“If our objective is to increase productivity, innovation and economic growth in the UK, immigrants are our natural allies.” So wrote Lord Bilimoria in the foreword of Passport to Progress, a new report we recently published here at The Entrepreneurs Network in partnership with ABE Global.
Derin Kocer shows that high-skilled immigrants are more prone to entrepreneurship and have a knack of making economies more productive and innovative. It calls on politicians to make the case for the positive benefits of high-skilled and high-potential immigration.
The report puts forward a number of policy recommendations, inspired by the best existing policies from around the world, to attract top international students, high-skilled professionals, STEM researchers, entrepreneurs and unusually talented individuals.
For example, Canada has been exceptionally successful in attracting high-achieving international students in the past two decades, accounting for a six-fold increase in numbers, realising the benefits of positioning international graduates as the future of its workforce. The report argues that any country competing for international graduates needs to copy Canada in offering graduates a right to work, with their time at university counting towards permanent residency.
The UK’s High Potential Individual visa, which grants two-year work visas to graduates of top universities, is highlighted as a unique and creative policy example. However, the report argues that what counts as ‘top academic institutions’ should be expanded to include graduates from institutes such as the Indian Institutes of Technology. It also advocates for granting permanent residency to advanced STEM students on their day of graduation.
Passport to Progress also makes the case for pro-migration policies, through the establishment of specialised task forces within the Government to actively recruit entrepreneurs and talented STEM professionals. The most ambitious historical example of this was the US’s Operation Paperclip whereby over 1,600 German engineers and scientists after the Second World War, who later led the American space program. Given the historic context this wasn’t without controversy, but a modern equivalent wouldn’t suffer from this.
The report also highlights Israel’s Innovation Labs programmes, which provide migrant entrepreneurs with access to critical technological infrastructure, and New Zealand’s Global Impact Visa, which creates training, investment and networking opportunities for migrant entrepreneurs.
The political context for making the case for more immigration is challenging. As Rob May, Chief Executive Officer of ABE Global, said: “Recently, the central relationship between immigration and innovation has come under attack. Motivated by desires to limit headline net migration figures, the positive effects of migration have once again become clouded in a hostile narrative that finds its fulfilment in the populist rhetoric that any immigration is antithetical to national progress. This neglects the historical truth that the flow of ideas, talent and people has been the cornerstone of security and prosperity.”
But we’re optimists. “Immigration is a story about opportunities. We need more of those stories and Passport to Progress is our contribution to how,” says Kocer. “We hope to unlock a sensible conversation in which the true potential of migration can overcome misplaced concerns,” says May. I would add that the arc of history bends toward more high-skilled immigration, as the evidence mounts. After all, over a third of the UK’s fastest growing companies have at least one foreign-born founder.