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Asian Migration
Thursday, 28 March 2013 04:47
The US, Canada, UK and Australia are blessed with a wave of skilled migrants from Asia, according to a recent OECD report. Continental Europe, Japan and Korea are missing out on this dynamic.

The "stock" of migrants from Asia accounts for 17 per cent of all migrants in the advanced OECD countries (over 15 million). But these migrants are concentrated in just a few locations, with half in the US and much of the rest fairly evenly split between Canada, UK and Australia. These four countries account for more than 80 per cent of Asian migrants living in the OECD group of 34 countries.

The share of Asian migrants out of total migrants in these countries is thus much higher than the OECD average of 17 per cent -- in Canada it is 33 per cent, in the UK 29 per cent, in Australia 28 per cent and in the US 19 per cent. And all these figures are on the rise because the "flow" of Asian migrants into the OECD area is now over 30 per cent of total, a figure which has been increasing despite the global financial crisis.

The burgeoning Asianization of migration to the OECD's main Anglo Saxon economies stands out in several respects. About half of these migrants are "high-educated". This is twice the rate of migrants from other regions, and substantially higher than natives of OECD countries, the group of the world's most advanced countries. China, India and the Philippines have been the leading sources for these migrants, accounting for 60 per cent of all Asian migrants. And there have been more women than men (53 per cent of total).

Despite the boom in Asian migration to these Anglo Saxon countries, the Middle East remains the principal destination for Asian migrants. And in light of Asia's very large population, the emigration rate from the region is still very low at 0.6 per cent.

What has been driving this strong growth in Asian migrants to certain OECD countries?

Higher wages in OECD countries, especially for skilled workers, is certainly a factor. And despite its rapid growth, emerging Asia has a large and growing labor supply, reflecting the "demographic dividend" (high working age population, and low shares of "dependent" youth and older persons). And some OECD countries have selective policies which favor skilled and employer-driven migration.

There has also been a dramatic increase in students going overseas, with Asians predominating among international students. Three countries, the US, Australia and the UK, receive half of all internationals students and three-quarters of Asian international students. Many of these students stay on, after they have completed their studies.

One seemingly curious trend is that Japan and Korea (both OECD members) have a very low proportion of migrants -- despite their geographical proximity to the main source countries and despite also their manifest need for migrants in light of rapidly ageing populations and chronically low birth rates.

Foreign workers make up only 1.3 per cent of total in Japan and 2.1 per cent in Korea. Japanese and Korean societies are culturally very closed, a key factor behind their many restrictions on migration.

Overall, Asia is not an important migrant destination, with its share of the world migrant stock falling from 14.7 per cent in 2000 to 12.9 per cent in 2010, despite borders being mostly open to skilled migrants in the region.

Will OECD countries be able to rely on this continued stream of skilled workers from Asia in the future?

The OECD report rings a bell of caution. Asia's rapid development is making outward migration less attractive and might even draw skilled workers from other parts of the world, argues the OECD.

There is certainly some logic in this caution. But it is also important to better understand why more and more high skilled Asians are leaving their home countries at precisely the time when their countries are succeeding famously, and much better than the crisis-stricken OECD countries.

According to a recent Pew Research Center, Asian Americans say that the US is preferable to their country of origin as it provides economic opportunity, political and religious freedoms, and good conditions for raising children. Respondents rated their country of origin as being superior on just one of seven measures tested in the survey—strength of family ties. In other words, while Asia has succeeded in generating prosperity and reducing poverty, it may not be responding to all the aspirations of its educated citizens.

As political and social instability have grown over the past year in China, there has also been much anecdotal evidence of Chinese citizens migrating to the US, Canada and Australia (or acquiring citizenship or permanent residency) as a hedge against possible future instability. This is certainly corroborated by the growing Chinese investment in real estate in these same countries, as well as the massive capital flight. Other factors inciting Chinese middle class citizens to leave home are the horrendous state of the environment in China, with Beijing's air being often unsafe to breath, and food security problems.

There are also signs that the growing boom in the energy sectors in the US, Canada and Australia is attracting Asian migrants away from their present bases in the Middle East. Such migration is very attractive in terms of working and social conditions, and also because it offers the perspective of permanent family settlement. Integration is not a major issue since there are already large, welcoming migrant communities in these countries.

Well educated Asian women, especially from Japan, are another interesting category in that some are also tempted to flee their male- and family-dominated societies to enjoy Western economic and social freedoms that are not available at home.

In the US there are concerns that policies have been too stringent regarding permanent migration for skilled workers, especially students. It is estimated that there are more than 1 million skilled migrants and their families currently residing in the US on temporary work visas. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has described US immigration policy as "national suicide"!

Bloomberg is right. Immigrant-founded technology companies are estimated to have generated $52 billion in revenues and created 450,000 jobs between 1995 and 2005. It seems clear that there will be an easing of these policies in the near future, in the context of broader immigration policy reforms.

And lastly, it seems clear that the US and other non-European OECD countries are on the cusp of an economic revival which should improve their attractiveness to skilled migrants, at a time when Asia's economies are moving into a period of greater uncertainty.

What is certain is that while some European leaders judge multiculturalism a failure, in the US, Canada and Australia migration is widely considered to have been successful. The US, Canada and Australia are all conscious of the need to compete for talent to bolster their countries' competitiveness, rather than put up walls.

In conclusion, these countries seem likely to continue to attract important flows of skilled labor from Asia, which could provide a strong foundation for a renewed period of economic growth in the coming years.

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