Although the most pressing political issue for many immigrant-receiving countries has been controlling migration, the intensifying competition for professionals such as doctors, nurses, and IT workers, as well as university students, was on the minds of media pundits and policymakers in 2005. If one thing became clear it was that the United States can no longer assume it will, by default, attract the world's best and brightest workers and students as it did for most of the 20th century.
Just in the last few years, Germany, the UK, France, and the Netherlands realized the need to make it easier for highly skilled workers to enter their countries and adjusted their policies accordingly. Since 2001, Australia has been allowing foreign students to move easily into the labor market rather than requiring them to return home. Now the European Union is considering a "job-seeker's permit" for highly skilled workers (see Issue #5).
In November, the United States Senate voted to increase the cap on H-1B visas, the main gateway for skilled migrants, from 65,000 to 95,000 per year. The move is partly a response to the 2006 quota being reached in August, a month earlier than last year. The 65,000 cap had temporarily expanded to 195,000 per year during the technology boom years but was allowed to return to 65,000, the cap set in 1990, in 2004. It is not certain yet whether this latest measure will become law.
Thanks to a stubbornly high unemployment rate, Germany is now fertile ground for the recruitment of high-skilled workers. In 2005, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada actively sought skilled migrants from Germany. Although concern about a "brain drain" from Germany to the United States has been discussed for years, the German government has encouraged skilled emigration to relieve unemployment pressure.
Australia is looking beyond Germany, though, to satisfy its desire for skilled workers. An immigration official told BBC News in August that the government planned to hold recruitment fairs in London, Berlin, Chennai (India), and Amsterdam before the end of 2005, though, he said, "We are looking for skills from anywhere."
New Zealand launched a website in 2005 that has two purposes: to attract some of its approximately 500,000 citizens abroad to move back home and to connect New Zealand employers with skilled workers looking for jobs in the country.
The second part of this story is the competition for foreign students. The reason is simple: today's foreign students are the skilled immigrants of tomorrow. According to a report in September by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Australia, France, Germany, the UK, and the U.S. receive 70 percent of foreign students in OECD countries. However, the share for the UK and the U.S. are falling while Australia's share is rising.
One reason: universities across Canada, Europe, and Australia have stepped up their recruitment efforts. U.S. visa policy since 9/11, which has made it harder for students from some countries to enter, has also been cited as a reason for falling numbers. U.S. graduate schools saw a one percent increase in first-time enrollment over 2004 (565,000 students — over half from Asia), but total enrollment was down three percent for the same period, according to a November 2005 report by the Council of Graduate Schools.
Even Canada, which has historically made it difficult for students to remain in the country, decided in May to extend its post-graduation work program from one to two years for students working in fields related to their degrees. The country saw its foreign student enrollment increase 17 percent to 70,000 between 2002-2003 and 2003-2004, according to a Statistics Canada report released in October.
The flow of students from China and India, the largest source countries for foreign students, is by no means certain as the quality of their national universities improve. This competition may well shape student policies in the United States and Europe in years to come.
For more information, please see the following articles:
• Skilled Migration Abroad or Human Capital Flight
• Reassessing the Impacts of Brain Drain on Developing Countries
• The Global Tug-of-War for Health Care Workers
• New Research Challenges Notion of German "Brain Drain"
• Brain Drain and Gain: The Case of Taiwan
• New Zealand: The Politicization of Immigration
• Canada: Policy Changes and Integration Challenges in an Increasingly Diverse Society
• China: From Exceptional Case to Global Participant
• Australia's Continuing Transformation
• Germany: Immigration in Transition
• A New Century: Immigration and the U.S.
• United Kingdom: Rising Numbers, Rising Anxieties