The Global Migration Challenge



Making sense of trends affecting the world of work

Since the beginning of time, humans have moved from one place to another to seek economic opportunity. This drive to migrate is one of the essential forces of human history – from the dawn of time when small bands of humans sought better hunting ground to a decision made by a young person yesterday to board an airplane in search of a better education for herself.

At the Council for Global Immigration, we work to address the host of issues raised by economic migration every day. We are committed to helping national governments, employers and workers alike create legal immigration systems that balance the needs of all stakeholders and bring stability to the migration challenge.

I recently had an opportunity to address the Global Forum for Migration and Development, a gathering of government leaders and immigration professionals from around the world. I used my moments at the rostrum to discuss the continuing need for international skills mobility through the eyes of the human resource and legal professionals responsible for migration compliance in our global economy. 

I started by reminding them of the ongoing urgency of improving employment-based immigration systems, particularly here in the United States, as an element of economic competitiveness. I cited a 2014 survey of more than 300 employers, in which 86 percent indicated that the ability to obtain visas in a timely, predictable and flexible manner is critical to their organizations’ business objectives. This statement was true for 100 percent of the organizations with more than 10,000 employees.

The same survey revealed that the average employer spends almost a half million dollars annually on immigration filing fees and legal fees in the United States alone. This is money that could otherwise be invested in other activities.

Many of you are familiar with the work of the SHRM Foundation and the Economist Intelligence Unit, which have been studying the forces shaping the future of work. Panels of experts identified five trends and provided action items for employers – many of which require cooperation with governments. Many of you may be familiar with the trends themselves, but I wanted to take an opportunity to discuss their implications for economic migration and the HR profession.

The first trend is a series of historic demographic shifts taking place simultaneously. The aging population in the developed world, coupled with the growing young population in the developing world, has tremendous implications both in terms of where work gets done and where products are sold. The immigration implication is clear: To remain competitive in this environment, employers must embrace a more global, diverse and inclusive workforce and they must offer more customized benefits packages and flexible work options to attract the best workers – wherever they may be.

The second trend is the loss of middle skill jobs. Technological and productivity advances have hollowed out many of the traditional middle-skill jobs – those requiring a high school diploma but not a college degree. Polls reveal that to the extent people are anxious about the prospects for themselves and their children, they are more likely to oppose migration.

To address these reasonable, if somewhat misplaced, fears, it is up to all of us to make this new world of work a benefit for all. To avoid societal upheaval, employers must find ways to help employees gain new, higher-level skills and find ways to enrich the job experience for employees in jobs for which they are overqualified.

The third trend is the growing and persistent skills gap. Employers continue to report difficulty filling positions at the high-skilled level, particularly in the STEM and executive fields, as well as in skilled trades and agriculture. Across industries, HR professionals report that applicants lack technical, applied and soft skills.

To build the talent pipeline, employers must embrace multiple initiatives, including partnerships with schools, support for apprenticeships and training, diversity and inclusion and the strategic use of global talent.

The fourth trend is globalization. Technology has made it possible for employees to work from any location and allows previously isolated countries to participate in global business. To fully leverage the opportunities offered by this new world, employers must learn to effectively manage remote workers and culturally diverse, global teams. This trend is rapidly becoming the new normal.

The fifth trend is the emergence of new models of work, such as crowdsourcing. While traditional jobs will not disappear, the Internet has enabled employers to break some jobs into small tasks that can be accomplished by multiple individuals working remotely. Such crowdsourcing can facilitate entrepreneurship.

To be industry leaders, employers must examine whether some new models of work make sense for them and the workers they want to hire. Contracts, work schedules and compensation packages will have to be adjusted accordingly. This may actually decrease the need for immigration, since so many of these smaller tasks can be accomplished almost anywhere on Earth.

These five trends are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talking about how the world of work is evolving – and how that world is affecting employment-based immigration. These changes create both great opportunity and great uncertainty for employers and employees alike. I would posit that neither employers nor governments yet completely understand the new governance models that must accompany this new world of work.

Stay tuned for my next blog post, in which I will talk a bit about how these trends are already impacting the management of visas and work permits and one policy prescription that could make the system more efficient for employers and the government alike.



The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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