Marking International Migrants Day, 18 December 2019, our new Director of Executive Education and Capacity Building in Migration at UNU-MERIT, Nava Hinrichs, joined a conference on “Advancing Human Capital Development through Migration and Innovation” at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, based in Vienna.
Contributing to a panel discussion on “Harnessing innovation to promote prosperous, diverse and inclusive societies”, Nava spoke on three key points, outlined below.
First, there has been a recent spike in interest and research on links between migration and innovation, mostly focusing on high skilled migration. There is currently some evidence that high skilled migration can lead to more innovation, in terms of more skills, diffusion of knowledge, breaking down homogeneity of group thinking, increased mobility, and higher productivity levels.
Second, there is far less research, however, on low-medium skilled migration and innovation. This research is not as extensive geographically and what has been researched brings varying outcomes. In reality, it is more nuanced than simply saying “low-medium skilled migration leads to more innovation”. It very much depends on the geographical region, the sector, and the firm/company in question. In some places there is no evidence that low-medium skilled migration has any positive or negative effect on innovation (and in some cases, such as Italy there is even evidence of negative effects on innovation). This relates to communication and trust issues, in that low educated migrants are likely to have less skills, exposure and knowledge on how to integrate into host country cultural norms of communication, as well as high numbers of cheap labour driving down wages and dissuading companies to invest in skill development and innovation.
Third and finally, there should be an emphasis on removing barriers for low-medium skilled migrants to enter the labour market while giving space for innovation to flourish. One example is M-Capital in the Netherlands, which provides tailor-made soft skills training programmes for low skilled migrants before placing them into work, for example by cooperating closely with the private sector and local government.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
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