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If You Are A Highly Skilled Migrant, Don't Worry About Theresa May Or Donald Trump

New global report suggests no threat.

22/10/2016 3:41 PM IST | Updated 22/10/2016 4:25 PM IST
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Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Fletcher, North Carolina, U.S. October 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Do Indians have to really worry about the increasing negativity towards migrants in Europe and the anti-migrant noises made by British Prime Minister Theresa May and American Presidential hopeful Donald Trump?

On the periphery, yes, but in reality, not much.

At least that's what the details of a new research study on patterns of migration from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a top non-profit research organisation in the US, suggest. According to the report, OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries which essentially mean the rich countries of Europe, and the US - cannot do without high skilled migrants. They host about 70 per cent of the world's high-skilled migrants.

America absorbs nearly half of all the high-skilled migrants to the OECD countries.

What makes this fact remarkable is that these countries account only for 20 per cent of the world's population. Had the migrants not been useful, would Europe and the US have opened their doors to them?

Certainly not.

However, what we see in public display is the rising anxiety about immigration propelling right wing politics in Europe. Whether they are neo-fascist, libertarian or Christian conservatives, xenophobia seemed to have united the right wing parties.

Keeping immigrants out has been high on the stated agenda of Theresa May and Donald Trump. May wants new visa restrictions to control the inflow of people, particularly from the European Union, while Trump wants rigorous vetting, deportation and even curbs on the H-1B and H-2B visas.

If one takes the right-wing parties and politicians seriously, the message from Europe and America to potential migrants looks really bad. But can they live without migrants? Will their economies and industries survive without the skills, innovation and hard work of people from other countries? Wouldn't their skills-pool just disintegrate without non-native talent?

This is where one has to match politics with realism. And that's precisely what the numbers from the NBER study also indicate. According to the report, America absorbs nearly half of all the high-skilled migrants to the OECD countries, which incidentally translate to a third of the global numbers. Countries such as the UK, Australia and Canada also depend heavily on migrants with skills.

Keeping immigrants out has been high on the stated agenda of Theresa May and Donald Trump.

So, can May, her fellow politicians in Europe or Trump afford to keep them out? Could these countries have built high-growth economies without migrants? And what would be the consequences of a depletion of these numbers because with people, what the OECD countries would also lose would be their skills and pool of technical expertise.

The key-word here is not just migrants, but high-skilled migrants. Between 1990 and 2010, number of high-skilled migrants to OECD rose by 130 per cent. The corresponding figure for low-skilled migrants were less - about 40 per cent. The writing on the wall is clear: "if you don't have skills that are useful to us, you are not welcome".

Within the OECD, four English-speaking countries —the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia—accounted nearly 70 percent of high-skilled migrants in 2010. And the biggest magnet has been the US.

In 2010, the stock of high-skilled female migrants surpassed the stock of high-skilled male migrants.

The role of skilled migrants in native economies is evident from the way their distribution aligns with pockets of technology, industries and economic growth. For instance, in the US, in 2013, Southern California, Silicon Valley and New York City together hosted around one-eighth of total STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) employment. Similarly, in 2011, Western Australia had the highest percentage of foreign-born medical practitioners (around 60 percent). London, New York, Paris, and Milan also attracted people with competencies in finance and fashion.

The critical relevance of immigrant talent is visible in other engines of growth as well. According to the report, immigrants accounted for 57 percent of scientists residing in Switzerland, 45 percent in Australia, and 38 percent in the United States. As of 2010, 27 percent of all physicians and surgeons and over 35 percent of current medical residents in the US were foreign-born.

Immigrants also accounted for over 35 percent of recent enrolments in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, with very high proportions in specific areas like Electrical Engineering (70 percent), Computer Science (63 percent) and Economics (55 percent).

Immigrants also accounted for over 35 percent of recent enrolments in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, with very high proportions in specific areas like Electrical Engineering (70 percent), Computer Science (63 percent) and Economics (55 percent). The State-run National Health Service (NHS) of the UK employed workers from about 200 countries. What's more, 26 percent of NHS doctors were not original British citizens.

Another remarkable finding of the report is that the stock of high-skilled female immigrants in OECD countries grew by 152 percent between 1990 and 2010, which is higher than the overall growth. In 2010, the stock of high-skilled female migrants surpassed the stock of high-skilled male migrants.

According to the report, Africa and Asia experienced the largest growth of high-skilled female emigration, indicating the potential role of gender inequalities and labor market challenges in origin countries as push factors. These numbers also probably indicate the high levels of gender equality that women enjoy in developed countries. Conversely, skilled women who could migrate also could have fared better than their peers in terms of gender-based disadvantages in source countries.

The summary of the report is simple, if people are high-skilled, particularly in STEM fields, no May or Trump can keep them away because what makes the OECD countries tick is global talent. However, authors of the report envisage some changes: "Skilled migration will increasingly involve shorter-durations and circular paths, for example, as opposed to one-way and long-duration experiences, due to greater global integration, lower transportation costs and rising standards of living outside of traditional advanced economies. The high-skilled members of the next generation appear to be less tied to any particular location or national identity."

This sounds better, doesn't it? One doesn't need to put all the eggs in the same basket. All that one needs to focus on is high quality skills. That's what India, which accounts for the largest number of migrants to OECD countries, needs worry about.

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