Welcoming and Nurturing the Value Skilled Migrants Bring

Developed and emerging economies face increasing workforce shortages. This makes skilled migrants an important part of the global labor market. We know that skilled worker migration has significant consequences for nations and firms. For example, in the US, a migrant arriving at age 25 with a college degree pays about half a million dollars more in taxes than they consume in government services over their life; the fiscal surplus nears $1 million for migrants with advanced degrees. In Europe, new immigrants have represented almost 20% of entries into growing occupations, notably healthcare and STEM, and talent flows from Asia are surging in the OECD, with 28% of immigrant inventors born in either India or China.

It is therefore surprising that skilled migrants continue to encounter a series of adverse outcomes in their destination countries, from being under-employed and underpaid relative to their native-born counterparts, to higher threat of job loss in economic downturns, and persistent insecurity about residence permits. In a recent article published in the Journal of International Business Studies, my colleagues and I wanted to find out which factors drive skilled migrant retention by making migrants more embedded in their destination countries. We compiled a large dataset of 1709 skilled migrants from 48 origin countries in 12 destination countries. Our results suggest that their destination countries provide skilled migrants with opportunities (e.g., better jobs, improved standards of living, and better education) but also sources of disadvantage (e.g., they experience ethnocentrism and a loss of occupational status between their job in the origin country and the destination country).

We find that these contrasting dynamics affect migrants’ destination-country identification, their origin-country identification and, ultimately, their embeddedness in the destination country. Our results have important implications for multinational enterprises and policy makers that can contribute to skilled migrants’ satisfaction and retention. We therefore call on firms to nurture supportive work environments and establish policies and practices that can alleviate the adverse effects of perceived ethnocentrism and occupational downgrading, while also helping migrants to leverage the opportunities available in the destination country. For example, diversity policies and a climate for inclusion can signal migrants that there is a level playing field in the destination country, counteract the experienced ethnocentrism, and promote identification with the destination country.

Finally, at a more macro level, integration policies need to be designed in ways that allow migrants to overcome the liability of their foreignness and the liability of their origin, which they continue to encounter in the destination countries. These are institutional barriers that may prevent them from fully participating in the labor market. Integration policies may include improving the transferability of skilled migrants’ educational degrees, certificates, and professional training, accelerating labor market access, and promoting broader cultural diversity and tolerance through targeted educational and political initiatives.

But there is clearly something that each one of us can do, and that is to show more humility, interest, and empathy towards the many skilled migrants who have left their origin countries and moved their lives to enrich our personal and professional communities!

Full reference:

Stahl, G. K., Akkan, E., Reiche, B. S., Hajro, A., Zellmer-Bruhn, M., Lazarova, M., … & Zander, L. (2024). Linking institutional context to the community and career embeddedness of skilled migrants: The role of destination-and origin-country identifications. Journal of International Business Studies. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41267-024-00683-w

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