As immigrant-destination countries emerge from the economic crisis at varying speeds, ensuring that the national labor force has the skills needed to fuel recovery has been high on the policy agenda. Migration has long been part of countries' skills strategies, but weak economies have created an additional impetus to maximize the economic benefits that skilled immigration can provide.
Tweaking Immigration Policies
Governments across high-income countries continued to tweak their economic-stream immigration policies in 2013. Many of the changes aimed to make immigration systems more selective, focusing on admitting immigrants who provide the greatest economic return. Canada relaunched its points system with revised criteria that place more emphasis on Canadian work experience and offers of employment — both crucial factors in selecting immigrants who will integrate successfully. Language skills also receive more emphasis under Canada's new policy. The United States debated fundamental changes to its immigration system that would dramatically increase the number of skilled workers admitted for employment. Reforms proposed in both the U.S. House and Senate would make work-based immigration more selective by increasing the salary thresholds workers must earn to qualify. (See Issue No. 7: As Bill to Overhaul U.S. Immigration System Stalls in Congress, Immigration Reform Movement Broadens, Ups the Ante)Germany, meanwhile, relaxed visa rules for certain middle-skilled workers from outside the European Union, responding to industry concerns about shortages of workers with vocational skills.
Several countries introduced or revised immigrant investor and entrepreneur programs, including Ireland, the Netherlands, and Spain. (See Issue No. 3: The Golden Visa: "Selling Citizenship" to Investors) Canada launched a new "startup visa," an idea that has received press and advocacy attention during the last two years. The visa is designed to attract immigrant entrepreneurs who can secure funding from Canadian investors. Such investor and entrepreneur programs have become immensely popular over the past few years as governments seek to attract "high-value" immigrants they believe will boost economic growth and job creation in sluggish economies.
Leveraging Existing Skills
At the same time, several governments have introduced measures to make the most of skills in the existing immigrant population — including foreign-trained workers whose economic potential is often underutilized. Norway, for example, announced an action plan for the better use of foreign workers' skills, with several measures to help immigrants use skills they acquired abroad. And Germany's Länder are gradually implementing the 2012 Recognition Act, designed to simplify the process of having foreign qualifications assessed against German standards. Canada, meanwhile, introduced in May new requirements for immigrants to have their skills assessed before applying to come to Canada — a move that aims to reduce "brain waste" in the immigrant population and allow employers to access newcomer skills earlier and more fully.
Some governments also recognize foreign qualifications as a strategy for facilitating immigration itself, not just for aiding immigrant integration after arrival. In October, the European Parliament approved a suite of revisions to the European Union's rules for recognizing qualifications within Europe — the world's most extensive system for facilitating international mobility in regulated occupations, and one that receives tens of thousands of applications every year. Also in October, the European Union and Canada gave political approval to a trade agreement that brings a significant innovation to the world of international trade — a detailed framework for conducting and implementing "mutual recognition agreements" that make it easier for workers to take their professional qualifications across borders.
Efforts to maximize immigration's contribution to countries' human-capital pools are likely to remain a feature of immigration and skills policy for the foreseeable future. The economic premium on skills has increased substantially in recent years with the growth of knowledge-based industries and the gradual shift away from labor-intensive activities.
At the same time, the pool of global human capital from which governments and employers can choose continues to grow. Massive increases in high school graduations in China as well as rising wealth in emerging economies have fueled demand for international education as wealthy families invest in prestigious education abroad. In fiscal year 2013, the number of Chinese students coming to the United States alone hit a record high of 190,000; up from 153,000 the previous year and from just 22,000 in 2005.
Canada's Venture Capital and Private Equity Association. Undated. Canada's Start Up Visa Program. Accessed November 11, 2013. Available online.
German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. 2013. Recognition of Foreign Professional Qualifications. Updated March 27, 2013. Available online.
Hawthorne, Lesleyanne. 2013. Recognizing Foreign Qualifications: Emerging Global Trends. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Available online.
Papademetriou, Demetrios G. and Madeleine Sumption. 2012. Attracting and Selecting from the Global Talent Pool — Policy challenges. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Available online.
U.S. Department of State. Undated. Nonimmigrant Visa Statistics. Accessed November 11, 2013. Available online.