Self-Employment and Entrepreneurship

Although many migrants leave their countries in search of wage employment in the destination country, migrant status does not preclude the possibility of engaging in self-employment or establishing a business.

In 2010-2011, more than 1.5 million self-employed persons from the Americas were registered in the OECD area. The largest group was Mexican and essentially resided in the United States, followed by migrants from Cuba, Canada, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil. (Table).

Migrants from the United States were the main community of entrepreneurs from the Americas in European countries, with the exception of Spain where Argentines are the main community. Not surprisingly, the United States was the country with the most entrepreneurs in the Americas, generally followed by Spain. The only exceptions are Argentine and Uruguayan entrepreneurs for whom Spain is their first country of residence, Canadian and Jamaican entrepreneurs for whom the UK is the second most important country, and Haitian entrepreneurs for whom France is the second country. Entrepreneurs from the United States were mainly in the United Kingdom and Italy.

Overall, entrepreneurship across OECD countries was slightly higher among the foreign-born than the native-born population (13% compared to 12% on average). For immigrants from the Americas, this was not the case (7% vs. 9%), especially in Spain (8% vs. 17%). However, entrepreneurship tends to increase with residence in the country of destination and migration to Spain is relatively recent, which undoubtedly explains a large part of this difference.

In their immigration regulations, most countries have provisions that facilitate the entry and settlement of entrepreneurs who wish to establish businesses and bring important financial resources with them. For example, in the period from 2004 to 2009, the main recipients of the temporary residence and self-employment authorization granted by the Spanish authorities came from China, Morocco, Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador. However, most immigrant entrepreneurs do not enter in this way, but rather as family migrants, labor migrants or even as children of migrants who become entrepreneurs only after a significant period in the country of destination.

(Table 10: Self-employment of emigrants from the Americas in the United States and Europe, 2010-11.)

It is also said that entrepreneurship is sometimes an alternative to wage employment for immigrants who have difficulty finding suitable employment, language and skills deficiencies, or who face discrimination. However, while this phenomenon may exist, it would seem relatively uncommon, and is unlikely to be common during a recession, when the rate of business creation actually declines (OECD 2010b). Indeed, the percentage of the self-employed in the United States has fallen from the period 2007-2008 to 2010-2011 for migrants from the Americas, for migrants from other parts of the world, and also for those born in the country of destination. (by nearly a percentage point or more in all three cases).

Educational background and financial resources are some of the factors that drive the creation of a business. Self-employed people in the OECD are often more educated than employed people, although the differences are not that great. This higher level of education of the self-employed is also observed among migrants from the Americas: 23% of them have a higher education diploma compared to 14% of employed immigrants. The high percentage of independents among the emigrant population from the United States and the Southern Cone (particularly Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Venezuela), and the lower percentages observed among emigrants from the Caribbean, Central America, and the Andean Region may well reflect differences in the prevalence of highly skilled workers.

When migrants are in a position to establish a business and create jobs they can have a measurable effect on the level of employment. In Spain and Italy, for example, almost one in four entrepreneurs born in the Americas have created jobs for others through their business. In Spain, 9% of the people employed by entrepreneurs in general were employed by immigrants during 2007-2008 and this proportion is increasing (OECD 2010c).

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