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Global battle for skilled migrants underway

1 December 20210 comments

As the global economy recovers from the COVId-19 pandemic, Australia faces an international battle to attract the skilled migrants needed to supercharge economic growth.

Many developed countries, facing aging labour forces and worker shortages, are racing to attract and integrate foreigners.

Fast-track visas and promises of permanent residency are being proffered, with many of the wealthiest nations that drive the global economy are sending a “we are hiring” message to skilled would be migrants across the globe.

In Germany, which needs around 400,000 new immigrants a year to fill jobs in fields ranging from teaching to mechanics, there is a new Immigration Act that offers accelerated work visas and six months to find a job.

Canada plans to give residency to 1.2 million immigrants by 2023 and Israel has recently finalised a deal to bring health care workers from Nepal.

The disruptions wrought by COVID have pushed many people in wealthy economies to retire or drop out.

The pandemic has also exposed a demographic fault line across the globe; with rapidly aging rich nations producing too few new workers, while countries with a surplus of young people lacking jobs for everyone.

New approaches to that mismatch could influence the worldwide debate over immigration. European governments remain divided on how to handle new waves of asylum seekers. In the United States, immigration policy remains mostly stuck in place, with a focus on the Mexican border, where migrant detentions have new highs.

The pandemic has led to several major changes in global mobility.

It slowed down labour migration but also created more competition for “digital nomads” with more than 30 nations, including Barbados, Croatia and the UAE creating programs to attract mobile technology workers.

And it led to a general easing of the rules on work for foreigners who had already moved.

Some nations, including Belgium, Finland and Greece, granted work rights to foreigners who had arrived on student or other visas.

Other countries, such as New Zealand, also extended temporary work visas indefinitely, while Germany, with its new Immigration Act, accelerated the recognition process for foreign professional qualifications.

In Japan, which is ageing fast that has traditionally resisted immigration, the government allowed temporary workers to change employers and maintain their status.

These moves are explained in a new OECD report on the global migration outlook and are indicative of labour market desperation.

A poll in post-Brexit Britain showed that when it came to opening up earlier this year, fewer appeared to care about whether immigration levels were reduced.

Labour shortages in the UK include butchers, drivers, mechanics, nurses and restaurant staff.

Also in Britain, where Brexit has stymied access to immigrants from Europe, a survey of 5,700 companies in June found that 70 per cent had struggled to hire new employees.

Here in Australia, where the government is considering doubling the migrant intake, mining companies have reduced earnings estimates because of labour shortages.

In the United States, where baby boomers left the job market at a record rate last year, calls for reorienting immigration policy toward the economy are getting louder.

The US Chamber of Commerce has urged policymakers to overhaul the immigration system to allow more work visas and green cards.

Read the OECD report here: