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Top 10 of 2006 - Issue #6 Growing Competition for the "Right" Skilled Workers

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Top 10 of 2006 - Issue #6 Growing Competition for the "Right" Skilled Workers

Scientists are among the world's most sought-after migrants.

It seems the most palatable migrant to the world's developed nations in 2006 is still the one in the medical, scientific, IT, or business and finance fields. The question some countries grappled with this year, though, was how to attract the highly skilled who will actually do well in the labor market.

The UK falls into this category. The government decided to temporarily suspend its four-year-old, points-based Highly Skilled Migrant Program (HSMP) in November because of concerns that the existing system was being abused.

In addition to improving verification procedures, the UK Home Office will now require English-language fluency and a bachelor's degree, criteria that are supposed to better reflect "the likelihood of a migrant's labor market success." These modifications bring the program even closer to its Canadian and Australian roots.

France and Hong Kong significantly changed their policies, in each case making it easier for the highly skilled to enter — but not without requirements meant to ensure migrants are a good match with labor needs.

Under France's new law, foreigners who possess skill sets of interest to French employers in areas "characterized by recruitment difficulties" will be granted "skills and talents" visas, valid for three years.

This means employers who are not on the government-selected list may have more difficulty (or may face longer waiting periods) obtaining residence permits for migrant workers they wish to employ. Also, eligible candidates must be able to demonstrate that they will contribute to the economic or intellectual and cultural development of both France and their country of origin.

In late June, Hong Kong launched a new, points-based system, the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme, which allows up to 1,000 highly skilled migrants per year. However, to protect Hong Kong's own recent college graduates, the program clearly favors migrants in the 30-to-34 age range who have work experience. Also, earning enough points doesn't guarantee entry, because a 19-member panel still decides who gets in.

Designed to attract talented mainland Chinese, the new program seems to have succeeded on that count: as of November 7, 76 percent of the 86 applications approved (out of 479) were from mainland China, with 12 percent from Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand, meanwhile, simply wants more migrants (see Ones to Watch: Openness to Migrants). Its major change: increasing the number of new-resident places available in 2006-2007 to 52,000, the highest level since 2001-2002.

The New Zealand government faced criticism over decreases in migration from Asia due to skilled migrant program changes made a few years ago. For instance, migrants from China and India could only claim points for work done for a multinational company. Immigration Minister David Cunliffe responded by saying in July that restrictions had been relaxed this year so that migrants could claim points for work experience in occupations where the country has an absolute skills shortage, such as IT, plumbing, and engineering.

In an effort to increase the number of H-1B visas available annually to talented workers, two U.S. research groups decided to investigate the link between immigrant entrepreneurs and venture capital funding. The results: immigrants founded nearly 20 percent of the U.S. startups (including Yahoo and Google) that relied on venture capital before turning to the stock market in the last 35 years.

Maybe the U.S. Congress will get the United States back in the competition in 2007.

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