23 Feb

Geographical Review Preview: Scalar Politics and Network Relations in the Governance of Highly Skilled Migration

By: Micheline van Riemsdijk

A photo from a scale and network map created for the project.

What is the main purpose of your study? 
The study examines how private and voluntary actors try to influence policymaking for highly skilled migrants, using a case study of the recruitment of foreign-born engineers to the petroleum industry in Norway.

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study? 
The study examines how private and voluntary actors try to influence policymaking through cooperation at the national and local level. The findings show that government authorities retain their decision-making power at the national level in contentious issues. For example, government agencies are willing to speed up the decision-making time on residency permit applications. They refuse, however, to give tax breaks to “privileged” migrants, underlining the importance of equal rights for all. Municipalities may be more willing to cooperate with local actors, for example by saving kindergarten spots for children of highly skilled migrants.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
Most studies of highly skilled migration have examined migration policies and government actors at the national level. This article investigates how private and voluntary actors try to influence skilled migration policymaking at the national and local level, bringing the local level into studies of highly skilled migration. Through an analysis of interviews with various stakeholders, the study provides a more in-depth understanding of the ways in which private and voluntary actors shape the recruitment and retention of highly skilled migrants.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study? 
The strategies that private and voluntary actors use to try to influence highly skilled migration policymaking depends on their location. Private actors in Oslo aim to shape national-level debates by organizing conferences, inviting representatives of government agencies as conference speakers, and commissioning reports. Private actors in Stavanger, the “energy capital of Norway,” use their networks to improve the situation of highly skilled migrants at the local level. They are more focused on problem-solving at the local level, while stakeholders in Oslo try to “scale up” their agendas to the national scale. This difference in strategies may be attributed to stakeholders’ proximity to national decision-makers.

The findings also show that the state firmly retains its decision-making power in issues related to highly skilled migration. Government agencies are willing to cooperate on non-controversial issues, but they clearly delineate their influence in politically charged topics. Thus, the Directorate of Immigration is willing to speed up the decision-making time on residency applications submitted by highly skilled migrants, but the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs refuses to consider tax breaks for “elite” migrants. In the latter case, the ministry emphasizes the Nordic welfare state’s ideal of equal access and opportunity for all.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study? 
Theoretically, the study brings together literatures on scale and networks to better understand how the governance of highly skilled migration works. First, the study shows the scalar politics (i.e. the “vertical” relations that actors develop) and network relations (i.e. the “horizontal” connections that actors make) in the governance of highly skilled migration. This analysis helps us better understand how scaling, rescaling, and network modes of governance work in practice. Second, the research adds a local perspective. Even though local actors have little decision-making power, they can “scale up” an issue to the attention of national policymakers. They can also “shift out” an issue by creating a network with private and voluntary actors to try to influence policymakers.

How does your research help us think about Geography? 
The research helps us think about geography in two ways. First, it shows the importance of place in the governance strategies of private actors. Actors who are located close to the seat of national power, Oslo, try to bring highly skilled migration issues to the attention of national policymakers and lobbying organizations. Actors who are located further away from the capital city, as is the case in Stavanger, tend to focus on initiatives that can improve the situation of highly skilled migrants at the local level. Second, the study shows that scale matters in governance decisions. National government agencies are willing to make concessions on low-stake issues such as the processing times for residence applications, but they clearly mark their turf when it comes to tax breaks for highly skilled migrants. This issue shows the “limit to scale,” as private actors were unable to influence the decision of national policymakers in a politically charged issue.

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Click here to read the abstract of this article.