Are Offshoring and Immigration Substitutes for Canada

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					John F. Helliwell
Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and
University of British Columbia

Are Offshoring and Immigration
Substitutes for Canada?*


I   NDUSTRY CANADA ORIGINALLY PROPOSED the     question in the title as the
   basis for a research paper. Because of the lack of data suitable for
framing and testing a quantitative model, the resulting paper instead
provides some tentative estimates of the relative sizes of immigration
and offshoring in the Canadian context, specifically in the context of
skilled services. Very approximate estimates suggest that immigration
and offshoring each currently add in the neighbourhood of 20 000 to
25 000 full-time equivalent employees every year to the supply of high-
skill services in Canada. Substitutability between the two types of
supply is suggested by evidence that the difficulties faced by recent
immigrants in finding jobs in their intended occupations are especially
prevalent in highly skilled engineering and IT services. These are
activities where there have been significant increases in the level of
offshoring. Over the longer term, continued growth of offshoring is
likely to reduce the relative importance of immigration as a source of
skills, while both immigration and offshoring are likely to proceed more
efficiently and flexibly because of the existence and sizable scale of the

  This is the revised version, February 2007, of a paper prepared for the
Industry Canada Offshoring Project.



    ways of filling gaps between supply and demand in Canadian labour
and product markets, especially those relating to the provision of skilled
services. The evidence, limited as it inevitably is, shows that offshoring
and immigration are substitutes in some ways — the same services can
be provided by immigrants as by otherwise comparable workers
employed in other countries, perhaps even the same countries from
which the migrants are drawn. There is also an element of
complementarity, as immigration flows and the resulting stocks of
foreign-born Canadians provide ready-made networks capable of
providing the high level of trust-based “reputational intermediation”
(Kapur 2001) required to support successful offshoring.
     An important related issue, considered only in this overview,
relates to the ways in which Canadian education, training and research
opportunities affect the attractiveness of offshoring and immigration as
alternative means of meeting Canada’s future labour requirements,
especially those requiring high skills. Canadian universities and
research institutions have made huge strides over the past three
decades. Canada has changed from being almost entirely reliant on
foreign universities as sources of highly trained researchers to being the
dominant source of domestic research and graduate training and to
becoming a major producer for the international market. This affects
the interface between offshoring and immigration in several ways.
Foreign-born graduate students may stay on to work in Canada, may
return to their source countries or may move on to third countries for
further research and employment. In especially the first two of these
three possible cases, the result is a set of networks that can motivate
and direct the structure of subsequent immigration and trade, including
offshoring. Such networks are important for successful offshoring,
especially for the provision of services with a high-skill component.
Success in these cases is measured by the extent to which the offshoring
melds smoothly with Canadian value-added in the venture, exploiting
comparative advantage in ways that improve economic and well-being
(more broadly defined) outcomes for all concerned.


     As with all cost-benefit analyses, it is important to establish a
benchmark, an alternative situation to which the offshoring option can
be compared. This is particularly tricky in the case of offshoring because
of the rapid growth, both actual and forecast, in the extent of
international service trade, especially between industrial and emerging
economies. Since the analysis in the paper is mainly by analogy and
comparison, it is less essential than normal to develop precise
definitions of the offshoring and non-offshoring cases or to define the
triggering circumstances and consequences that differentiate them.
      The paper integrates a selected body of research while also
attempting to place the Canadian research and policy implications on
offshoring into a broader international context. The paper also
considers the extent to which public policies of various types purposely
or inadvertently affect the nature and consequences of the interface
between offshoring and immigration. Offshoring is not driven by
specific policy intent, at least in the countries importing such services. It
is better seen as an inevitable element in the internationalization of the
service sector that is supported primarily by low-cost information
transfer and a set of trust-supporting networks built on a base of prior
international migration and education.
     Policy interest in offshoring, especially in the United States (for
example, Garner 2004; Mankiw and Swagel 2006), has been driven
chiefly by the perceived or actual employment consequences for
domestic employees whose jobs are being “offshored.” This sort of
reaction is a repeat, at a higher skill level, of earlier concerns raised
about freer manufacturing trade with low-wage counties and about
immigration. Canada, as a relatively trade-dependent and low-cost
player in many of the key sectors, is in a position to see both sides of
these issues.
     Canada is a cost-effective service supplier to the United States and
other OECD markets while also purchasing such services from lower-
cost countries and playing an increasing entrepreneurial role in the
global industry that is evolving to implement offshoring. These facts
underlie a relatively laissez-faire Canadian policy stance with respect to
offshoring in general. However, it is clear that there are ways in which
existing policies may inadvertently affect outcomes, while there are also
likely to be new ways in which policy frameworks can be altered to
mitigate the costs and increase the benefits of both offshoring and



