The World Migration Report 2018 found that in 2013, there were about 150.3 million migrant workers in the world, and they accounted for about 70% of the total stock of international migrants in that year.
Almost 75% of these migrant workers were in high-income countries, where they formed over 16% of the total workforce. About 23% of migrant workers were in middle-income countries and only about 2% went to low-income destination countries. In fact, a massive 75% of immigrants reside in only 10 countries in North America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the high-income countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Among these 10 countries, only 4 countries are home to almost two-thirds (60%) of all high-skilled migrants from all over the world:
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These countries offer a number of job opportunities for highly-skilled migrants, especially in areas where they have skills shortages.
In general, immigrants’ share relative to the local populations of these countries has also increased rapidly, particularly in the oil-exporting GCC countries, which rely on large inflows of foreign labour
The popularity of certain destination countries is borne out in polls and surveys as well. In a 2017 Gallup World Poll, 392 million potential migrants (56% of the total) aspired to move to one of these Top 10 destinations:
- Saudi Arabia
Wage Differentials, Income Gains & In Employment Differentials In Immigration Countries
Evidence shows that the probability of people moving to a destination country goes up if the wage difference (and thus potential income gain) between the source and destination countries is high. The decision to migrate is, therefore, motivated by the search for a better life and the awareness that a higher-wage country is more likely to provide it.
Existing data also reveal some interesting patterns about the impact of employment rates on international migration flows. On average, emigrants choose higher-employment destination countries while immigrants tend to come from lower-employment countries.
Other drives of skilled migration patterns include:
- Skill agglomeration: the existence of other high-skilled workers in similar sectors or occupations (the ‘birds of a feather’ phenomenon)
- Presence and clustering of academic and research institutions
- Tax rates
What Kind Of Work Do High-Skilled Migrant Workers Engage In?
Evidence suggests that migrants, both high and low-skilled, generally experience huge income gains after migration. In large part, their increased productivity can be attributed to the work environment in their destination country.
According to the World Migration Report 2018, migrant workers (total) were mainly engaged in:
- Services: 71.1% (Including 8% as domestic workers)
- Manufacturing and construction: 17.8%
- Agriculture: 11.1%
The World Bank’s report found high-skilled immigrants from developing countries make up a relatively high share of inventors and innovators in their destination countries, especially in Canada and the USA. In many destination countries, high-skilled immigrants often determine the levels of diffusion of knowledge, labour productivity and long-run economic growth, particularly because they are disproportionately employed in fields where there are the biggest native-labour shortages such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. High-skilled immigrants also make huge contributions to a number of other industries including:
The Labour Markets In Destination Countries: Which Roles Are In Demand?
A pattern observed over time is that many host countries end up with high concentrations of high-skilled immigrants in particular occupations/industries. For example:
- Scientists in Switzerland: 57%, Australia: 45%, USA: 38% (2012 figures)
- Physicians and surgeons in USA: 27% (2013 figures)
- Medical residents in the USA: 35% (2013 figures)
- Electrical engineers in USA: 70% (2013 figures)
- Computer scientists in USA: 63% (2013 figures)
- Economists in the USA: 55% (2013 figures)
- NHS doctors in the UK: 26% (2014 figures)
In most OECD countries, other occupations including inventors, academics, actors and sports players (particularly football) are also disproportionately populated by highly-skilled foreigners.
Countries that are home to multinational firms also tend to offer opportunities to ‘global’ workers. Global companies like IBM, General Electric and Siemens have over the years employed at least half of their workforce from outside of their headquarter country. In addition, well-known firms with immigrant CEOs are not just limited to high-tech (such as Google and Microsoft), but also include many older firms from ‘traditional’ industries, such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Pfizer, Clorox and Dow Chemical.
