Combining unique, annual, bilateral data on labor flows of highly skilled immigrants for 10 OECD destinations between 2000 and 2012, with new databases comprising both unilateral and bilateral policy instruments, we present the first judicious cross-country assessment of policies aimed to attract and select high-skilled workers. Points-based systems are much more effective in attracting and selecting high-skilled migrants than requiring a job offer, labor market tests, and shortage lists. Offers of permanent residency, while attracting the highly skilled, overall reduce the human capital content of labor flows because they prove more attractive to non-high-skilled workers. Bilateral recognition of diploma and social security agreements foster greater flows of high-skilled workers and improve the skill selectivity of immigrant flows. Conversely, double taxation agreements deter high-skilled migrants, although they do not alter overall skill selectivity. Our results are robust to a variety of empirical specifications that account for destination-specific amenities, multilateral resistance to migration, and the endogeneity of immigration policies.
I would urge a bit of caution, however. If you are Canada or Australia, and your country is not going to birth Google, you care most about the average skill level. If you are the United States, you might focus more on policies that boost the far right hand tail of value creation, because the benefits from that will be very high indeed. That means taking more chances on immigrants with an uncertain future but big potential upside, even if only with a small probability.
For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.