I  N MY PAPER for the 2004 Jackson Hole Conference (Helliwell 2004b),
   I analyzed the extent to which international factor mobility, especially
of capital and labour, would help to deal with the problems posed by
foreseeable demographic transitions, especially the decline of the share
of the population in the 20-to-64 age range in many countries. The
surveyed evidence and new results in the paper together suggest three
points relevant to the current topic. The first point is that migration
remains a rare event, is supported by established pathways and reflects
labour market imbalances only slightly and with long lags (based on the
footprint effect from previous migration flows). Second, migration is
costly. Third, outsourcing can be seen as an alternative to migration as
means of dealing with labour market variations that may emerge in the
course of demographic and other transitions. This last point is the focus
of the current paper.
      How do these lines of research relate to the evaluation of
outsourcing and immigration as alternative ways of providing timely
Canadian matching of the supply of and demand for skills over the
coming decades? First, as already suggested above, there is much
evidence that migration is costly for the migrants, for the friends, family
and colleagues they leave behind, and for their new communities. Many
of these costs relate to the pace of migration and are likely to be lower
where the pace is moderate enough to permit the necessary adjustments
to be made in both the receiving and sending communities. This is true
even in a narrow economic calculus but becomes much more apparent
when the analysis is extended to broader measures of well-being
(Helliwell 2004a, 2004b). This invites more explicit comparisons of the
well-being effects of migration and of outsourcing as alternative ways of
balancing domestic and global markets for skills.
      Second, research on well-being focused directly on the workplace
(Helliwell and Huang 2005) shows that overall life satisfaction depends
very much on the extent of workplace trust and on a number of other
elements of workplace social capital. It thus becomes relevant to
consider the extent to which these workplace characteristics are easier
to build and maintain under different alternative patterns of
immigration and offshoring.



E    STABLISHING WHETHER, and to what extent, offshoring and
     immigration are related as sources of services, it is necessary to
have some data on the scale of each. Ideally, the data would divide
offshoring and immigration comparably by industry, occupation and
skill level and record both in a time-series format. Unfortunately, these
pre-conditions for conventional econometric analysis of interrelated
factor demands are not met. How should we proceed in the absence of
the basic data required for conventional modelling? I suggest the
following strategy: first get some idea of the scale and growth of
immigration and offshoring at an aggregate level; second, use informal
methods to assess which industries or skills are likely to be important
for either or both offshoring and immigration; and third, consider in
theory how we might expect offshoring and immigration to be
influenced by specific changes in policies or exogenous events.
      If the latter analysis produces some strong hypotheses for testing,
then it might be possible to see what sorts of evidence might cast
further light on the issue. If it turns out that there are some changes in
policy that might alter the relative contributions of offshoring and
immigration, and achieve more efficient Canadian labour markets, then
it would be necessary to consider the economic and non-economic well-
being consequences of the policy alternatives.
      How do the labour market and other consequences of migration
and offshoring compare in likely scale? Perhaps the best estimate of the
current and possible future scale of offshoring of services in major
industrial countries, including Canada, is that by the McKinsey Global
Institute (Farrell et al. 2005, Parts I, II and III). Using these data as a
benchmark, it should be possible to compare the scale of the labour
market consequences of these levels of offshoring with those of current
and expected migration levels. More approximately, it might be possible
to be specific by industry and skill and to make some rough estimates of
the possible degree of substitutability.
      In 2003, offshoring of services in the eight sectors studied by
McKinsey affected about 565 000 jobs or about 0.6 percent of
developed country non-agricultural employment. IT services and
packaged software comprise more than two thirds of the estimated
global total in the eight key sectors analyzed (Farrell, Laboissière and
Pascal et al. 2005, Part I, 19). The same authors forecast a likely annual
growth rate of 20 percent from 2003 to 2008. This would amount to
annual increases of 20 000 Canadian job-equivalents over the next
30 years. Canadian non-agricultural employment was about 15 million
in 2003. To the extent that Canada was typical of the industrial
countries surveyed by Farrell et al. (2005, Parts I, II and III), then the


