Global Mobility Trends: Talent Migration

Uncertainty was a key factor for highly educated and highly skilled migrants in 2018, and it will remain so in 2019. A major destination country, the UK, is still involved in negotiations regarding its status after 29 March 2019 — the date that will (or ought to) mark its exit from the EU.

The future status of EU nationals in the UK is still unclear, and the attractiveness of this destination for talented individuals could substantially deteriorate; indeed, net migration flows from the EU to the UK have plummeted over the past two years.

British academic institutions fear a decline in their ability to recruit scholars, given the loss of access to EU sources of funding — such as European Research Council (ERC) grants — that have traditionally represented a lifeline for them in a context of declining funding from national sources. (Scholars based in the UK obtained almost 20% of all the 4,202 ERC grants allocated between 2007 and 2018.) Similarly, London’s finance sector could lose a substantial part of its appeal, and other European countries (notably, France, Germany, and Ireland) could decide to strengthen policy measures to attract financial sector workers.

A substantial part of the prevailing uncertainty relates to whether other countries will decide to engage in a competition to grab the ‘low-hanging fruit’ represented by those talented migrants who are reconsidering their decision to move to (or to remain in) the UK, either through fiscal incentives or by increasing their ability to recruit scholars beyond the standard national procedures.

The lack of coordination of immigration policies among EU member states — as well as the limited nature of outreach efforts to attract skilled immigrants, such as the so-called EU Blue Card, which closely resembles a German-only policy instrument — suggests that intense competition to attract the best and the brightest will be a likely outcome of Brexit. Such an outcome could improve mobility opportunities for highly educated and highly talented individuals.

While highly educated and highly skilled individuals may feel pushed out of traditional migration destinations, they are receiving a very warm welcome in other parts of world.

In other cases, however, mobility opportunities are actually being reduced. The US Citizens and Immigration Services decided in 2018 to limit the availability of premium (that is, fast-track) petitions-processing for H-1B visas, which (in exchange for an additional fee) allows applications to be dealt with within two weeks. This change will make life harder for H-1B visa holders seeking to accept job offers from alternate employers, as it leaves them unsure about whether their new position will allow them to maintain their visa status.

As with the UK, uncertainty will in this case act as a brake on mobility. Because the new policy ties talented foreign workers more closely to their initial employer, it could indirectly reduce the attractiveness of the US labor market for these individuals.

The increasingly lengthy and uncertain processing time for H-1B visa petitions in the US stands in contrast to the measures that China, for example, is currently trying to implement. The country’s newly introduced China Talent (R) Visa program is characterized by the complete absence of application fees and is expected to allow applications submitted by talented foreign workers to be processed within a few working days.

In short, while highly educated and highly skilled individuals may feel pushed out of traditional migration destinations, they are receiving a very warm welcome in other parts of world, where economic and career opportunities might one day even eclipse those offered by countries such as the UK and US.

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