Getting the Best of Us

Multinational Corporate Networks and the Diffusion of Skill-Selective Immigration Policies

Completed in April, 2019

Populist backlash has emerged as an alarming trend shaping immigration policy across the OECD in recent years. At the same time, a less-sensationalized pattern has appeared in the form of policies designed to attract the highly skilled. In the face of so much anti-immigration sentiment, how can we understand this push for global talent? One possibility is that these seemingly divergent agenda are but two sides of the same coin. Policy-makers and members of the business community point to labor shortages and a global war for talent as justifications for skill-selective policies. Yet some in the academic community contest that the evidence for these concerns is lacking. This gives rise to a two-pronged question. Is there really a competition between states? And how can we understand the role of corporations in advancing the international mobility of the highly skilled?

This dissertation offers my theory of the multinational corporation (MNC) as the instrument of international policy diffusion. I begin by breaking down the process of immigration policymaking in terms of its major players—the public, lawmakers and firms. I explore the preferences and incentives that shape the behaviors of each of these sets of actors and demonstrate that there is a window of political space within which firms have an opportunity to influence policy outcomes. The major contribution of my theory is its contention that the geographic structure of the multinational firm alters the firm’s strategic incentives, making it organizationally unique from the single-nation firm and connecting MNC incentives with policy diffusion.

My dissertation introduces two original datasets. Studies of immigration policy have suffered from the lack of good, comparative data on the vast body of laws and regulations governments use to control immigration. My first dataset fills in a portion of this uncharted space by tracking OECD policies specifically targeting highly skilled migrants from 1980-2017. To test the theory of strategic, MNC-orchestrated policy diffusion, I produce a second dataset of MNC subsidiary locations. These data follow the international expansion of the operations of 25 major, multinational information technology firms from 1989-2017. Together, these datasets represent a substantial empirical contribution to the field. The empirical analysis is bolstered qualitatively by a set of four short case studies examining the emergence of skill-selective strategies in major economies. By leveraging the geographic structure of multinational firms, this project advances our understanding of MNC non-market strategies and how they impact public policy formation around the world.