2003 level of offshored Canadian service jobs would have been about
90 000, increasing by about 18 000 per year to 2008, and about 20 000
per year over the following 30 years.
     How do these offshoring flows relate to Canadian immigration
numbers for those with comparable skills? Table 1 shows the numbers
of new landed immigrants with declared occupations for the years
between 1980 and 2003. From a base of about 20 000 per year in 1980,
the flows fell sharply in the early 1980s, followed by a fairly steady rise
from 1985 on, reaching an annual flow of 50 000 at the turn of the
century, and averaging slightly more than that through 2003. Even
more remarkable increases were posted by the numbers of declared IT
professionals and engineers, who totalled fewer than 500 immigrants
per year in the middle 1980s, rising to more than 25 000 per year from
2000–2002. (It would be useful to know what part of these increases
was made up of conversions from student visas to landed immigrant
status.) Thus, after a very rough approximation, it would appear that, in
the industries and occupations most relevant to both offshoring and
immigration, current levels are of the same order of magnitude, with
immigration currently being larger than offshoring.

        TABLE 1

                                                                                                    Total with
       NOC        IT                          Other                        Service,   Other         Occupation
       4-3-2      Professionals   Engineers   Professionals   Management   Sales      Occupations   Codes

                                                                                                                 ARE OFFSHORING AND IMMIGRATION SUBSTITUTES FOR CANADA?
       1980       823             654         6268            1900         3708       8139          21492
       1981       1436            1315        7565            2170         4073       10022         26581
       1982       1699            1383        6610            2238         3434       7799          23163
       1983       402             348         2523            1407         2580       4099          11359
       1984       220             213         2193            1087         3979       4841          12533
       1985       175             182         2245            1059         4200       4282          12143
       1986       414             275         3266            1458         5263       7082          17758
       1987       1221            733         8312            3406         7688       13828         35188
       1988       1166            593         11418           3971         5104       7813          30065
       1989       667             699         10520           4006         6433       8634          30959
       1990       926             1000        9972            5038         6959       10395         34290
       1991       1267            875         8304            3737         7828       13277         35288
       1992       1902            887         7746            4508         8554       11598         35195
       1993       3490            1434        9253            4768         9559       9171          37675
       1994       4162            2120        12459           3882         7905       3797          34325
       1995       5669            3192        16043           2285         6257       5743          39189
       1996       7394            4703        20277           2476         6212       5189          46251
       1997       8582            5682        21093           2252         6144       4132          47885
       1998       8181            4930        15024           1941         4486       4018          38580
       H M O
                            N                           V T

                                                                 TABLE 1 (CONT’D)
                                                                                                                                                                         Total with
                                                                NOC        IT                                Other                              Service,   Other         Occupation
                                                                4-3-2      Professionals      Engineers      Professionals      Management      Sales      Occupations   Codes

                                                                1999       11832              6648           15495              2200            4042       3939          44156
                                                                2000       15569              9218           18921              2995            4887       2895          54485
                                                                2001       17301              10148          21611              3808            5385       2990          61243
                                                                2002       14507              8896           20843              3201            4914       3000          55361
                                                                2003       11231              6967           14165              2293            3551       2310          40517

                                                                As proportion                                                   As Proportion   Profess-
                                                                of total                      Engineers                         of Total        ionals     Engineers

