Global demographic and economic trends will bring about major changes to immigration patterns around the world over the next 25 years. For many developed countries, the combination of falling birth rates and aging populations will shrink their existing labour forces. At the same time, the populations of most developing countries will continue to grow and will remain young.
As the economies of the developed countries shift away from labour-based manufacturing towards knowledge-based innovation, the demand for highly skilled people will rise far beyond the point that local workforces will be able to supply. Many countries that were not actively recruiting immigrants will begin doing so, particularly in Europe and South East Asia. Managing immigration and its social effects will be major challenges for these countries, putting Canada—along with Australia, New Zealand, and the United States—in a favourable position to draw talent from around the world.
But the real game changer will come from China and India, whose education systems cannot keep up with the demand for the talent they will need as they, too, enter the global innovation game. As their economies continue to grow, China and India will be poised to become Canada’s most significant competitors for talent. This competition will have two main impacts on Canada. First, it will put enormous pressure on us to retain the talent we now have, including immigrants and their Canadian-born children. Second, educated young Canadians will have much greater opportunities to work outside their own country than any previous generation. Visas will become easier to obtain to work in Europe, but especially in China and India. The winners of the emerging war for talent will be those countries whose economies will prosper between now and 2050.
Students aspiring to go into the field of immigration have the option of only a few specific programs, but international relations programs are more widely available and many are first rate. Migration tends to be taught in the social sciences, especially sociology, geography, political science, and economics. Consider supplementing your education with volunteering at immigrant serving agencies, interning with government departments or international organizations in the field such as the UNHCR, or simply spending time abroad to get some sense of what it is like to be a migrant and some sense of why people from other countries choose to move. Attend conferences or seminars or read the related literature if you can, and get to know people in the field with whom you can have the occasional conversation over coffee. People in migration tend to be especially friendly.
The ability to put yourself in the shoes of others is a very important skill in migration work—whether it is providing services to immigrants or developing policy in this field. Thinking strategically and anticipating the consequences of policy or circumstantial change in international environments is also important.
Migration is a field that is constantly changing and, as a result, I have been learning continuously since I began my work at Metropolis 17 years ago. The intellectual rewards of being with Metropolis have far exceeded any that I experienced in the academic world. The great pleasures of Metropolis have come from the hundreds of dedicated and truly friendly people I have come to know in Canada and around the world.
Howard Duncan is the Executive Head of Metropolis, an international forum bridging research, policy, and practice on migration and diversity based at Carleton University. He received a Bachelor’s of Arts in Philosophy and English Literature from Carleton University and a PhD in Philosophy from Western University.