Cherry-picking migrants: The race for global talent vs. managing mass migration


On the 8th of June I gave a talk in Paris at the ESCP at a conference entitled The Global Race for Talent.

I was responding to a presentation given by Amanda Frost, Professor of Law and Director of the SJD Program American University Washington College of Law who discussed the ways in which countries (and in particular the U.S., Canada, the European Union, and Australia) seek to attract the brightest and most talented. In her insightful and engaging talk she spoke about the possibilities and limitations of movement, expanded on the race to recruit talent and touched on the need to reform existing policies especially in the United States. She spoke about the negative repercussions of the brain drain on developing nations and less developed ones. The topic was of immense interest to the business students who already form a global, cosmopolitan, and mobile elite.

It was then my turn to shift the conversation to what is on everyone’s mind at the moment; global mass migration which is dominating headlines and impacting nations’ perceptions of the OTHER. The change is so dramatic that these waves of migration will inflect on policy choices in the decades to come.

Although perhaps a product of the brain drain myself, I find that today the lure extended to the special and talented gives rise to a series of poignant questions that need to be answered. Should migrants, for instance, be viewed and framed as an economic input? Thus far, this aspect of migration has been especially touted by countries in Europe and elsewhere. It’s the logic permeating the argument to allow newcomers on national soil, in countries that need new blood to support the aging population and relieve the pressures on the healthcare and pension systems. These countries with low paying jobs that nationals would prefer not to do have flaunted migration as an asset to the growth and well being of their economy. Another pressing question is what does mass migration –uncontrolled mass migration  that is –  mean for citizenship? Should people across the globe move as freely as we like for products and money to circulate? Furthermore, should we be dividing migrants into good and bad? Or better yet is it OK to want to cherry pick the kind of migrant you want in this day in age, luring some and rejecting others?

Clearly, nations seem almost eager to bring in those with most potential but what do they do with the rest? Aren’t the numbers of the truly gifted or educated such a miniscule percentage of people compared to the thousands and millions descending on Europe and the millions of displaced people in countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey?

It was interesting to see students take on this discussion. They feel that it is almost their ‘right’ to work in other countries in order to gain experience and perspective – for them limiting work visas in the United States (for example) is incomprehensible when they claim to have no desire to move there permanently.

Clearly, while encouraging global movement of goods,  services and investments, the labor market is still under strong protectionist laws  – which of course can be explained and defended.

The discussion in Paris gave me some pause and perhaps it was a welcome opportunity for those European students to appreciate the fact that as citizens of the EU they can work across the Union. We took time to appreciate that fact because it may soon be changing. In fact, those supporting the Brexit are doing so because of the number of migrants in Britain, of which half are EU citizens from other EU states.

We have entered a whole new area of migration flows and inevitably there will be a rethink on these issues and policies will adapt or change according to the values and beliefs of each society. Events are moving too quickly to remain passive. This is the moment to have a wider, albeit uncomfortable conversation, because the choices we make today will set the course for the future.

I would like to thank Professor David Chekroun and the ESCP team for their hospitality.




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