                                                                1980       0.038              0.030                             1992            0.054      0.025
                                                                1981       0.054              0.049                             1993            0.093      0.038
                                                                1982       0.073              0.060                             1994            0.121      0.062
                                                                1983       0.035              0.031                             1995            0.145      0.081
                                                                1984       0.018              0.017                             1996            0.160      0.102
                                                                1985       0.014              0.015                             1997            0.179      0.119
                                                                1986       0.023              0.015                             1998            0.212      0.128
                                                                1987       0.035              0.021                             1999            0.268      0.151
                                                                1988       0.039              0.020                             2000            0.286      0.169
                                                                1989       0.022              0.023                             2001            0.282      0.166
                                                                1990       0.027              0.029                             2002            0.262      0.161
                                                                1991       0.036              0.025                             2003            0.277      0.172

                                                                   Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada Landing Records


D    ID THIS SHARP INCREASE in the share of economic migrants with
     high levels of education and in high-skill occupations ameliorate
the settling-in difficulties faced by recent cohorts of immigrants to
Canada? If selective immigration has been helpful in meeting the joint
needs of employers and immigrants, this would contribute to the case
for using immigration as a cost-effective alternative to offshoring in
meeting employment needs, at least in those fields where both options
are feasible. On the other hand, if high-skill migrants have shared
equally or more in the increased settlement difficulties of recent cohorts
of immigrants, then this would appear to lessen the advantages of
immigration relative to offshore purchase of services.
     The Longitudinal Administrative Database (LAD) and the
Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC) (Statistics Canada
2005) provide some data relevant to this issue. Picot et al. (2007) have
used the LAD-IMDB file, which combines data from tax files and
immigration records, to estimate the level and persistence of poverty
among recent cohorts of immigrants compared with demographically
similar groups of non-immigrants. They show that, for each of the
cohorts entering in 1992–2003, the relative frequency of being below
the low-income cut-off is about three times that of the comparison
group in the year of entry. The figure falls to about double that of the
comparison group after 10 years in Canada.
     There is no improvement in this pattern among more recent
cohorts despite the fact that the percentage of immigrants with degrees
rose from 18 percent in the 1993 cohort to almost 43 percent in the 1999
cohort. There is no corresponding improvement in average immigrant
success because the incidence of low-incomes among degree-holding
immigrants in these cohorts is almost as high as among immigrants
with high-school education or less. The combination of these two
circumstances explains why degree-holders made up about 12 percent
of low-income immigrant families in 1993 and 36 percent in the 1999
     This is in stark contrast to the situation in the rest of the economy,
where the prevalence of low-income status is much lower among
degree-holders. Picot and Hou (2003, Table 5) report low-income
prevalence among non-immigrant males aged 25 and over at
4.8 percent for those with university degrees, compared with 18 percent
among those with less than a high-school education. By contrast, for
recent male immigrants in the same age and occupation group, the low-
income prevalence in 2000 was 28 percent for those with university


