Fostering international mobility of skilled people to fill skills gaps

A country can develop its relevant skills by fostering international mobility of skilled people to fill skills gaps. This can be accomplished in several different ways.

1. Facilitate entry for skilled migrants and support their integration

Countries may not have an adequate supply of skills because they have booming emerging sectors and not enough people trained in those fields, because their societies are ageing and there are too few young people to replace retiring workers, or because they want to move major parts of the economy to higher value-added production, which requires a well-trained workforce. Labour-migration policies can complement other measures to address these shortfalls.

While all countries select labour migrants, they differ in the extent to which public authorities and employers intervene in the selection process. Many countries focus on the migration of highly skilled workers, but there is also a continuing demand for low-skilled work that many native-born people do not want to do. This demand is often met by low-skilled migrants, through both legal and illegal/irregular channels.

Countries might want to consider making it easier for recent immigrants to participate in lifelong-learning activities to help them and their families integrate more fully into society.

2. Design policies that encourage international students to remain after their studies

International student mobility has increased dramatically over the past years. The advantage of international students for host-country employers is that they have a qualification that can be easily evaluated. Many of them also work part-time during their studies, allowing them to develop ties with the host-country society and labour market, which in turn facilitates their transition from learning to work.

To make better use of this important source of skills, several OECD countries have eased their immigration policies to encourage international students to remain after their studies for employment. The overall stay rate varies, averaging 25% in 2008-09 among international students who did not renew their student permits. In Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany and the Netherlands, the stay rate is more than 25%.

3. Make it easier for skilled migrants to return to their country of origin

Migration flows can also have a positive impact on the stock of human capital in countries of origin: returning migrants bring back knowledge and experience that are of use to their home country. To reap these advantages, a number of countries have tried to eliminate disincentives to return and, indeed, to facilitate and encourage return migration.

One approach can be to provide financial support to municipalities that invite returnees and provide them with housing; another option is to provide income tax concessions, particularly to highly skilled nationals returning to their home country. However, the track record of such measures is mixed.

Co-operation on skills policies between source and destination countries can result in win-win outcomes. For example, some countries provide training to guest workers for as long as they participate in the host country’s labour market – and the workers can then take this knowledge back to their home countries when they return. 

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