Monday, 15 October 2012

The highly skilled migrants debate

It's desperately depressing to hear Theresa May at the Conservative Party Conference equating the recruitment of international students with "importing more and more immigrants" and describing it as "the counsel of despair".

Thankfully, for every voice seeking to throw up the walls of fortress Brtain a little higher, there are equal numbers advocating the opposite (though according to May these are "vested interests").

A new Policy Exchange report on digital entrepreneurship argues for reinstating a two-year post-study visa for STEM graduates, as well as other relaxations of visa requirements for skilled migrants.  They cite the US as an example to follow - although the US is currently reporting a decline in immigrant-led entrepreneurship - perhaps due to tighter visa restrictions.  Although both Democrats and Republicans have put forward bills for an increase in the number of visas available to international students to stay on and work, none have yet been adopted.  Unlike Germany, where the new blue card scheme is proving attractive to international students. 

Meanwhile the Economist laments the 11% drop in international students enrolling on Economist-ranked UK MBAs (and similarly for European MBAs more generally), due to the lack of post study work options, the London Met debacle and the slump in the European economy.  Their figures show that it is Canada and Australia who are benefitting from their more welcoming visa stance and booming economies, while MBAs in Asia are also on the up.  It counsels that "If rich countries do not lay out welcome mats soon, they may find the queues outside their doors have disappeared."

Perhaps as a result of immigration policies increasing focus on higher-skilled migrants (if encouraging immigration at all), it is interesting to note that a recent OECD report finds that the proportion of migrants who are graduates has increased: a third of those who arrived in OECD countries in the last five years have a degree, and in countries including the UK, that figure rises to half.  (This has potential implications for brain drain - although, on a related note Professor Sharun Mukand's recent paper argues that relaxing immigration rules could benefit the global economy, and be an effective tool for development and poverty reduction - so perhaps brain circulation wins out after all.)

And another useful statistic from another recent OECD paper (see link above), for those concerned about the balance of net migration in the UK.  The report finds that 1.7 million highly educated migrants within the OECD area are from India, 1.3 million from the Philippines, 1.2 million from China... and 1.3 million from the UK. Good thing for our net migration figures that so many other countries have a welcoming immigration policy...

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