degrees, compared with 35 percent for those with less than a high-
school education.
     Focusing especially on workers in high-tech fields, Picot and Hou
(2003, Table 7) report that in 2000 the prevalence of low-income status
was 24.2 percent among recent immigrant male graduates aged 24 to 44
working in engineering and applied science technologies. In contrast,
for Canadian-born male graduates of the same age and working in the
same fields, the prevalence of low-income status in 2000 was at
3.5 percent, only one-seventh as great. Even for the subset of recent
immigrant graduates speaking English or French at home and working
in engineering and applied science technologies, low-income status in
2000 was at 19.4 percent, more than five times greater than among the
     As might be expected, immigrants coming to Canada with higher
education have higher expectations about their economic success than
do immigrants with less education. Therefore, their actual experience
has led to an even greater degree of disappointment. For example, the
LSIC shows that skilled-worker immigrants were more likely than other
immigrants to have entered the labour market (Statistics Canada 2005,
Table 8.4) and to have used a broader range of job-finding techniques
(Statistics Canada 2005, Table 8.1); nonetheless, they reported a greater
degree of difficulty in finding employment (Statistics Canada 2005,
Table 8.17). This gap between expectations and experience presumably
also helps to explain why skilled workers and their families were more
likely than other immigrants to find themselves dissatisfied with their
experience in Canada (Statistics Canada 2005, Figure 10.1).
     Evidence from the Equality, Security and Community (ESC) survey
provides life satisfaction measures suggesting that recent immigrants,
even those who have found employment, have not fared as well as might
be hoped. Appendix 1 of Helliwell, Huang and Putnam (2007) shows
that, in the ESC sample of employed workers, life satisfaction among
immigrants is significantly less than in the rest of the sample. This
lower life satisfaction does not appear to originate in the workplace,
however, as job satisfaction and trust in management are at least as
high among immigrants as in the rest of the population.
     What explains this apparent contrast? Disaggregated analysis of
the ESC data reveals that immigrant reports of lower life satisfaction are
found only among more recent (post-1990) immigrants, while higher
job satisfaction is found among immigrants of longer standing. The
lower levels of life satisfaction among recent migrants (and the
associated lower levels of social trust) may be related to the
predominantly urban destinations of recent migrants, as the difficulties
of building supporting social networks in a new environment are greater
in an urban setting and repeated and sustained contacts often harder to


achieve in large cities. The ESC results further reveal that the lower life
satisfaction of recent immigrants, compared with longer-standing
immigrants and the Canadian-born, is much greater among those with
university degrees. This is consistent with the Statistics Canada
evidence reported previously — that disappointment among recent
migrants is greater among those with higher levels of education and


W     ITH WHAT SORTS OF CHANGES         in underlying circumstances are
       immigration and offshoring likely to rise or fall together? The
most likely sources of such co-movements are likely to include changes
in underlying labour market conditions relating to services or skills
provided by both. The anticipated demography-induced fall in
aggregate labour force growth is perhaps the most commonly discussed
situation of this sort.
     Under what circumstances is offshore purchase of services likely to
be preferred to increasing immigration, either temporary or long-term?
     Offshoring is likely to be preferred where the shortage is of services
that can be easily delivered electronically rather than face-to-face.
Examples of easily transportable services include diagnostic
radiography, software design and call centres. Examples requiring
physical presence would include nursing care, home help, mine work
and agricultural harvesting. Some of the latter group of services are
sometimes provided by temporary migrants or guest workers. Where
services require personal delivery, high language skills and
acculturation, then immigration is likely to be preferred over either
offshoring or temporary migration. In this latter case, the list of
preferred options is likely to include early immigration, e.g., at the stage
of graduate or post-graduate education, so that the language skills and
local knowledge are available before the individuals enter the labour
market. To complicate the analysis still further, the cohorts of foreign-
born students in Canadian education or research institutes are likely to
bolster not only the supply of locally trained potential migrants but also
returnees to their home countries or migrants to third countries, who
are then well-placed to facilitate subsequent offshoring.
     Immigration is likely to be preferred where the needs or niches are
seen to be long-term in nature and are seen to aid geographic
population pressures within Canada. Traditional waves of migration to
Canada were associated with opening up new regions, for which the
populations typically involved a mix of within-Canada and overseas


