Global Flows of Talent: Benchmarking the United States

David M. Hart November 17, 2006
November 17, 2006
This report compares how national immigration policies foster or constrict global flows of talent, and lays out several broad policy recommendations that the U.S. should consider.

Economic prosperity depends now more than ever on the continual generation of new ideas as well as the conversion of those ideas into profitable products/services and higher-productivity processes. Countries aspiring to a higher standard of living must not only take part in the newest industries that flow from technological breakthroughs, they must also infuse all their industries with innovation in order to generate and sustain a competitive advantage. To do so, they have to have people with the right skills, educational background, and talent.

Not surprisingly, public policymakers around the world are waking up to the talent imperative, especially in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Yet at a time when many other nations are making it easier for talented immigrants to enter their country, either as students or workers, the United States is struggling to decide what to do. We have sent out mixed messages to the rest of the world since September 11, 2001, and in the immigration debate of the past year, pragmatic discussion has been drowned out by heated rhetoric about other aspects of immigration.

This policy brief benchmarks flows of highly-skilled and highly educated people to the United States against similar flows to seven other high-income countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, and the U.K. The brief then compares how national immigration policies – permanent, temporary, and student – foster or constrict these flows. All seven nations in the comparison group are liberalizing their immigration policies for the highly skilled, although some more than others. Finally, we suggest several broad policy recommendations that the United States should consider to ensure that we not only compete effectively for talent in the short-term, but also lead the world toward a global system for developing and using talent that is beneficial for everyone over the long-term.