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A Global Skill Partnership is a bilateral labor migration agreement between equal partners.

The country of destination agrees to provide technology and finance to train potential migrants with targeted skills in the country of origin, prior to migration, and gets migrants with precisely the skills they need to integrate and contribute best upon arrival. The country of origin agrees to provide that training and gets support for the training of non-migrants too – increasing rather than draining human capital.

The defining feature of the Global Skill Partnership is what we call the “dual track” model. Basically, at the start, or during the training, the trainees can pick which track they want to go down: a “home” track for non-migrants, and an “away” track for migrants.

Those who choose to stay are plugged back into the local labour market, with increased skills and earning potential. Those who choose to move also have increased skills and earning potential, and the ability to migrate legally and safely. They could also be provided with additional training in soft skills, for example in different languages or other facets of integration.

Why we created the model

We created the Global Skill Partnership model almost ten years ago for four main reasons:

1. To address demographic imbalances and future migration pressure

The working-age population in high-income countries is declining, owing to a combination of low birth rates and increased longevity. The impact of this shift is already being felt as the private sector in many countries demands an increase in the number of workers available and the types of skills they possess.

At the same time, the working-age population in low and lower-middle income countries is booming. While their economies are growing, there is unlikely to be enough jobs to sustain this new population. We are therefore likely to see increased migration pressure in the decades to come. Managing it in a way that contributes to development on both sides is the only sensible solution.

2. To address skills shortages

The world is experiencing significant skill shortages in professions that require some academic or technical training, namely health care, ICT, construction, hospitality, and tourism. As an example, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2030, the global shortage of healthcare workers will reach 14.5 million people. While all countries are facing shortages, the composition of these shortages is different. For example, many African countries need more primary care nurses, and many European countries need aged-care nurses. Promoting more training and migration in these areas is one way to increase the global stock of health workers.

3. To combat “brain drain”

Many low and lower-middle income countries are understandably worried about “brain drain”, that is, their most qualified workers moving to higher income countries. To combat this, many traditional labor migration models focus on promoting temporary or “circular” migration, or avoid skilled emigration entirely.

But this avoids several key facts: that migration is part of development in both countries of origin and destination; that skilled migration is the only way that substantial numbers will be able to move in a way that is legal and politically palatable; and that a substantial part of that migration will and should be permanent. Our “dual track” approach is a way to increase the global stock of workers and therefore address these concerns.

4. To contribute to development

Rather than being a failure of development, migration is a symptom of it. As people’s incomes rise, they gain both the financial means and the aspiration to move for better work, wages, and educational opportunities.

In moving, migrants increase their income and knowledge, allowing them to spend more on meeting their basic needs and making future investments. In countries of origin, migration can lead to increased wages and greater economic growth through higher incomes, increased remittances, spending, knowledge and technology transfer, and investment by migrant households. In countries of destination, migrants can fill labour gaps and contribute to services, taxes, and social security systems.

Facilitating more migration from low and lower-middle income countries to higher income ones can be a vehic”le for increased development in both. 

Where is it being implemented

There are three Global Skill Partnerships: between Belgium and Morocco in ICT, between Germany and Kosovo in construction, and between Australia and the Pacific Islands in various vocational skills. These are just three of nearly 60 legal migration pathways that are either current or completed around the world.

Belgium and Morocco

This project is called PALIM and is currently in the pilot stage. They are training 120 people in specific ICT skills in need in both Belgium and Morocco. 40 have chosen to join the “away” track and will move to the Flanders region of Belgium, and the other 80 will stay in Morocco. They are now looking to expand the programme to 400 trainees across Morocco and Tunisia, and have spoken about similar projects in Guinea and the Gambia.

Germany and Kosovo

Germany is a world leader on legal migration pathways and has a number of innovative projects in the works all around the world. In 2019, CGD reviewed these, and found their development impact could be enhanced if they moved training into the country of origin. This partnership with Kosovo is just one of a series of construction pilot projects the German development agency GIZ is hoping to implement around the world in the coming years.

Australia and various Pacific Islands

This scheme, called the Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC), has been in place since 2006. It is now in its third stage and has over 15,000 graduates to date, primarily in semi-skilled professions like hospitality, tourism, and various trades, especially construction. It has recently implemented the “dual track” model, working closely with the new Pacific Labour Facility to train for skills in demand in both countries.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is a Global Skill Partnership different from other migration models?

