only slowly change the map. Such at times slower but long-term changes can include for example climate factors, ecosystem changes, shifting demographics, urbanisation, employment issues or different political, economic, or cultural changes that recreate our present-day Europe as well.

Labour markets and highly educated migrants in Europe

As indicated in many studies, such as the recent Swedish labour market analysis by Irastorza and Bevelander (2021), the global competition for highly skilled individuals that are much needed in national economies is strongly growing. Yet, the academically educated migrants need to overcome many obstacles in the employment process as their employment rates and salaries are often lower. Many highly educated migrants are also forced to face a higher education-to-occupation mismatch more frequently than their highly skilled native colleagues. Even if we might think that the employment situation for highly educated migrants is easier than for those who are less educated, this is often not the case in Europe, where there are still fewer skilled migration programs when compared for example with Canada and Australia.

As stated in the article by Irastorza and Bevelander, formal education supports immigrants’ employment, earnings, and job-match, especially if some of the education is obtained in the target country, in this case Sweden. Still, the formal education is not the only factor that explains the difference between native and foreign-born workers in terms of the employment, salaries, and job-match. As in the case of Sweden most international migrants are non-economic migrants, that is, refugees and family reunion migrants, they are therefore often not properly selected for labour-market inclusion. Other different issues that can complicate the migrants’ proper access to labour market include skill and credential transferability, lack of proper certificates, labour market discrimination, being overeducated and facing education-to-job mismatch and missing supporting social networks.

Irastorza and Bevelander conclude that even if highly skilled immigrants perform better than those with a lower educational level, they seem to never catch up with their native counterparts. It is essential to not only find employment for highly skilled migrants but also to find such employment that genuinely matches their education both in the short and long-term. The migrants in Europe are far from being a homogeneous group, and it is essential that the heterogeneity within this group is considered both in future research and glocal, both local and global, policy making.

Erasmus+ project ILO

The Erasmus+ project ILO, Intercultural Learning Online (2022-2024), led by Laurea, tries to tackle some the above-mentioned issues by promoting the possibilities of highly educated migrants to become an active part of university communities in Finland, Netherlands, Italy, Greece, and Belgium. The ILO European partners include Universiteit Maastricht, Universita Degli Studi Roma Tre, Aristotelio Panepistimio Thessalonikis, and European Migrant Platform.

To make visible the skills, capacity, and expertise of a large number of refugees and immigrants whose talents are not properly utilized in Europe, the ILO project will organize varied opportunities for highly educated migrants to use their talents and capacity by lecturing in partner universities and by organizing shared workshops or short multi-professional courses for the university students for example on such topics as sustainability, interculturality, resilience, future business and leadership as well different co-creation methods. In this way, the migrants will get for example supporting networks, experiences and certificates that support their employability. As all the partners have extensive local and global networks, the project results with the best practices can be widely and sustainably utilised in higher education context during and after the project.

Erasmus+ project ILO partners:

IOM, UN: World Migration Report (2022). Accessed 18.4.2022. UN IOM Migration, World Migration Report 2022

Irastorza, N. & Bevelander, P. (2021). Skilled Migrants in the Swedish Labour Market: An Analysis of Employment, Income and Occupational Status. Sustainability 2021, 13, 3428. Accessed 18.4.2022. https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/13/6/3428