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How do we explain the variance of high-skilled immigration policies over time in countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)? Lucie Cerna answers this question—and more—in her well-written book Immigration Policies and the Global Competition for Talent. In comparison to migratory flows mainly consisting of those fleeing their countries of origin for refuge, high-skilled immigration is generally less controversial in policy circles. This is because governments facing acute labour shortages, ageing populations, and decreasing human capital are incentivized to attract the ‘best-and-brightest’ from abroad. For them, recruiting foreign talents is seen as a viable, if not essential, policy solution to generate and sustain economic growth, as well as for competing in the global race for innovation. But differences in policies exist—between and within countries over time—and Cerna sets out to elucidate how we can begin to understand and explain these differences from the analytical perspective of international political economy. Cerna argues for explaining these differences as a function of coalition-building between three sets of actors—high-skilled labour, low-skilled labour, and capital—mediated by labour market organization and political representation. Her basic theoretical assumption is ‘Preferences + Institutions = Outcomes’, with preferences referring to political actors’ ‘wants and desires’, institutions to labour market organization and political representation in that country, and outcomes to high-skilled immigration policies. For Cerna, union density, centralization/coordination of unions and employers’ associations, the integration of labour market actors into the domestic policymaking process, and the degree of political representation of (high-skilled labour) actors are the explanatory variables in unpacking cross-national variations in high-skilled immigration policies. The book is organized into two parts, consisting of eight fluid chapters, each incrementally solidifying Cerna’s argument. Beginning with a review of the public policy and migration literatures on policy convergence and divergence, Cerna sets out how she contributes to extending the varieties of capitalism approach to include dynamics of political coalitions. For her, political coalitions are important because they aggregate divergent preferences among actors; the institutional inclusion or exclusion of certain actor preferences thus significantly alters policy outputs. Cerna presents three possible scenarios of coalition-building (high-skilled labour, low-skilled labour, and capital) with six distinct winner sets and their corresponding predicted high-skilled immigration policy outputs (i.e. restrictive vs. open). Bringing these aspects together with the four explanatory variables, Cerna then specifies five possible country types in terms of high-skilled immigration policies (pp. 59–61). The dependent variable problem, however, remains: How do you compare the openness of countries’ high-skilled immigration policies when an overview of each country’s relative standing vis-à-vis one another is missing? To address this issue, Cerna constructs a HSI Index, building on Lowell’s 2005 Index of temporary and permanent high-skilled immigration programmes. Cerna’s HSI Index is a composite index, which measures the relative openness of 20 selected OECD countries and 24 programmes for 2007 and 2012 along these indicators: numerical caps; labour market test; labour protection; employer portability; spouse’s work rights; and permanent residency rights (pp. 82–84). She finds that Ireland, the Netherlands, and the UK were the most open countries in 2007; Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Spain, and Switzerland the most restrictive. Assessing the same countries again for 2012, Cerna finds that Ireland, Canada, and the US became the most restrictive, while Denmark, Germany, and Japan became the most open. This comparison indicates the robustness of Cerna’s research design: she identified the dependent variable and its changes over time. Cerna then continues with fine-grained analyses of high-skilled immigration policy changes since 1990s and early 2000s in five selected countries: Germany, Sweden, the UK, the USA, and France. These countries exemplify the range of the ideal-typical cases for testing Cerna’s hypotheses: Germany and Sweden are countries characterized as high centralization and high coordination in their labour market organization, the UK and US are low centralization and low coordination, whereas France is a country where strong state intervention has been central in the liberalization of national high-skilled immigration policies. Case comparisons confirmed her hypotheses. Although the global economic crises have affected these countries differently, Cerna finds that the political mobilization of high-skilled labour remained the most significant explanatory factor in whether the governments of these countries liberalize or restrict extant high-skilled immigration policies. Finally, Cerna concludes by elaborating eight policy implications, each revolving around how to reconcile competing tensions between, for instance, the needs of labour vs. capital, cultivating domestic talents vs. attracting foreign talents, or policy design vs. implementation. This is an extremely rich volume in both breadth (a HSI Index measuring the relative openness of 20 OECD countries and 24 programmes at two time points) and depth (detailed case comparisons of five OECD countries). Missing from this coverage, however, are the non-OECD countries—especially those emerging markets and their neighbours outside of Europe and North America that have liberalized their high-skilled immigration practices in recent years, leading to the successful targeted recruitment of foreign talents from around the world and the return of their highly-skilled workers. Many of these countries have political systems that operate on what could be considered illiberal principles, with political representation, if any, organized along distinctly different lines than those examined in this volume. Furthermore, collective action and union memberships in some countries are even banned. This suggests that studying variances of high-skilled immigration policies among OECD and non-OECD countries may require further consideration as to whether such variations are generally the function of coalition-building among capital and high- and low-skilled labour, mediated by labour organisation and political representation. At the same time, Cerna’s work is a solid contribution to the growing, but fragmented, body of research on high-skilled immigration policies that have generally examined profession or country-specific developments, or issues such as gender and family formation. Cerna’s analytical extension of the varieties of capitalism approach brings politics back to policymaking, and invites us to consider how the state machine works, what it produces, as well as what government means in practice. This is a refreshing approach to studying high-skilled immigration, which has long been dominated by scholars working in the field of management studies. Indeed, while this book is about a subset of migrants comparatively less examined in contemporary migration studies—the high-skilled, it offers lessons for deepening our overall understanding of migration regulation. It is only when we are attentive to the make-up of diverse coalitions for or against certain migration measures, and their relative access to the policymaking process, can we begin to explain adopted migration positions and any subsequent policy changes over time. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. 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Migration Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2019
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