Focus on...

Skilled migration


Skilled migration is one of the policy levers available to governments to address workforce shortages in the economy. This issue of Focus on... explores how skilled migration is utilised by governments globally to address skill and labour shortages; how effective policies and procedures that recognise and validate qualifications and credentials gained overseas can facilitate the integration of skilled migrants and refugees in destination labour markets; and the impact the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had on skilled migration around the world.

Skill and labour shortages

Labour shortages exist when employers are unable to fill vacancies. Skills shortages occur when the demand for employees in specific occupations is greater than the supply of those who are qualified, available and willing to work under existing industry conditions. Skilled migration is one strategy used by governments to address workforce shortages. The recent Australian Government's Inquiry into Australia's Skilled Migration Program sought to examine how the current skilled migration settings serve Australia's current and post-COVID skill needs. Chapter two of the final report of the inquiry outlines the key role of skilled migration in meeting labour market shortages, particularly in terms of producing timely results in filling immediate skill shortages.

One approach to using skilled migrants to redress skill shortages adopted by many countries, including Australia, is to retain international graduates. A recent study, reported in The going gets rougher: exploring the labour market outcomes of international graduates in Australia, shows that between 1998 and 2015, the percentage of international graduates who remained in Australia with the intention to work more than doubled. However, the study also reveals a clear trend of poor labour market outcomes for the international graduates who remained in Australia over the years. The findings point to a need to review and strengthen existing policies and interventions to help international graduates transition to the Australian labour market if Australia is to fully utilise and benefit from their skills and knowledge. Another approach is the 'two-step immigration selection process', in which economic immigrants are selected from among temporary foreign workers. A series of papers by Statistics Canada provides insights from the Canadian perspective.

There are many other schemes and categories of work visas for individuals with qualifications, or attested work experience 'in demand' occupations, to enter or remain in host countries as skilled migrants to fill the labour market shortages. Within just its member countries, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) identified 152 different skilled visas without any systematised information about these visas. Its Compendium on current practices for skilled work visa programs in the APEC region sought to redress this by providing a point of reference for specialized visa programs in the Asia-Pacific region. The compendium also identifies trends in the skilled work visa information provided by member economies and offers a set of recommendations to enhance regional cooperation and skilled labour mobility in the APEC region.

ILO's Future of Work in ICT project conducted a seven-country (Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand ) in-depth research on anticipated needs for skilled information and communication technology (ICT) workers and approaches to address shortages by scaling up investments in ICT education and training as well as better governed international labour migration. It found fierce competition for ICT specialists has led to an increase in migration. While skilled migrants help fill skill gaps and labour shortages in destination countries, large-scale emigration also leads to concerns about potential 'brain drain' in countries supplying the human capital. Interestingly, however, the project found growing evidence of what has been dubbed 'brain circulation', in which significant return migration has positive effects for both origin and destination countries.

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Recognition of credentials

Integration of skilled migrants and refugees into destination labour markets can be facilitated by effective policies and processes that recognise and validate qualifications and credentials gained overseas. In Canada, a contributions-based program provides funding to provincial governments, regulatory bodies and organisations to support the improvement of processes of credential recognition for internationally trained individuals. The Evaluation of the Foreign Credential Recognition Program  focused on the contribution of the supports provided in the improvement of foreign credential recognition processes, including direct individual support components.

In most cases the core purpose of a regional qualifications framework (RQF) is to act as a translation device so that qualifications of workers can be compared across several countries of origin, thereby facilitating the international mobility of workers. The Feasibility study on the establishment of a regional qualifications framework in South Asian countries was commissioned by the ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team for South Asia. Such a framework would enable destination employers to implement evidence-based selection procedures and contribute to more equitable selection based on worker competency rather than their ability to pay high recruitment fees.

The number of refugees worldwide has grown considerably in recent years and labour market integration has been identified as a crucial starting point for refugees to integrate into their host society. Formal skills recognition is particularly significant for those refugees who only possess non-formally and informally acquired vocational skills (NFIVOS). Recognising refugees' non-formally and informally acquired vocational skills for use in Germany's labour market defines the need for skills recognition arrangements suitable for refugee users and explores the barriers and facilitators to the recognition of refugees' NFIVOS for use in the highly regulated German labour market.

Formal recognition of qualifications acquired overseas is one of the main barriers to making the best use of the skills of migrants and refugees. Seizing the opportunity: making the most of the skills and experience of migrants and refugees draws attention to the number of skilled migrants and refugees in Queensland, Australia with qualifications aligning with skill shortages but unable to get jobs in these areas, and proposes several ways to overcome this issue.

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Impact of COVID-19

The Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has had a significant impact on skilled migration around the world as travel restrictions and border closures have prevented people movement. Countries now have to reassess their approaches to migration through the pandemic and beyond. According to Rethinking permanent skilled migration after the pandemic, COVID-19 has brought migration to Australia to a standstill, and now is the time to reassess migration policy. Looking forward to when borders will finally reopen, this report discusses improvements to Australia's migration program to ensure skilled migrants are prioritised, targeting younger migrants with skills that deliver benefits to the overall Australian community.

Similarly, across Asia, COVID-19 has seen both origin and destination countries implement strict entry rules, driving down migration. Labor migration in Asia impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and the post-pandemic future analyses labour migration and remittances trends in Asia and identifies some of the main concerns that have emerged during the pandemic relating to the employment conditions and health protections of migrant workers. The use of technology to transform skilled migration (migtech) - for example, through increased access to information and process efficiency and transparency - is also highlighted, with numerous examples of the use of migtech detailed.

Canada heavily relies on migrants and international students to maintain its ageing workforce. With the reduction of foreign arrivals, Canada's labour supply, and thus economic prosperity, is at risk. Immigration and the success of Canada's post-pandemic economy looks at how the limitations of travel may impact on Canada's labour force and assesses policy options to address these challenges. These include skills training for immigrants, credential recognition, and supporting immigrant workers disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The report recommends establishing strategies to enhance labour market inclusion and mitigating negative views towards migrant groups.

The impact of COVID-19 is also evident in the use of skilled migration to bolster a country's essential health and medical workforce. On a positive front, Contribution of migrant doctors and nurses to tackling COVID-19 crisis in OECD countries discusses how OECD countries have used skilled migrants to help meet the demand for health care during the pandemic. The brief outlines actions and policy responses that have been implemented to make the best use of skilled migrants, including providing travel exemptions for health professionals and expediting applications for recognition of foreign credentials. From a different point of view, Brain waste among US immigrants with health degrees: a multi-state profile looks at the underutilisation of skilled migrants with qualifications in medicine or healthcare. Analysing US census and labour data, the factsheet shows that some 263,000 highly skilled migrants are unemployed or underemployed due to credential-recognition issues, language proficiency, and other challenges, preventing the use of these valuable assets across the country.

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News items and opinion pieces


Published: October 2021