Simplifying the whole world

People, goods and money move about the world with unparalleled ease these days, we are told. Debate rages about whether this so-called globalisation is a good or a bad thing, but basically it is accepted that a more integrated global economy, freer flows of capital, longer supply chains, lots of migration, and growing trade between nations are the facts on the ground.

Being a fan of counter-intuition therefore, I read with some delight this book review from The Economist, for a book that argues that the reality is rather different.

So this is a call to the world to sort it out. In particular, I want the world to sort out and simplify its approach to immigration. I am deeply sceptical about the value of passports in general (but I will save that methodical rant for another day). But even if we keep passports, we can do a lot to make it easier for people to work in different countries, with obvious benefits both to the workers and to the citizens of the places they will go.

A rose by any other name

It is obviously totally appropriate that the citizens of each country determine who else they want to let in, since they have to share their country with the newcomers. But it does strike me as somewhat wasteful that every nation determines their own unique immigration rules when basically they all want the same thing, at least in the case of skilled workers: the right number of people of the highest quality they can attract. And when I say quality, I mean people who can fill gaps in the domestic workforce, or bring new skills, and who will not make lots of claims on any public services – like the education, healthcare, welfare or correctional systems.

Since New Zealand and its comparable nations basically want the same thing, it is not surprising that the basic approach to skilled worker immigration is the same. Note that I am saying nothing at all here about family migration, nor about emigration, nor about business or investor migration. Below is a very quick summary of the systems for immigration of skilled workers to New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the United States. I have not checked, but I would be surprised if the approach in Canada, or many countries of Europe were markedly different.

Country Arrangements

New Zealand Either highly-skilled (qualified, experienced in work, young, English-speaking) or with skills in particular occupations or fields, or a job offer
Australia Either skilled migrant sponsored by an employer or with skills in particular occupations
UK Either skilled migrant sponsored by an employer or exceptionally talented in particular fields
US Either skilled migrant with job offer or person with advanced qualifications and experience

As you can see, all of these nations let you in for a period to work if you are either exceptionally skilled in particular fields, or if you are highly skilled and have a job offer.

Workers of the world, unite

So far so good. But the problem from a migrant’s point of view is complying with the details of all of the rules, and the complexities, delays and costs of the process of proving eligibility for any of these nations. The requirements are all subtlely different, the documents required are often hard to get and expensive, and the processes themselves can take ages, and require all sorts of hoops to be jumped through. And governments are, of course, not afraid to charge immigrants for the costs involved in checking whether all the is have been dotted and ts crossed.

We can do better. I propose an addition to the existing schemes, a multi-national category of skilled migrant. It would work like this: If a person was young, highly skilled, experienced, and fluent in English, then s/he could apply for a three-year work permit in any participating country, and any other country that signed up to the scheme would also accept that person as a worker without further qualification, administration or hassle.

The benefits are pretty obvious. The people in each country gets access to skilled, experienced people, but they don’t have to go through the costly work of testing every single person, because anyone in this category will already have been tested in another participating country. From the migrant’s point of view, they qualify just once and can work in multiple nations. Everyone saves a lot of time, money and administrative hassle.

Let’s get on with it

Implementation would require that every nation that wanted to participate create a new immigration category with identical basic requirements, and adopt a rule that proof that the requirements had been met in another member country would suffice as proof for their own regime. That won’t take long.

An intermediate step would be for just these five countries to change their eligibility rules for their existing skilled immigration category to make it clear that if a person has approval to work as a skilled migrant in one of the other five countries, s/he can come work in theirs.

I am not entirely naive, sadly. I realise that this sounds too good to be true, and too simple to be easy. And that the history of nations is often the history of bloody-minded, short-sighted parochialism, especially when it comes to the restraints on the movement of people. I am not suggesting a huge increase in immigration – the caps that operate in most of the above nations would continue to apply. Nor am I suggesting the removal of professional rules that restrict movements of particular types of skilled workers, like lawyers, doctors or accountants (although I think the world would be a better place if those rules were internationalised).

All I am proposing is a way to simplify lives for skilled migrants, with benefits for the countries who welcome them in. New Zealand and Australia could kick things off for the Western world by putting a mutual recognition scheme in place. If you got approved to work in New Zealand as a skilled migrant, then you could go to Australia to work and vice versa.

Sounds easy to me.