Let's put that call for talent in context because it has become a very common approach to immigration. Migration is notoriously difficult to stop and, frankly, business, the scientific and academic communities and governments don't want to stop it; they want to shape and control it in line with their own interests. Who they want depends on what they think they need. Alberta, Canada, for example, recruits foreign workers for the oil and construction industries, Japan recruits nurses and English teachers. New Zealand is recruiting tech workers.
So Macron's call is for France to compete for a share of the best talent in this international labor pool. His strategy is to make it easier for them to get visas. Is that enough? Not necessarily.
In 2012 Japan introduced a point-based immigration program for foreign professionals: academics, technical workers and managers. Those who qualify have the red carpet literally rolled out for them: a 5 year visas or indefinite leave to stay; spouses also get work visas; parents can come along in some cases; and permission to work in just about any area, field or industry.
Looking at how they allocate the points gives you a good idea of who and what they want. Academic degrees count for a lot: a Bachelor's degree is worth 10 points, a Master's degree is 20 and a PhD is 30. However, experience counts for as much or more: 7 years of business experience is worth as much as a Master's. In the Academic and Technical categories being young (up to 29) gets you more points than being "old" (35 to 39). There are also bonus points for things like having a degree from a Japanese school or Japanese language proficiency. And that Japanese government wants to make the deal even sweeter by allowing the most skilled (those with more than 80 points) the right to permanent resident status after only one year in Japan. Read the brochure for yourself. It's a fascinating look into what Japan thinks will draw migrants to Japan, and how they calculate what profiles will be the best ones for Japan. Then, if you are interested, go look at similar points-based programs in Canada and New Zealand.
Thus far, Japan's recruitment of the highly skilled has not been a resounding success. The points system is just the latest attempt to attract and retain them. This article in the Nikkei Asian Review says that Japan is far from meeting the goal of 10,000 skilled foreign workers by 2020. So far Japan has only attracted about half that number and the departure rate is high. The barriers, they say, are language and workplace culture. I think that is an overly simplistic explanation. Yes, those are factors but there are others.
Nana Oishi's 2012 article on skilled migration to Japan (full text available on-line here) is a deeper look why loosening immigration restrictions for the highly skilled does not suffice to attract them to a particular country. This is how she sees skilled migration in the Japanese context and I add a similar perspective with regards to France.
Limited Demand: Though the Nikkei Asian Review article above says that Japanese companies are open to hiring foreigners, there is a disconnect between what they say and what they do. "The most recent survey showed that 46% of Japanese corporations have never hired highly skilled migrants and have no plans to hire them in the near future (HITO Research Institute, 2011)." (P. 1086)
Lack of Advancement Opportunities: Oishi says that professionals are motivated more by an opportunity for professional development and gaining news skills than they are by high salaries. She found that foreigners were kept back by unclear or difficult promotion paths. (No foreigners at the management level, for example.) Why should a Japanese company (or any company) invest in a foreign worker if they perceive that that worker might move on? She cites research (Tsukasaki 2008) that shows that foreign professionals do not necessarily acquire skills and experience in Japan that are valued elsewhere.
Inflexible Labor Market: This one, I think, is also pertinent to France. A labor market that is "flexible" is one where it's not too hard to enter and once in, it is relatively easy for a migrant or citizen to find other work. France is a country where this lack of flexibility hits migrants very hard. (See this 2014 MPI report on the integration of migrants into the French labor force.) Oishi says that access to the primary Japan labor market (permanent, full-time jobs) usually occurs right after graduation from high school or university. Japanese companies hire the graduates and then train them. By age 35 or 40 it's much harder to find another good job in a good company. Hence, the higher points for younger workers. In France, same problem but I'd say the age discrimination starts around 50.
Education: For skilled migrants with family, the education of their children is a top priority. These are "international" people who want an international education for their offspring. That means a multi-lingual education and a school system that teaches skills that are good anywhere. Some countries (like France) have special programs in the public school system that are subsidized by the state. Japan is working toward state-supported dual-language IB (International Baccalaureate) programs in Japanese schools. And that is a good sign. These things are very important to skilled migrants because the cost of self-financing education for their children is factored into the migration decision and impacts the retainment of foreign workers. Oishi says:
- "However, a Japanese education runs the risk of “trapping” children into a monocultural and monolingual environment that might make it difficult to excel in the global environment. To avoid such a “Japanese trap” in education, many highly skilled migrants plan to either leave Japan eventually or send their children back home where the quality of education is better." (p. 1091)
What would also help the migrants, of course is home country subsidies for this kind of education in the host country. And that seems to be something that the French presidential candidates support. However, this effort is at cross-purposes with the host country's effort to retain and integrate migrant children.
Pension and Tax Systems: At the time Oishi's article was written foreigners had to work in Japan for 25 years before they could draw a Japanese pension. She writes:
- "Pension contributions are automatically deducted from an employee’s salary every month, and if he or she withdraws from the Employees Pension Insurance system after 10 years of contribution, he or she receives only the equivalent of 2 months of salary as a lump sum refund, a small fraction of the actual contributions." (p. 1092)
I don't know if this has changed or not and I appeal to those who know more about this to set the record straight. I will point out that Japan does have (like France) pension agreements with other countries - 16 of them. That is something but not nearly enough.
Japan's worldwide tax system is another problem which I wrote about here. If you are a Japanese resident you must report and pay taxes on earned and un-earned income from anywhere in the world. There is also an inheritance tax which means that a French resident of Japan will owe Japanese taxes on what he or she inherits in France. France has a similar worldwide taxation system. Both do have tax treaties with other countries but how what they offer and how they apply are a complication that migrants with other options do not necessarily want to deal with. Is Macron aware that a US academic working in France will be filing tax and asset declarations in two countries with a possibility of double taxation? Nothing attractive about that.
Gender/Racial Equality: A lot of the professional migrants that Japan and France want to attract are women, and visible minorities. Neither country is known for work environments that are attractive to foreign women or racial minorities. In Oishi's study, she notes:
- "The lack of gender equality and work–life balance has discouraged highly skilled migrant women from working for Japanese corporations. It was extremely difficult to identify professional migrant women in Japan; the author was informed that not many professional migrant women would be interested in working for Japanese corporations, which are notorious for gender inequality."
France has made a lot of progress in this area and certainly is known for a good work/life balance but there are still issues. A 2015 EU study concluded that in France, "Having children and/or being pregnant are still perceived by employers as an impediment to employment and to promotion." Certain kinds of racial and national origin discrimination have also been well documented in both countries.
If that perception is wrong or foreigners underestimate the progress that has been made than both countries have work to do. Assuming that Oishi is correct and that salaries are much less important to the skilled than opportunity, the skilled migrants will need assurances that they will be allowed to pursue that opportunity without discrimination or unfair treatment.
Oishi has a lot more to say and I recommend that you read her article. The point here, however, is that there a wide variety of factors that migrants (and especially skilled migrants) take into consideration before moving to another country to live and work. The skilled (however that is locally defined) have some advantage here because they are sought after in this international labor competition. They have more options and it's as much about them choosing a place as it is about a place choosing them. Simply tweaking the immigration system and expecting the skilled to come to your country is wildly over-optimistic and a good example of the Better Mousetrap Fallacy.
They will not necessarily come with the skills in the numbers you would like if your country does not make an offer that may include easier access to visas, but also has positive answers to questions about education for children, families, pensions, taxes, flexible/inflexible labor markets, benefits, and integration. If Abe and Macron are serious about skilled immigration than they have a lot of work ahead of them.