Wanted More Than Ever: The Highly Skilled
While the countries that make a point of competing for the world's best and brightest tweaked their entry systems in 2007, the European Commission took a bold leap in late October: It formally proposed a European Union "Blue Card" scheme for admitting highly qualified non-EU workers who already have a work contract in a Member State and professional qualifications.
After two years in one Member State, Blue Card holders will be allowed to work in any other Member State without going through national-level immigration processes. Five years' residence in total will be enough to secure permanent residency. The idea was to create a flexible system that increases Europe's competitiveness but also respects each Member State's sovereignty.
Issue No. 3 of Top Ten of 2007
Thus far, the proposal has left many questions unanswered, including how qualifications from outside Europe might be recognized and whether all Member States will participate. But the message Europe wants to send has come through: skilled migrants should be welcomed.
The United Kingdom may well choose to opt out of a Blue Card system since it announced this year that it will refine and expand its points-based system, a multistage process beginning in early 2008, to include all work and study-related migrants, abandoning the Highly Skilled Migrant Program launched in 2001.
The United States nearly jumped on the points system bandwagon when the U.S. Congress considered an immigration reform bill that would have awarded points based on education, skill, unspecific work experience (on temporary visas), and English-speaking ability. Creating provisions for highly skilled workers, however, got lost in the debates over legalizing the unauthorized and securing the country's borders (see Issue #1: Political Paralysis: The Failure of U.S. Immigration Reform) .
Elsewhere, the focus was on a subset of the highly skilled: investors and entrepreneurs. Germany reduced the minimum investment level for entrepreneurs wishing to immigrate to Germany from 1 million euros to 500,000 euros. Also, these immigrants will need to create five new jobs instead of 10 as previously required.
New Zealand adjusted its policy toward immigrant investors in 2007 to attract more of them, creating three levels that consider the migrant's potential contribution and the "risk" posed to the society (i.e., granting entry to a migrant who does not meet English-language requirements but who can make a substantial investment). The top and mid-level investors are not subject to a points system.
In a move that shows its desire to remain competitive, New Zealand responded to criticisms from the migrant community about its Work to Residence permits under the Skilled Migrant Category. As of April, those who qualify for such permits have nine months to find a job rather than six. Overseas applicants will also have an additional three months to get to New Zealand before that nine months begins.
For Singapore, where highly skilled immigrants have long been welcomed, a government announcement in February to plan for a population of 6.5 million (current population 4.5 million) raised concerns about allowing in too many foreigners too quickly.
Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng told the country's Parliament, "I do not share the view of those who fear being overwhelmed by new immigrants; I fear that they will instead bypass Singapore."
And that's a fear that all industrialized countries seem to share.