Evolving Markets: Adapting to the New High-Skilled Migration

By Regets, Mark | Harvard International Review, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Evolving Markets: Adapting to the New High-Skilled Migration


Regets, Mark, Harvard International Review


The international movement of individuals with university education is increasingly common. At the education is increasingly common. At the same time, both public policy and attributes towards educated migrants have been schizophrenic: new policies to gain more benefits from high-skilled migration coexist with the fears in both sending and receiving countries that the movement of brain power harms others in their countries. High-skilled migration is as controversial as other aspects of globalization. The greatest economic gains probably accrue to the migrant--the person who has decided that the career advantages of movement outweigh the personal inconveniences. But there are strong reasons to believe that there are also large benefits for both sending and receiving countries.

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In the United States, a country whose scientific heroes in the last century included Einstein and von Braun, highly-skilled migrants are not a new concept. However, changes in both the global economy and the way science and technical knowledge is created and used have made foreign-born talent a key economic factor in most major world economies. A World Bank study by Docquier and Marfouk found 20 million university-educated (tertiary or above) non-citizens in the 30 OECD countries in 2000, with 10 million outside of the United States. This figure underestimates the number of highly-skilled migrants in non-OECD countries and foreign-born citizens in OECD countries. In general, the higher the skill level, the greater the importance of migrants--in the United States, 42 percent of PhDs in science and engineering occupations were foreign-born.

The increasing number of highly-skilled migrants is driven by many factors. The most important of these is the rapid growth in the number of educated people around the world. There has been much discussion in the US media regarding the expansion of education in China and India. Those two countries have led spectacular growth in education, but a focus on Asia misses an even bigger story--that similar education growth has occurred in most of the world. In 1980, there were about 73 million university educated people globally. By 2000, there were 194 million university-educated workers, with the U.S. share falling from about one-third to about one-quarter of the total. In 2004, the United States and the European Union combined accounted for slightly less than half the global production of doctorates in natural sciences and engineering. The global growth of human capital is a good thing, and it would be a mistake for US policymakers to worry too much about their shrinking share of a rapidly growing pie. However, the rapid growth and increased geographic dispersion of global human capital is an important factor in changing how work is done across borders.

Global human capital has both grown rapidly and become much more geographically dispersed. This geographic spread in the capacity to do high-skilled work has been one factor in changing how work is done across borders.

Also, one should note that the global movement of highly-skilled people is taking place in an environment where many high-skilled tasks are performed with cross-border collaboration. High-skilled work, particularly in science and technology (S & T), is increasingly done by geographically disparate teams, often across national borders. This is true for activities such as collaboration on academic papers, as well as product design and development. The basic change in how S &T work is done may have been driven in part by the geographic dispersion of talent, along with the dispersion of research and development (R & D) activities.

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The ability of people to work with each other across borders, via the internet and other means, may seem to make the physical movement of people less necessary. Instead, it seems likely that the flow of highly-skilled labor and international collaboration are mutually reinforcing. …

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Evolving Markets: Adapting to the New High-Skilled Migration
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