Existing migration models…The Global Skill Partnership…
… Facilitate the entry of already qualified third country professionals. Such models could merely open up visa schemes to third country nationals or couple a new pathway with some investment in language and cultural awareness training.… Targets those without existing skills, and trains them in skills needed in both the country of origin and the country of destination. Most, if not all, training occurs within the country of origin. Those on the “away” track could also receive language and cultural awareness training.
… Do little to support training institutions in countries of origin. Even when language and cultural awareness training is delivered in countries of origin, it usually is delivered through parallel training systems without a connection to local curricula and institutions.… Strengthens training institutions, including investing in curriculum development, equipment, facilities, and the training of trainers. This ensures the country of origin receives a tangible and visible benefit from engaging in such pathways.
… May not explicitly link the third country nationals entering with employer demand. Some migration models liberalize visa systems, or promote the entry of skilled workers, with little regard for specific employer demand. There is therefore little investment in employee integration.… Works directly with employers in countries of destination to ensure entry, placement, and the maximum contribution by migrant trainees. Global Skill Partnerships are explicitly driven by employer demand, and therefore any implementation must engage them in the design of the training program, and the selection and integration of trainees.
… Focus on low- or high-skill professions. Most migration arrangements fall within two buckets. Either they facilitate the short-term (seasonal) entry of low-skill third country workers, often for agricultural or horticultural work, or they facilitate the long-term (often permanent) entry of high-skill third country workers.… Focuses on mid-skill professions. Given the skill shortages demonstrated above, it is in mid-skill professions such as healthcare, construction, engineering, ICT, hospitality, and tourism where an expansion in the number of skilled workers is needed. Given the enduring nature of these shortages, the Global Skill Partnership model could be used to facilitate long-term (two to three years) yet temporary movement, or permanent movement.

Which countries should pursue the Global Skill Partnership?

The Global Skill Partnership is a tool for migration management, so should be implemented between countries of destination and origin with high potential for migration and large labor pressures. However, such partnerships do not need to be between an origin country in the ‘Global South’ and a destination country in the ‘Global North’. In fact, many such agreements have been negotiated between two countries in the ‘Global South’, sometimes with the support and/or funding supplied by partners in the ‘Global North’.

Who needs to be involved?

The Global Skill Partnership model needs to (at least) involve the following actors:

Country of DestinationCountry of OriginOther
Public employment agencies
Public employment agencies
Migrant rights organisations
Private sector companies
Private sector companies
Trade unions
Government ministries: Foreign Affairs, Interior, Development, Labor (and other sectors, e.g. health, as relevant to skill topic).
Government ministries: Foreign Affairs, Interior, Labor (and other sectors, e.g. health, as relevant to skill topic)
Employer associations
State-level authorities
Migration agencies / authorities
Diaspora groups
Integration agencies
Training companies / centers
Migration agencies / authorities

How do countries determine demand for labor and specific skills?

Global experience with skill-selective migration programs shows that they are most beneficial to countries of destination when they meet immediate and highly specific labor demand. Identifying those needs is extremely difficult for programs that do not work directly with employers.

Therefore, demand should be primarily identified by private sector employers themselves, in both the countries of origin and destination. They are the ones offering jobs within certain sectors, who field and sort applications, who understand the specific skills needed for roles in the short- and medium-term, and know the types of training necessary to up-skill people to a necessary level.

These employers must work with public employment agencies who have a macro understanding of the local labor force available, and the available training. In many countries, such mapping shows a lack of targeted skills in some sectors amongst the local workforce. New training is therefore required to meet this demand.

How do Global Skill Partnerships encourage integration in countries of destination?

The model is designed to ensure integration happens seamlessly once migrants arrive in their country of destination, thanks to the training occurring prior to departure. The hard skills training will ensure that migrants will arrive with precisely tailored skills that employers have directly expressed immediate demand for. That means they are in the labor force and interacting with natives in a constructive way from the moment they arrive. And the soft professional skills and integration tools training will ensure that migrants have a good grasp of the cultural and language aspects of their host community. Once the migrants arrive, they would continue to receive integration training, and be plugged in to existing diaspora groups.

Why don’t private companies train unemployed locals/existing migrants to do these jobs?

A Global Skill Partnership is not a panacea. Training opportunities for unemployed locals and existing migrants already exist and should continue to be pursued.

But, when local workers are in short supply, seeking migrant labor is a good alternative. Both the private company and the wider economy suffer from labor market gaps. Migrants can fill these gaps and, in doing so, create new opportunities for local workers. The Global Skill Partnership specifically trains potential migrants to possess exactly the skills and perform precisely the tasks that employers have trouble finding domestically – the tasks that employers need done for them to create more and better jobs for locals.

