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‘Yet another tool for growth?’ Varieties of capitalism, institutional complementarities, and the economic governance of high-skilled labour migration

Regine Paul
University of Kassel
Regine Paul
University of Kassel
Open Panel

Abstract

In the ‘age of migration’ the analysis of foreign labour recruitment patterns bears important implications for our understanding of economic governance. Drawing on document analyses and interviews with policy-making elites, this paper offers empirical insight in high-skilled admission regimes (Britain, France, Germany), and tests theoretical assumptions offered by comparative political economy. Focusing on the explanatory capacity of varieties of capitalism literatures, it analyses policy discourses, objectives and tools of high-skilled labour admission programmes. It argues that the materialisation of Cerny’s competition state displays nationally distinct characteristics in the three cases studied, some of which – yet not all – appear to cohere with regime theory. More precisely, the treatment of high skills in admission policy epitomises characteristics of state-enhanced (French), enabling (German), and liberal arbitrated (Britain) capitalism in several ways. The state-led endorsement of new permits and migration routes for high skilled workers in France speaks to the overarching aim to promote ‘the global splendour’ of the nation and economy. Yet, these economic rationales are politically cut-off for some migrants in an attempt to manage a post-colonial resident population. In Germany, we observe a technocratic management of the high-skilled realm constrained to ‘serving’ the economy and facilitating growth. For example, the favourable rights regime for highest skilled migrants mimics the role of social protection in a coordinated market economy in Germany. Yet, the qualification recognition system reflects institutional patterns of a tacitly successful vocational education system, explicitly excluding some skilled workers. Lastly, until recently the UK’s points-based system served as a liberal arbiter with an employer-led system for skilled admissions and a laissez-faire supply-focused recruitment of ‘the brightest’. However, the turn towards a politics of caps in autumn 2010 indicates political distortions of economic governance, hinting to the difficulties of varieties of capitalism to capture the politics of high skilled migration programmes. So while high-skilled migration serves as another ''tool for growth'' (French interviewee) in regime-theoretical ways in some respect, the economic governance of migration has to negotiate wider policy objectives and politics as well.