Academic Literature

Highly-Skilled Migration in US – LinkedIn data show a decrease, from 2000 to 2012, in the percentage of professional migrants, worldwide

There is a large body of literature, mainly in the disciplines of sociology, demography, economics, and geography, about international migration, and, more specifically, highly-skilled migration. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss theories of migration and the rich and healthy debate about them. With this article we emphasize an outstanding problem in migration research: the lack of timely, consistent and comparative data sources about international migrants. We address the issue by proposing an analysis based on new and innovative data from LinkedIn, the largest online platform for professionals. More specifically, we investigate recent trends in the composition of international students and highly-educated migrants in the US. We hope that presenting new empirical findings in an interdisciplinary context will contribute to improvements in our theoretical understanding of migration dynamics.

We investigate trends in the international migration of professional workers by analyzing a dataset of millions of geolocated career histories provided by LinkedIn, the largest online platform for professionals. The new dataset confirms that the United States is, in absolute terms, the top destination for international migrants. However, we observe a decrease, from 2000 to 2012, in the percentage of professional migrants, worldwide, who have the United States as their country of destination. The pattern holds for persons with Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD degrees alike, and for individuals with degrees from highly-ranked worldwide universities. Our analysis also reveals the growth of Asia as a major professional migration destination during the past twelve years. Although we see a decline in the share of employment-based migrants going to the United States, our results show a recent rebound in the percentage of international students who choose the United States as their destination.

Trends in highly skilled migration to the US

We tracked the proportion of migrants whose destination was the United States, out of all migrants observed during a particular calendar year, for the period 1990-2012. Figure 1 shows the fraction of world migrants who moved to the United States, over time. The trends are broken down by level of education and by sector of employment (STEM vs. non-STEM). In our sample of LinkedIn users we observed a slight increase of the conditional probability of migrating to the United States during the 1990s, fol- lowed by a downward trend after the year 2000.

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The trend that we observed suggests that a smaller fraction of highly skilled migrants seeking employment have made their way to the United States as the first decade of the 21st century progressed. The patterns that we observed could be related to both increasing opportunities outside the United States or a reduction of the demand in the United States. For instance, during the first decade of the 21st century, the United States experienced two major economic crises: the collapse of the “dot-com bubble” during 1999-2001, and the financial crisis of 2008. These crises adversely affected opportunities for immigrants in the United States. The nature of our dataset has allowed us to assess the decline in migration likelihoods by educational attainment at the time of migration. As Figure 1 shows, 33% of professional migrants with Bachelors’ degrees achieved by the time of migration were likely to reach the US in the year 2000, compared to 17% in 2012. Analogous figures are 27% in 2000 and 12% in 2012 for migrants with Master’s degrees, 29% (2000) and 18% (2012) for migrants with PhDs.

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