OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers

This series is designed to make available to a wider readership selected labour market, social policy and migration studies prepared for use within the OECD. Authorship is usually collective, but principal writers are named. The papers are generally available only in their original language - English or French - with a summary in the other.

English, French

Managing Highly-Skilled Labour Migration

A Comparative Analysis of Migration Policies and Challenges in OECD Countries

Most OECD countries expect growing shortages of highly-skilled labour in the coming two decades, and immigration is viewed as one way of addressing these. Most OECD countries have introduced policies aimed at facilitating the recruitment of such workers in recent years and efforts along these lines can be expected to continue. The document provides an overview of the issues related to the management of highly skilled labour migration. In general, migrants are perceived as highly skilled when they have at least tertiary education, but other definitions are possible, notably on the basis of the nature of the occupation in which they are employed. One practical way of defining highly skilled migrants that has been used in some countries is by means of wages paid, with the highly skilled consisting of persons earning above a threshold value. There are two principal ways of recruiting highly skilled workers from abroad. One is demanddriven, through employer requests. The other is supply-driven and involves inviting candidates to apply and selecting them on the basis of certain characteristics, among them age, educational attainment, language proficiency and occupation, for which points are assigned. Candidates having more than a threshold level of points are then granted the right to establish residence. Supply-driven systems have been showing their limits in recent decades, with settlement countries finding it more difficult to select for success in the labour market. Employers appear to attribute less value to qualifications and work experience earned in a non-OECD country, so that immigrants arriving without jobs are having a harder time finding employment commensurate with their qualifications and experience. One consequence has been a general trend towards transferring more of the responsibility for selecting migrants to employers. In this way, any qualifications and experience issues are dealt in the hiring negotiations between employers and workers prior to immigration. A second option is to favour candidates for migration with qualifications earned in an OECD country and indeed, in the host country itself. Most OECD countries have in fact introduced measures to allow international students to stay on after they complete their studies, provided they can find work of an appropriate level in their field of study. Some countries, however, do not have significant basins of native-speakers outside their borders, so that hiring directly into jobs seems problematical, except in workplaces using an international language such as English. For such countries, some direct recruitment may still be possible, if an international language is widely spoken in the workplace. Otherwise supply-driven migration may have to be envisaged, with significant investments made in language teaching for new arrivals. Active recruitment means more than just facilitating work permits for employers or for aspirant immigrants based on credentials. While high-skilled migrants may be attracted to countries with widely spoken languages and high wages regardless of the obstacles, a country with moderate wages and its own unique language will need to do more than just lower administrative barriers. The effects of demographic change are only beginning to be felt in most countries. By 2010, more than half of OECD countries will show incoming labour force cohorts which are smaller than outgoing ones. The objective over the medium-term for OECD countries is to ensure the right scale and nature of movements to satisfy labour market needs. It would be premature to claim that all of the required policies are already in place.

English Also available in: French

Keywords: highly skilled migration, management of migration, integration, demographic change
JEL: F22: International Economics / International Factor Movements and International Business / International Migration; J44: Labor and Demographic Economics / Particular Labor Markets / Professional Labor Markets; Occupational Licensing; J61: Labor and Demographic Economics / Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers / Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers; J24: Labor and Demographic Economics / Demand and Supply of Labor / Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
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