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Despite the increasingly positive perception of highly-skilled (labour) migrants from the perspective of receiving countries, pinning down a definition of high-skilled migration is a complex issue. The resulting ambiguity hinders the measurement of human capital, stymies meaningful international comparisons of the mobility of skills and undermines the evaluation of immigration policies. In this paper, we adopt three alternative stances to conceptualise high-skilled migration: from the perspective of those responsible for recording immigrants at the country level, from the standpoint of the methodologies that underpin countries’ occupational nomenclatures and lastly an inductive approach that classifies high skilled migrants based upon nations’ unilateral immigration policies. Each of the three approaches is contentious such that we identify three major discordances: a definitional discordance whereby the same individual may be deemed as highly skilled depending upon the variables used to define them, an occupational discordance whereby the same individual may be classified as highly skilled depending upon the occupational classification used to record them and a policy discordance whereby individuals defined similarly and working in the same occupations may be considered as highly skilled or otherwise depending upon the prevailing immigration policies. We discuss all three discordances in detail, before making recommendations to remedy each of them.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

Publication Date




Total pages



High Skill, Human Capital, International Migration, Labour