The roles/occupations that are typically in great demand in popular host countries include:*
|Host country||Roles in demand|
|USA||IT specialists, nurses, teachers (including university professors), scientists, researchers, physical therapists|
|UK||Scientists, engineers, IT specialists/business analysts/system designers, software professionals, environmental professionals, medical practitioners|
|Australia||Medical practitioners, nurses, engineers, accountants, architects, agricultural scientists, teachers, programmers, law professionals, automotive specialists|
|New Zealand||Engineers, construction professionals, medical practitioners, medical scientists, ICT specialists, chefs, electricians, mechanics|
|Canada||Managers, teachers, financial auditors/analysts, accountants, office workers, executive assistants, event planners, medical assistants, chemists, engineers, architects, urban planners, veterinarians|
|Germany||IT specialists, engineers, healthcare workers|
|Saudi Arabia||Professionals from technology, media, manufacturing and telecommunications|
|Switzerland||Engineers, technicians, IT professionals, medical professionals, pharmacists|
|UAE||Business development professionals, IT specialists, green technology specialists, procurement agents, negotiation experts, researchers|
|Singapore||Compliance managers, IT professionals, investment managers, engineers, medical professionals, digital media project managers, artists and designers|
|Hong Kong||Business consultants, PR professionals, teachers, researchers, architects, landscapers, engineers, jewellery designers, chefs, IT consultants, accountants, investment bankers, medical technologists, therapists|
*Not an exhaustive list!
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Policy Implications In Host Countries
Economic immigrants do not simply show up in a labour market by accident, but rather after considering a number of factors and making a deliberate economic decision. In addition, they tend to move to places that experience wage gains say because of productivity growth or an improved economy.
Residency and employment security are important for high-skilled workers because their employment-specific investments tend to be very high. Aware of this, over the years many destination countries have devised policies to give privileged legal status and priority to high-skilled immigrants. In fact, the attractiveness of USA, UK, Canada and Australia over the years has led other countries like Germany and Spain to also step up their policy efforts to attract more high-skilled migrants.
Examples of immigrant-friendly policies for high-skilled migrants are as follows:
- Germany has proposed a law to make it easier for non-EU skilled immigrants with a vocational qualification to move to Germany
- USA has proposed a merit-based system to attract skilled workers rather than prioritise immigrants with family members already in the country
- Canada’s Express Entry System simplifies the migration process for skilled workers
- Australia’s points-based system opens doors for skilled worker applicants
Most of these policies open doors for skilled immigrants to enter the host country with work permits/visas. In many cases, they also make it possible for immigrants to stay in that country for the long-term and even permanently through a permanent residency visa or citizenship. Nonetheless, even for high-skilled workers, the ease of getting a work permit and later a PR visa usually depends on a combination of multiple factors:
- Which host country you come from: Some passports are ‘powerful’: Germany, Singapore, South Korea, USA, etc; while some are not so powerful: Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, etc. Which passport you hold, makes it easier (or more difficult) for you to enter an OECD destination country.
- What kind of job you want to do: Jobs on a destination country’s ‘skills shortage list’ provide greater opportunity to enter that country on a work visa. In fact, globally, 68% of Governments identify ‘meeting labour market demands’ (i.e. skills shortages) as the underlying reason for their current immigration policy (UN International Migration Policies Data Booklet). So, an IT professional who aspires to work in the USA may probably get a work permit very easily but a philosopher may not.
- Contiguous countries: In general, it is easier to enter a destination country that is contiguous to your own than one that is farther away. A good example of this is New Zealanders wanting to work in Australia, or Canadians wanting to work in the USA.
In addition, factors such as labour market regulations, policies and restrictions are important obstacles to highly-skilled immigrants’ ability to access their host country’s labour markets. Studies have found that these obstacles may differ from one destination country to another. For example, in the USA, although immigrants have easier access to labour markets, they generally do so at lower wages than natives. On the other hand, in Australia and New Zealand, entering the labour market is a hurdle, but once in, immigrants can enjoy wages that are comparable to those of native-born workers.
In the recent past, many popular host countries have started to restrict immigration, based on political, cultural and even philosophical or historical motivations. In some cases, national security concerns are also given as reasons to restrict the high‐skilled immigration in certain industries. Here are a few examples:
- Australia has recently tightened the work rules for skilled visa holders to ensure that foreign workers have the ‘right’ skills and occupational license.
- Nordic countries have somewhat restrictive practices that slow down the ability of their firms to hire foreign skilled workers
- France considers ‘labour market needs’ before granting work permits to non-EU citizens
Moving to another country is not a decision to be taken lightly. A number of factors come into play if you want to move base. We hope this article gave you an insight into these factors and helped you harness them for your own success.