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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Immigration Policy and the Search for Skilled Workers: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20145.
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1

Introduction and Overview

The current political impasse with respect to comprehensive immigration reform, and the status of undocumented immigrants in particular, has prevented legislative actions that would increase the ability of foreigners with advanced training and skills to remain and work in the United States. At the same time, other countries that are a part of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have adapted their immigration policies to improve their ability to attract and retain skilled migrants. It is important for U.S. policymakers to understand the long-term impact of current immigration policies and to implement the necessary changes to make this a favorable destination for highly skilled workers. Immigration policy and investments in the current workforce have long-run implications for economic growth and productivity. This is especially clear when looking at the demographics of the U.S. labor market.

There has been little quantitative analysis comparing the effectiveness of measures taken by advanced economies in attracting highly skilled migrants and few studies on the impact of immigration on domestic wages, the supply of native-born citizens with similar qualifications, and other labor market conditions, let alone a review of their implications for the United States. In 2009, the German Marshall Fund (GMF) issued a report, The Battle for the Brains, comparing American, Canadian, and Australian high-skilled immigration policies.1 However, this report is mainly a legal analysis of policy changes, reporting the number of foreign-born immigrants with college and advanced degree credentials entering each country in the year 2001. It offers no empirical evaluation of outcomes over a period of time. Based on this qualitative analysis, the authors of the GMF report conclude that immigration policy changes have less effect on migration patterns than do other factors, such as the economic climate and

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1Doomernik, Jeroen, D. Thranhardt, R. Koslowski. 2009. The Battle for the Brains: Why Immigration Policy is Not Enough to Attract the Highly Skilled. Washington, DC: The German Marshall Fund of the United States. Available at http://trends.gmfus.org/doc/Battle%20final.pdf [Accessed on October 21, 2015].

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Immigration Policy and the Search for Skilled Workers: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20145.
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social attitudes of the destination country’s population. Similarly, the OECD’s 2009 working paper, Managing Highly Skilled Labour Migration: A Comparative Analysis of Migration Policies and Challenges in OECD Countries, provides descriptions of immigration programs, reports data from 2006 on the percentages of foreign-born workers aged 30-39 in OECD labor pools and the percentages of employed immigrants with tertiary degrees, but does not evaluate the outcomes of policy changes over time.2

Some recent reports have argued that a liberalized immigration policy for students and skilled workers would improve economic welfare in the United States by adding to the pool of those that are trained in key academic disciplines and by fueling the creation and growth of new technology-based companies.3 A 2001 NRC4 report, Building A Workforce for the Information Economy5, recommended that the green card process be streamlined and that foreign workers be given flexibility to change jobs. Specifically, the 2001 report recommended more portable H1-B visas and a reduction in the amount of time needed to obtain permanent resident visas. More recently, the NRC’s 2007 report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Better Economic Future6, called for providing automatic work permits and expedited residence status to visa-holders who have secured U.S. employment.

STATEMENT OF TASK

To better understand how changes in immigration policy impact the ability to attract and retain high-skilled immigrants, the NRC appointed a committee to organize a workshop with the following statement of task:

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2Chaloff, J., and G. Lemaître. 2009. Managing Highly-Skilled Labour Migration: A Comparative Analysis of Migration Policies and Challenges in OECD Countries. OECD Social, Employment, and Migration Working Paper No. 79. Paris, France: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Available at http://www.oecd.org/els/mig/46656535.pdf [Accessed October 21, 2015].

3Hunt, J. and M. Gauthier-Loiselle. 2010. How much does immigration boost innovation? American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, 2(2): 31-56.; Kerr, W., and W. Lincoln. 2010. The Supply Side of Innovation: H-1B Visa Reforms and U.S. Ethnic Invention. Journal of Labor Economics 28(3):473-508.

4Effective July 1, 2015, the institution is called the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. References in this report to the National Research Council are used in an historic context identifying programs prior to July 1.

5National Research Council, Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2001, p. 17.

6National Research Council. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Better Economic Future, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007, p. 9-10.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Immigration Policy and the Search for Skilled Workers: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20145.
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An ad hoc committee under the Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy (STEP) will organize a workshop to examine the effects of changes in selected industrialized countries’ treatment of temporary and permanent immigrants with advanced training and skills, especially in the sciences, engineering, and software development, in an effort to understand the effects of the policy changes, in relation to other factors, on entry and retention and domestic labor markets and educational patterns. The workshop will also compare these countries' administrative mechanisms (e.g., commissions and point systems), methods of integrity assurance, and data collection and evaluation. The committee will develop the agenda, select and invite speakers and discussants, and moderate the discussions. An individually authored workshop summary will be prepared by a rapporteur.

As an initial matter, the ad hoc committee considered defining “high-skill” immigration but decided against an explicit definition for several reasons. First, there is no consensus among countries on how to define high-skill immigrants. For example, the OECD defines a high-skill immigrant as one who has a post-secondary degree or certificate.7 Other countries define high-skilled immigrants by occupation, as is the case with the H-1B visa program in the United States. Furthermore, defining high-skill immigrants is itself a policy choice and may change over time, depending on countries’ needs. Changing this definition may be an easier policy lever for changes in immigration policy than many other policy changes would be.

ORGANIZATION OF THE SUMMARY

The purpose of this workshop was to collect information on how other countries have changed their temporary and/or permanent resident programs in order to meet employer needs and fuel growth in new enterprises. Presenters made a number of key points during the workshop which are covered in Chapter 8 of this summary. The workshop (see Appendix A for the agenda) was organized by an independent planning committee in accordance with the procedures of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The planning committee was comprised of Edward Alden, the Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; Ellen Dulberger, managing

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7Chaloff, J., and G. Lemaître. 2009. Managing Highly-Skilled Labour Migration: A Comparative Analysis of Migration Policies and Challenges in OECD Countries. OECD Social, Employment, and Migration Working Paper No. 79. Paris, France: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Available at http://www.oecd.org/els/mig/46656535.pdf [Accessed October 21, 2015].

