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Europe competes for highly skilled workers and students | Immigration Matters

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In an article on the BBC website, William Horsley warns that Europe must compete for top talent and international students instead of taking them for granted.


The report suggests that we could soon see a time when Africa produces more students with advanced degrees than Europe and a shrinking European population due to ageing and a brain drain to the east.


China could become a draw for Europe‘s top brains and talents, lured by high salaries and cutting-edge science and technology.


A realistic scenario or a ridiculous fantasy? Actually these predictions are elements of a possible scenario put forward in Brussels this week by experts and leading public figures from Europe and North America in the Transatlantic Council on Migration, which calls itself an “idea factory” for western governments.


One of the main suggestions is that Europe should be more proactive in the “global war for talent” – a hunt for people with special skills who will play a key part in deciding which countries stay competitive and prosper.


However, as Europe and America head into what recession, European governments are taking steps to cut immigration and deport more illegal immigrants.


But the Transatlantic Council says European countries should now make extra efforts to attract people from all around the world who have soft skills (like health care), specific skills (like IT) or “superskills”.


The council’s members include Trevor Phillips, chairman of the UK Commission on Equality and Human Rights, and Rita Suessmuth, a former president of the German parliament.


In fact European countries already compete for top talent from all over the world. The super-skilled, for instance, can generate success in the form of extraordinary wealth.


Colleges and universities are engage in fierce competition for a share of the three million university-age students from around the world now enrolled. The number is expected to double by 2025. Currently the US leads this race, with Britain and Australia in hot pursuit.

Many western countries with declining native populations have come to view these students, most of whom are from China or other parts of Asia, as a valuable pool of highly skilled and educated immigrants with good prospects few problems of social adjustment.


The strategy works extremely well for Canada and Australia. Immigrants account for more than one-third of all their doctors, engineers and computer specialists.


Europe, too, is in the chase for this source of skills. The prestigious Sciences-Po school in Paris (the Institute for Political Science) has many courses in English for foreign students. Dutch universities offer hundreds of English-only courses to overcome the language barrier.

This year most EU states will commit to a unified Europe-wide “blue card” system of temporary visas for would-be immigrants, as a way of attracting the best and brightest from outside Europe.


Britain now has its own five-tier points-based system for attracting workers with skills that match specific economic needs. Tier 1, for Highly Skilled migrants and investors, has been running for almost a year. Tier 2 for skilled workers started last November, replacing the already successful Work Permit scheme.


Tier 4 for students is about to start in March and colleges and universities will be keeping their fingers crossed that the Government do not put the brakes on the £4.7 billion student market.


Despite the Prime Minister’s Initiative laid down by Tony Blair to attract more students to the UK, Entry Clearance Officers (ECO’s) in India, China and The Philippines continue to refuse thousands of visa applications to prospective students with unconditional offers at DIUS approved educational establishments.


The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT) overturns many thousands of unlawful refusals every month on appeal. Despite this, ECO’s routinely churn out identical ‘template’ refusals to students who meet ‘paragraph 57’ of the immigration rules.


The right of appeal is being removed when tier 4 commences and will be replaced by an ‘administrative review’ by an Entry Clearance Manager.


Britain is currently second in the league table of preferred student destinations, but Australia, with less prestigious universities, is snapping at its heals.


Australia and Canada make life much easier for migrants and student who want to settle and contribute their talents. In contrast, the UK Home Office gives migrants extending visas, applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain or trying to convert to Work Permits a hard time.

Successive rule changes, “clampdowns” and get tough announcements by the UK Border Agency on migrants and students has forced many to seek more welcoming havens such as Australia and Canada.


Whilst Europe remains one of the main destinations for migrants from Asia and Africa, experts say the picture could change in unexpected ways over the next 20 years. Europe and the US could lose their dominant place in the world economy and education levels rise dramatically in China, India and parts of Africa.


China is already attracting talent from the West to its centres of industry and science. The recession will bite hard in the West, but the East will rise, according to projections. The roles of continents in the global war for talent will change experts predict.


This week the world’s attention was on one man who embodies the idea that, in a welcoming environment, special talent can rise high in one generation through the new opportunities created by migration. The newly inaugurated President Barack Obama.


The Transatlantic Council on Migration is an initiative of the Migration Policy Institute in the US. Its partners in Europe are the Bertelsmann Foundation and the European Policy Centre.

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