How will workers’ rights be protected?

Those who graduate from the training program will be offered employment contracts from organizations either in the country of origin or destination. They will therefore have access to the full spectrum of employment rights afforded to anyone else working in that country. This includes guarantees of fair recruitment and employment, fair wages, and benefits. Employees in both countries will be made aware of their rights, and where to seek redress in case there are issues with the employment. Finally, migrants rights organizations and trade unions in both countries will be involved throughout the process to ensure the design and execution of the model conforms to existing standards.

How can you convince political skeptics?

Creating new legal migration pathways is, of course, a difficult task in today’s political climate. There are a growing number of politicians who advocate for closing national borders and reducing immigrant populations. However, we believe that the Global Skill Partnership model is likely to gain traction amongst even conservative members for the following reasons:

  • The number of migrants being admitted is small, and therefore is unlikely to attract much political attention.
  • They have been selected and brought to the country of destination to meet specific skills needs. Analysis has shown that locals are unable to meet these needs.
  • The potential migrants will be screened and vetted before they enter the country of destination, thereby satisfying security concerns.
  • It meets the desire of countries of destination to participate in the ‘development’ of countries of origin (and could use part of the aid budget).
  • It provides countries of destination with a practical and pragmatic way to control migration flows and shift irregular flows into regular pathways, thereby satisfying voter demand for a ‘managed’ immigration policy and better ability to track migrants. 

CGD can also support countries with communications strategies if needed.

Wouldn’t everyone just want to move away from countries of origin?

Not everyone wants to move – people often have families, commitments, cultural preferences and a desire to contribute to the development of their own country. They deserve the ability to do so, with increased skills and broader human capacity. But for those who want to move, they should be able to do so in a safe, regular, and orderly way, benefiting both their country of origin and their eventual country of destination.

What is the degree of circularity?

Global Skill Partnerships are designed from the ground up to ensure that everyone involved gets tangible, visible benefits in the absence of return migration. The needs they target are not short-term but structural and long-term. That said, if countries mutually agree to assist some migrants in circular migration, additional benefits could accrue to the destination including the transfer of ideas for technologies and new businesses.

The degree of circularity will therefore depend on the precise scheme and the preferences of the country of destination. Some schemes offer short-term visas which encourage circularity. Others offer multi-year visas which open the possibility of permanent residency and citizenship. Given the explicit focus of the model on development and increasing human capital at the country of origin, the degree of circularity is less important.

Who pays?

The preferential source of funding is the private sector, or through a public-private partnership. Ideally, the model would become self-sustaining over time (with private fees to employers, trainees etc) without any cost to the country of origin. Of course, there may be other funding sources available (for example, through the European Commission) but these are unlikely to be sustainable.

How will this scale?

Given the demographic projections, demand for Global Skill Partnership-like legal migration pathways will be huge in the decades to come. We acknowledge that the Global Skill Partnership model will likely only reach a small fraction of the demand in both countries of origin and destination. We do not purport that the Global Skill Partnership model could (or should) be scaled to meet the entirety of this demand. Rather it is one tool which can be used to manage migration in a mutually beneficial way. If, and when, scaling does occur, it will need to be based on rigorously evaluated pilots to test the design and ensure it is realizing the benefits promised.

How could the Global Skill Partnerships be ‘bundled’ with other agreements?

The Global Skill Partnership is merely one tool which can be used within a package of migration and development policies, negotiated between a country of origin and destination. For example, it could sit alongside returning irregular migrants; combatting trafficking; providing development aid to the country of origin; and bolstering security and democracy efforts in the country of origin. Indeed, it is often by using such existing agreements that the first steps towards a GSP can be taken.

Will this displace irregular migration?

Given demographic pressure and economic drivers in both countries of destination and origin, legal migration pathways are necessary, but may not be sufficient to reduce irregular migration. They can but only if paired with robust border enforcement; and if they alter incentives for irregular migration. Part of the latter is obviously broader development/aid efforts, ostensibly to address the drivers of migration (and therefore reduce it).

To combat the desire for migration, aid should focus on overall economic growth, job creation for youth, conflict resolution, and human rights. Aid can have an effect on these things, but literature shows it won’t be sufficient to greatly reduce emigration. It would need to work in in unprecedented ways, at much higher levels of funding, over generations, to greatly affect some of the most important plausible drivers. Indeed, much of our research shows that even if aid does have a positive effect (and therefore increase development), migration is likely to increase, at least in the short term. Therefore pathways like the GSP are necessary to meet the immediate labor demand.

GSP in Action