migrants. There are still situations where immigration from abroad is
seen to be the most effective means of filling far-flung spaces and
positions. Examples include health care and other services in remote
locations. However, in recent decades, this situation has been altered by
two forces.
     First, and most important, Canada’s major metropolitan areas have
been getting far more than their population share of immigrants from
abroad. Second, even those immigrants who were selected and came
with an eye to the delivery of far-flung services have often not stayed for
long in the remote locations, suggesting that such targeting may not be
the most effective long-term way to supply services to far-flung regions.
Aside from being short-term, and subject to Charter challenge if
attempts are made to make it last longer, targeted migration of that type
is probably less effective than current experiments to entice and train
locals (who have a revealed preference for living in their home regions),
with as much of the training as possible delivered close to home.
     Another case where migration is seen by some as a preferred
means (relative to offshoring) of obtaining skilled services is based on a
view that, in the absence of either an upsurge in birth rates or a large
growth in migration, the national population growth rate will shrink to
levels that threaten Canada and Canadians in some ways. Some
argument of this sort seems to underlie much discussion of
demographic futures in many nations.
     Since substituting immigration for offshoring affects the size of the
resulting Canadian population, any cost-benefit analysis comparing the
two possibilities must depend to some extent on the evidence linking
population size to welfare. What does the evidence show? If we consider
national average data for 65 countries included in wave four of the
World Values Survey, there is a significant (p<.009) negative
correlation between population size (in log form) and GDP per capita
(at purchasing power parity, measured relative to the United States, in
log form). There is also a significant negative correlation between
population size and average measures of life satisfaction (p<.09) and
the aggregate measure of governmental quality (p<.002), found by
Helliwell and Huang (2006) to be the leading correlate of international
differences in average levels of life satisfaction. Thus, there does not
appear to be any evidence of aggregate national population-based
economies of scale — either for income or for broader measures well-
being — to support the common presumption that bigger is better.
     Another reason that might be offered for larger populations might
relate to power or influence. Bigger countries matter more on the world
stage, it might be argued. Even if this line of argument had more
theoretical appeal than it does, the scope for any feasible changes in
population policy to alter Canada’s relative population size is rather


limited. It is somewhat surprising how quickly demographic analysis in
many countries has shifted from concern about global overpopulation to
concern in many countries (with the striking exception of those in
Africa) that populations may be stabilizing or shrinking under current
fertility patterns. In some countries, this concern is based on doubts
about the ability of current fiscal transfers and pension regimes to be
viable in the presence of continuing increases in the population shares
in the older age groups. Applied to Canada, this line of argument would
appear to have little traction, for two reasons. First, simulation studies
considering different hypothetical levels of immigration to Canada have
not shown any clear implications for fiscal sustainability. Second, recent
Canadian reforms to ensure the long-term fiscal sustainability of public
pensions have been described as so successful as to make the Canadian
system among the demographically robust in the OECD.


W     HAT INFERENCES MIGHT BE POSSIBLE        from the limited information
       available about the scale and nature of immigration and
offshoring as alternative elements of Canada’s future? First, and most
obviously, both immigration and offshoring are already, and will
continue to be, important and mutually supporting elements in the
evolution of the Canadian economy and society. Second, offshoring and
immigration might be seen as alternative ways of meeting Canadian
labour needs; education and training and the use of temporary workers
are other possibilities to be considered. Third, immigration is likely to
involve a higher degree of long-term commitment and to involve larger
adjustments in Canadian and partner communities abroad, than does
offshoring. Fourth, the economic and social costs faced by recent
cohorts of highly skilled immigrants suggest that more attention is
required to ensure that they and future cohorts of migrants are more
easily integrated into the Canadian economic and social fabric. Fifth,
over the longer run, expansion of offshoring relative to immigration will
lead to a smaller Canadian population, especially in the major cities.
Since these cities are in any event likely to be expanding at substantial
rates, this is likely to add to the overall attractiveness of the offshoring
option. Finally, both immigration and offshoring are likely to have
gained in efficiency because of the existence of the other, and both are
likely to add strength and resilience to the networks that facilitate
Canada’s trade, political and social linkages with the rest of the world.
     It is possible, but thus far untested, that some substitution between
offshoring and immigration has shown up in the first instance, not as a
decline in the number of immigrants, but as a decline in the number of


jobs available in Canada for highly skilled migrants intending to work in
just those services where offshoring has grown. Economic analysis of
costs and benefits and broader analysis of well-being may both indicate
that long-distance provision of services by those who remain in their
home communities may be an increasingly sustainable alternative to
large-scale migration, whether within or among nations.


I   N REVISING THE PAPER, I have been aided by suggestions from Madan
    Ghosh, Steven Tzeferakos and Someshwar Rao.

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Garner, C. Alan. 2004. “Offshoring in the Service Sector: Economic
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———. 2004b. “Demographic Changes and International Factor
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