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Immigration Policy and the Search for Skilled Workers: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20145.
×

partner at Ellen Dulberger Enterprises; Jennifer Hunt, professor of Economics at Rutgers University; David McKenzie, lead economist in the Development Research Group, Finance and Private Sector Development Unit, at the World Bank; Subhash Singhal, Battelle Fellow Emeritus at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; and Paula Stephan, Professor of Economics at Georgia State University (see Appendix B for biographical information).

This publication summarizes the presentations and discussions that occurred throughout the workshop and highlights some of the key points made. The majority of the presentations at the workshop compared immigration policies in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Highlights from these presentations are presented in Table 1-1.

TABLE 1-1 Snapshot of Immigration Policy in the US, Canada and Australia

ISSUE COUNTRY
UNITED STATES CANADA AUSTRALIA
Composition of immigrants 70% family-based 15% employment-based (including temporary workers) 15% humanitarian 25-30% family based 60-65% employment-based 9-10% humanitarian 30-40% family or humanitarian 60-70% employment based (skilled workers)
Temporary workers Small number of first-come, first served employment-based H1-B visa for skilled workers (capped at 85,000 workers); smaller amounts for unskilled workers; specific to employer; no wage restrictions; employer must show within 6 years of hiring worker that no native worker was available. Temporary workers might need a positive “labour market opinion” showing offered wages consistent with prevailing local wages; however, many people or jobs are exempt including a growing number of workers (260,000) in the International Mobility Program. Frequently used – 68% of migrants getting a permanent employer sponsored visa were temporary visa holders; Wage must confirm to Market Salary Rate; renewal of Labour Market test.
Post-study work permits for students Yes, 12 months optional practical training plus additional 17 months for qualified STEM graduates (20,000 H-1B visas available for foreign students) 3 year work permit as long as study in Canada at least 2 years 2 year work permit for students graduating with a bachelor’s degree; 4 years for PhD recipients.
Regional Elements No Yes, Provincial Nominee Program can be used to bypass the federal system Yes, state governments review the applicant pools ; SkillSelect pools for nomination
Language Proficiency Requirements No Yes Yes
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Immigration Policy and the Search for Skilled Workers: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20145.
×
Data collection No Canadian Longitudinal Immigration Database tracks labor market performance of all post-1982 immigrants Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia (LSIA), The Continuous Survey of Australia’s Migrants (CSAM); Longitudinal Continuous Study of Migration

In addition, there was a presentation on the immigration system in the United Kingdom which focused on the role of the U.K. Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), a nongovernmental public body created to provide evidence-based advice to the government on immigration issues, whose role is comparable to the role of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in providing scientific and technical advice to the government. A presentation on New Zealand showed similarities between the Australian and New Zealand immigration systems, although one difference between the two countries is that New Zealand has had greater difficulty attracting skilled migrants and has had difficulty retaining native-born and migrant STEM workers. Changing immigration policies in Israel, Southeast Asian countries, and the Middle East were also discussed. Although immigration policy was the main focus of the workshop, many participants stressed that a country’s immigration policy is only one component in determining its attractiveness to migrant skilled workers. Economic strength, the quality of the research institutions, and the nature and amounts of funding available for research are all other important components.

The rest of this summary proceeds as follows: Chapter 2 examines how the worldwide expansion of education and knowledge impacts the migration of high-skilled labor in the modern global economy. Chapter 3 provides a broad overview of recent trends in high-skilled migration to the United States and other OECD countries and discusses some of the policy questions that arise from those trends. Chapter 4 compares the U.S. immigration system with those in a select group of countries with the objective of drawing important lessons that the United States might apply as it tries to reform its immigration system and attract high-skilled workers. Chapter 5 discusses global competition for entrepreneurs and international students to fill domestic STEM jobs, and Chapter 6 describes some of the effects that immigration has on innovation and labor markets. Chapter 7 recounts the wide-ranging discussion that the panel of experts had on the policy implications of what had been discussed at the workshop to that point. Chapter 8 provides a summary of some of the key points raised by participants during the workshop.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Immigration Policy and the Search for Skilled Workers: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20145.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Immigration Policy and the Search for Skilled Workers: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20145.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Immigration Policy and the Search for Skilled Workers: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20145.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Immigration Policy and the Search for Skilled Workers: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20145.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Immigration Policy and the Search for Skilled Workers: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20145.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Immigration Policy and the Search for Skilled Workers: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20145.
×
Page 5
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Overview." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Immigration Policy and the Search for Skilled Workers: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20145.
×
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The market for high-skilled workers is becoming increasingly global, as are the markets for knowledge and ideas. While high-skilled immigrants in the United States represent a much smaller proportion of the workforce than they do in countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, these immigrants have an important role in spurring innovation and economic growth in all countries and filling shortages in the domestic labor supply.

This report summarizes the proceedings of a Fall 2014 workshop that focused on how immigration policy can be used to attract and retain foreign talent. Participants compared policies on encouraging migration and retention of skilled workers, attracting qualified foreign students and retaining them post-graduation, and input by states or provinces in immigration policies to add flexibility in countries with regional employment differences, among other topics. They also discussed how immigration policies have changed over time in response to undesired labor market outcomes and whether there was sufficient data to measure those outcomes.

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