Firms want access to skilled migrant workers: survey

Posted at 01/11/10 11:54 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Business leaders in the Asia-Pacific region and the world believe that international workers continue to be good for business and the economy, despite reports of growing protectionist and nationalistic sentiment prompted by the global recession.

According to a survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of Western Union, business executives are looking for fewer barriers to migration. Yet, despite challenges in hiring foreign workers, a limited number of businesses have publicly advocated for their government to relax immigration laws.

Three out of four business leaders based in the Asia-Pacific region and worldwide say international workers have a positive impact on the economy. Nearly as many respondents (70?% in the AsPac region and 71% globally) say foreign workers provide their businesses with competitive advantages.

“While economic insecurity is putting politicians under pressure to protect jobs for locals, it is clear that business leaders still see an open economy with economic migration as essential to drive the recovery,” said Patricia Riingen, senior vice president for Pacific and Indochina of The Western Union Co.

Nearly 6 in 10 business leaders indicate that the current global economic recession will not change their hiring practices toward foreign workers. In fact, 11% say the recession has made them more likely to hire foreign workers.

Business leaders also see immigration employment laws and regulations affecting their ability to hire international workers, with more than one in four saying that regulations make it difficult to hire a sufficient number of international workers. They cited limited visas and quotas and a prolonged process as some of the most difficult challenges.

“While businesses clearly see the benefits of an open labor market, very few of them are actually involved in advocating publicly for it,” said Hikmet Ersek, The Western Union chief operating officer. In the Asia-Pacific region, only 22% of respondents have asked, or plan to ask, their government for more open immigration employment laws. Worldwide, only 15% of executives say they have asked for more open immigration employment laws. According to the survey, fewer than one in 10 are advocating for processes or programs under their own company name.

“As well as enabling development at home, the ‘mobile workforce’ provides key skills to employers in a host country or region. Serving the world’s mobile workforce is one of our company’s core competencies,” Riingen added.

According to the United Nations Development Program, the international mobile workforce represents more than 200 million people. The research findings indicate that when economic recovery gains momentum, businesses will seek more international employees.

The Economic Intelligence Unit gathered responses from 501 executives at leading global companies; of these, 139 executives were from the Asia-Pacific region.