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Recruiting and Retaining Highly Skilled Immigrants

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A team of researchers from SFI are conducting a comparative study of national policies, rules and practices in Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Canada for recruiting and retaining highly skilled foreign workers. The aim is to identify valuable lessons learned.

Most OECD countries have aging populations, implying the many highly skilled workers will retire from the labour market over the next ten years. Therefore the labour force is in need of replacements – especially highly skilled workers such as university researchers or researchers working in the private sector, engineers, IT professionals, doctors, nurses, and economists.

Many countries have sought to attract such knowledge workers from abroad for a long time. Denmark has been part of this ‘global race for talent’ since 2001, when the first rules enabling highly skilled international workers to gain residence and a work permit in Denmark were introduced. Since then thousands of highly skilled immigrants have come to Denmark with their families to live and work.

A team of researchers from SFI – The Danish National Centre for Social Research are currently conducting a comparative study of national policies, rules and practices in Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Canada for recruiting and retaining highly skilled foreign workers. The aim is to identify valuable lessons learned – ‘best practice’ – in this field in each of these five countries and to compare these lessons.

Different countries have different political traditions and specific approaches to recruiting and retaining highly skilled immigrants. For instance, while some countries primarily regulate immigration at state level, other countries grant more discretion to provinces, municipalities or individual companies when it comes to recruiting and retaining highly skilled immigrants. Therefore there is a huge learning potential in studying and comparing different countries’ practices and accumulated experience in this field.

The five countries included in the study are interesting for different reasons. Canada and the United Kingdom have been attracting highly skilled migrants for decades. The two Scandinavian welfare states, Denmark and Norway, are more recent destination countries for highly skilled migrants. Nevertheless, despite the fact that neither Danish nor Norwegian is widely spoken globally, both countries have attracted relatively high numbers of such migrants during recent years. The Netherlands are included in the study because of Dutch initiatives to introduce a so-called ‘modern migration’ policy, allowing private companies relatively large discretion to recruit foreign workers.

Empirically, the study builds on approximately fifty interviews conducted on location in these five countries with civil servants, labour market organisation representatives and experts as well as on information extracted from recent research and policy documents. The results from the study are scheduled to be published as an SFI report in late autumn 2011.

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