International mobility, innovation and prosperity

In a recent World Bank policy paper Global Talent Flows, Kerr, Kerr, Ozden and Parsons show that approximately three percent of the world’s population lives in a country different from that of its birth. This fraction has remained virtually constant since 1960.

While the number of migrants worldwide has increased with increasing global population, their proportion in relation to the world’s population has not. In 2010, there were more females than males among highly skilled migrants worldwide, primarily from African and Asia.

The most likely destinations for highly skilled migrants who have college or university degrees are United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. These four countries accept seventy percent of the world’s highly skilled migrants with the US accounting for 41 percent of the global share.

Countries that account for the lion’s share of the world’s migrants with a college or university degree do so because they house a significant fraction of leading global universities, high‐tech firms and research centres.

How countries enhance their knowledge intensive ecosystem matters in attracting highly skilled global talent. Over the past 40 or so years, US universities have won about 65 percent of the four science-related Nobel Prizes. Just over half of these Nobel laureates were immigrants to the US.

Data presented in the World Bank paper reveals that 56 percent of STEM workers and 70 percent of software engineers in Silicon Valley are foreign born. They work for Apple, AMD, EA, Cisco, Google, Agilent, Invidia, Netflix, Facebook, Oracle, Tesla, HP, Intel, not to mention Airbnb, Uber and Lyft, the corporations are influencing our future.

Prosperity is enhanced by highly skilled talent. These immigrants desire conditions that foster creativity, enhance economic opportunity, provide freedom from bureaucratic harassment and corruption, and allow greater control over their fortunes and lifestyles. I know this from personal experience, first as an immigrant to America and then to Canada.

While some highly skilled immigrants, including international students who come to our universities to seek STEM degrees, choose to remain in Canada and contribute to our national prosperity, others leave.

The more educated immigrants are the greater the likelihood that they will stay and contribute to our economy and well being. An immigrant with a Ph.D. degree has a greater likelihood of staying than one with a Bachelor’s degree. OECD data for 2008 reveals that, five years after they earned a doctoral degree, the US retained 65‐70 percent of foreign-born doctoral graduates.

Canada and UK are fortunate in attracting inventors who form startups. However, both countries experience an overall net negative net outflow of such inventors through emigration. Those leaving include native born highly skilled migrants who usually depart for the US. Worldwide, only China and India experience bigger net outflows of inventors than do Canada and UK. Three countries, US, Switzerland and Singapore (in that order), account for most of the world’s net migrant inflow of inventor and innovation talent.

There’s a global competition for skills. It is far more comforting to be a receiving country rather than one that sends, particularly in the innovation space that creates new jobs. Canada is in the game, but not quite when it comes to innovators who typically depart for destinations south of our border.

Canada retains highly skilled migrants due to its outstanding universities and technical research centres, which are globally competitive. This excellence and competitiveness is profoundly important and should be celebrated, understood and nurtured.

Understanding how to improve our innovation ecosystem is equally important in stemming the net outflow of Canadian innovation talent. They are the innovators who take risks, innovate and create new products and solutions, but they do so in other countries.

At McMaster Engineering, we are working carefully to provide many reasons for innovators to remain in Canada and Hamilton. We are doing so by enhancing and extending the innovation ecosystem that surrounds us.


Recommended reading: Sari Pekkala Kerr, William Kerr, Çaglar Ozden and Christopher Parsons, Global Talent Flows, Policy Research Working Paper 7852, World Bank Group Trade and International Integration Team, October 2016.


One thought on “International mobility, innovation and prosperity

  1. Having the right and engaged Faculty is key in the ecosystem too. A rigorous, truly meritocratic tenure review process will attract and retain a vibrantly diverse Faculty who are not just academically competent, but also high in EQ. These Faculty will then be able to equip youth and the Engineering leaders of tomorrow to think outside the box- to spur innovations and start-ups that will focus not on big businesses but on improving the lives of everyday people.

    Liked by 1 person

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