The Paradox of Selective Immigration Policy

The paradox is that countries attempting to screen immigrants by skill level, so that they only get the more skilled ones, end up with an immigrant mix that is less skill-intensive than countries with open immigration.  This apparently is a consensus message from the Munich Economic Summit: countries like Ireland, the UK, and Spain, which have had major episodes of open immigration from EU accession countries and/or general amnesties for non-EU immigrants have higher proportions of highly qualified immigrants —

For example, 45% of Ireland’s foreign-born residents and 34% of Britain’s have a university degree, compared with only 19% in Germany and 11% in Italy, Mr. [Hans-Werner] Sinn said.

In global terms, the case study is the USA, which despite having various qualification and skill weightings in its immigration system, has fewer such restrictions than other magnet destinations (e.g. Canada) and is still a brain-drain recipient country.  So what’s at work?  Is it that countries more likely to choose relatively liberal immigration policies are also more likely to have the policies that attract skilled immigrants?  That low and high skilled immigrants are complements; you can’t have one without the other?  Or that when you have a relatively open policy, you don’t alienate the source country by seeming want to cherry-pick only their “best” people?  

One interesting thing about the EU is that there is enough variation in national policy to learn from this episodes.  Willingness to learn is another question.

9 thoughts on “The Paradox of Selective Immigration Policy

  1. Pingback: By The Fault » Blog Archive » Linking Up with the World

  2. The alternate hypothesis is that economically strong countries can afford an open policy and attract better immigrants.

  3. GreatZamfir has a point. A similar point will hold for Spain, which is an attractive destination for Spanish speaking immigrants from Latin America and not just the poor and huddled masses either.

    Some other points are that Germany may seek to restrict immigration to skilled workers now, but the vast majority of its immigrants came into the country at a time where it was lowly skilled immigrants they wanted.

    Then there’s Italy. It may want to limit the kind of immigrants it gets, but because it is for many people the first stop in fortress Europe, it can’t. Just about anyone who manages to cross the Mediterranean in a rowing boat ends up there so any attempt to judge its immigration policy based on the actual immigrants it gets are futile: its immigration policy has zero effect on its immigration populace.

    A similar mechanism is at work in the UK and Ireland, only in reverse. It is extraordinarily difficult for an immigrant to reach these countries from their first stops in Spain or Italy, which makes it more likely that only immigrants that are assured of a job (because of their high education, say) end up there.

  4. Matthijs forgot that France, Spain and Italy were the favorite destiations of Rumanians before that country was admitted in the EU. As far as Britain goes, the number of illegal immigrants passing through Belgium and France (remember Sangatte ?) is not really known.
    As a “brain drain recipient country”, the US has the advantage of its image (bring me your huddled masses…) that is far brighter than that of Canada, which had for a long time limited its immigration to people from the UK.

  5. As a government you can try to filter for skilled immigrants all you like, but if industry and the public sector are still old school tie netowrks, skilled immigrants will find they are effectively barred from doing the jobs appropriate to their abilities, and actually end up doing the same jobs as unskilled immigrants. The difference is that skilled migrants are more discerning and will stay away from countries with a culture of contempt for foreign workers’ credentials, regardless of official policy.

    To be honest, even as an EU citizen I’d think twice about moving to some other EU countries (including the ones where I already speak the language), given how insular some lines of work can be. For instance, until 2001 Germany did not allow holders of PhDs obtained outside Germany to call themselves ‘Doktor’. They now extend this privilege to EU PhDs (but only EU ones – the status of American, Russian, Indian etc PhDs hasn’t changed), but the smug sense that German PhDs are somehow a class above is still there. And given Germany’s obsession with titles, this kind of thing has a big impact on getting a job (not that German universities are enthusiastic about looking outside their own pool of graduates as it is).

  6. Pampero,

    Canada has a much higher level of annual immigration relative to population than the U.S.: 250,000 for a population of 33 million versus 1 million for a population of 300 million. About 20% of Canadians are foreign born versus about 12% of Americans.

    Immigration to Canada has never been restricted to the U.K. The western provinces were largely settled by immigrants from Germany, Scandinavia, and the Slavic countries. Following WW2 waves of Italian, Greeks, Portuguese, etc. came followed more recently by people from India, Pakistan, the Middle East, China, Latin America.

    The top ten countries of birth in 2006 were, in descending order: China, India, Philippines, Pakistan, United States, South Korea, Romania, Iran, U.K., Colombia.

    The education level of immigrants to Canada tends to be high. For example 49% of doctorate holders and 40% of those with a masters degree were born outside Canada.

    Canada is unique in that the general population supports high immigration levels and has a low level of xenophobia. The current Head of State is a woman from Haiti.

    Statistics Canada has a wealth of information on all this:

  7. >Matthijs forgot that France, Spain and Italy were the >favorite destiations of Rumanians before that country >was admitted in the EU.

    That strengthens his point. Language compatibility was the deciding factor.

  8. Oliver:

    France, Spain and Italy and Rumania — language compatibility ? A.D. 150 called: wants it’s “language compatibility” back.

    How about thinking of opportunities for lawful employment ? There seem to be more and more Italians with university degrees now coming to Bucharest, most of them looking for their first job …

    Germany now wants skilled workers ?? Then they should not kick out those who came there 15 years before and now do not make the criteria because they are older.

    “The paradox is that countries attempting to screen immigrants by skill level, so that they only get the more skilled ones, end up with an immigrant mix that is less skill-intensive than countries with open immigration.” — I would search for correlations between selective immigration policies and restrictive labor regulations, official xenophobia etc. It might be that the attempt to screen for skills has nothing to do with the choices made by immigrants, who might look at the larger picture and ask themselves if they want to be kicked out when they will be perceived as “not needed”, be cut of from their other relatives or have their children live as guestarbeiters.

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