Monday, March 05, 2012

Circular Mobility

In the world of talent geopolitics, Canada is light years ahead of the United States. Like American companies, businesses in Canada are starving for skilled labor. The government has found a gold mine in Tunisia:

Employers can recruit workers from Tunisia, for example. Tunisia, the small north African country between Libya and Algeria was much in the news one year ago because of the political revolution that started there, toppled a government, then spread to other Arab countries.

Now Tunisia is quiet, but has fallen on hard economic times. Its government is amenable to emigration of trained workers in the belief this will lower unemployment - and that these workers might someday return home if things look up. It's what Van Winkle calls "circular mobility."

Van Winkle and colleague Marie Pouliot from the Canadian embassy in Tunis were here to tell employers and provincial government agencies about a 10-year-old program that facilitates the migration of workers and, not incidentally, helps minority-language communities.

The concept of circular mobility is well-known in the international economic development community. The best the United States can do is the clunky H-1B visa:

"The H-1B certainly isn't the best long-term solution," said Carrick. "We have to grow this talent at home."

But don't tell that to Vincent Spinali, general manager with Prattville Machine & Tool Company. The Peabody, Mass.-based manufacturer with 100 employees is a machine shop whose clients are in the aerospace and defense industries.

Spinali said the company invested a year and a "significant amount of money" to bring back one of its former machinists from Colombia through the H-1B visa program.

"He was in the U.S. on political asylum. We hired him, trained him and he was with us for 15 years after that. He was a great worker," said Spinali.

In 2010, Spinali said the worker's status changed, and he was sent back to Colombia.

No, the H-1B isn't a long-term solution. But circular mobility is. In the U.S., you may grow talent at home today for a job that doesn't exist tomorrow. The arrangement between Tunisia and Canada is much more resilient, benefiting both countries. Tunisia can develop talent for a job market that don't exist in the country today. In fact, the talent exports will be the spark of that economic development back home. Canada will gain more innovation capacity, as well as a new trading partner. Migration means growth. The United States is increasingly stuck in the past.


Anonymous said...

Traditionally america's migration has been internal. Canada is tiny and economically more homogenous than the u.s. New Mexico, Puerto Rico, Minnesota and Massachusetts wouldn't be contained within any one other country on earth. The U.S. isn't a single society, it is a world of its own creation.

RonaldEaddy said...

By mobility I mean whether people are crossing into different income quintiles or deciles than the ones they were born into, or the ones they enjoyed at an earlier period of life.

1. If the general standard of living is rising (and I am more than willing to admit problems in this area for the United States), mobility takes care of itself over time. I find it more useful to focus on slow growth, if indeed that is the case. Just look at income growth for non-wealthy families and that is more useful than all the mobility measures put together.

2. Measured mobility in the United States does not seem to be falling, or at least not falling much, as shown by Scott Winship.

3. For a given level of income, if some are moving up others are moving down. Do you take theories of wage rigidity seriously? If so, you might favor less relative mobility, other things remaining equal. More upward — and thus downward — relative mobility probably means less aggregate happiness, due to habit formation and frame of reference effects.