Immigration in IT: Choosing your new home objectively

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So, you have decided to move your ass someplace else, seeking a better life. The whole world is at your feet, but "the whole world" is not a specific place where you can be. You have to choose, if not a city, at least a country. Nowadays, there are plenty of places where your career can skyrocket, and you can have a great quality of life. Of course, it depends on your definition of the "quality of life". In this article, we will try to set subjective factors that drive your decision aside. We will look at the numbers in different areas to rate and, later on, filter our potential relocation prospects for the next X years.

If you are more comfortable reading in Russian check out this article on habr.com.

Criteria

Before we do the measurement itself, we need to know what to measure. So what do we expect from our new home?

  1. Freedom! Freedom of speech, freedom of political and religious views, functional democratic institutes.
  2. No corruption... Ok, let's leave ponies and unicorns in our hopefully happy childhood memories. As little corruption as possible. I would like to see where my taxes go.
  3. Powerful economy. Free market, relaxed regulations, highly diversified high-tech economy. Living off oil and gas is not a good long-term vision.
  4. Wealth, comfort, safety. As software engineers, we can make decent money at any point of the globe. However, our well-being is not everything. Well-being of our neighbors, who are not software engineers, matters as well. Let's just suppose that when the basic needs are satisfied, human beings tend to get creative, self-improve, create new breakthrough companies, and, therefore, lead the nation to new highs. I am not a socialist in any way. I am just saying that your new Tesla might not make you half as happy if dozens of people next to you barely make enough money for food and clothes.
  5. Soft immigration policy. Permanent residence in X years. Passport in X + Y years. Work permit for your spouse.
  6. Moderate taxes. Who wants to pay more, right?
  7. Hot IT job market. Yes, there are plenty of remote opportunities, but, most probably, you will need a local job to get that work visa.
  8. Science. Well-developed and well-sponsored science. Let's just suppose it will lead to more innovation in the technological sector of the economy. Moreover, I, personally, would love to believe that at some point in my life I will do research. After all, I might get tired of making my React application draw just another form to save just another JSON with user data to the database.
  9. Strong army. "People who do not want to feed their own army will soon be forced to feed someone else's." That is, allegedly, Mr. Napoleon Bonaparte, not me.
  10. Immigrant integration and language. Ideally, people should care not where you come from, but what human being are you. Ideally, they should speak English. I can barely come up with a 10-word sentence without 10 mistakes in it, please, do not make me learn another language!
  11. Strong passport that allows as many visa-free entries to different countries as possible.

Approach

To be at least relatively object we will not base our judgment on beautiful or not so beautiful stories and videos of various bloggers, vloggers, and who-knows-what-loggers. Instead, I suggest using indices by, in most cases, non-profit independent organizations.

  1. Freedom
    1. Freedom House. Locates in the USA. They promise a rating of political and civil liberties in 210 countries. Founded in 1941. Funded, mostly, with US federal grants.
  2. Corruption
    1. Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. Located in Berlin, Germany. Transparent, publish annual budget reports. There is a huge list of those, who chip in for the research.
  3. Economy
    1. Index of Economic Freedom by American Heritage Foundation. Mostly funded by individuals. Who exactly? I wish I knew.
    2. The Global Competitiveness Report by World Economic Forum. Powerful community with 50-year history. They claim a remarkable list of partners. They publish an annual report on how they spend the money. However, it is unclear how much they get from each partner.
    3. Atlas of Economic Complexity by Growth Lab in Harvard.
  4. Wealth, comfort, and safety
    1. Human Development Index by United Nations Development Programme. Funded mostly by European Union and North America. 100% transparent.
    2. Gross National Income per Capita and Average Annual Wages by OECD. Funded by 37 countries. Transparent structure and budget.
    3. Victims of Intentional Homicide by UNODC. Yep. United Nations itself. Lots of docs on where the money comes from.
  5. Army
    1. SIPRI Military Expenditure by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It is unclear how exactly they spend their budget, but they have a detailed list of those, who provide it.
  6. IT job market
    1. Let's take a number of job openings on LinkedIn and divide it by the population in millions. For Russia, we will get the vacancies from the local resource - hh.ru.
  7. Immigrant integration and language
    1. Migrant IntegrationPolicy Index. There is a list of partners and experts. I could not find the detailed info on the budget.
    2. EF English Proficiency Index. Since there is no huge "Donate" button on the website, I assume the organization is commercial. Private commercial organization. So no reports. Sorry, I could not find anything better. At least they sponsored the Olympics several times.
  8. Passport strength
    1. Passport Index by Arton Capital. "Capital", kind of, gives us a hint about the commercial nature of the organization. Unfortunately, nothing better.
  9. Science
    1. Let's take "Share" value from Nature Index and divide it by the population in millions. Published by Nature. Commercial. If we trust Wikipedia it is extremely respectable.
  10. Taxes
    1. International Tax Competitiveness Index by American Tax Foundation. Finally, another non-profit! They publish a financial report, but it is still unclear how exactly it is funded.
    2. All-in average personal income tax rates at average wage by family type by good old OECD.
  11. Immigration policy
    1. There are some indices trying to somehow rate the migration by people inflow and outflow, but it is not what we are after. We need to rate based on the following criteria:
      1. Requirements for immigration visa.
      2. Requirements for permanent residence.
      3. Work permit for spouse.
      4. Requirements for naturalization.
      5. Multiple citizenship, i.e. if we need to give up an existing passport to be naturalized. Since there is no easy way to assess these factors, we will, first, filter the countries by other indices, and then have a detailed look at the immigration policy of the finalists.

If you want to play with the data right away here is the link to the Google Spreadsheet. I am currently located in Russia. So do not get surprised with a separate bottom row with the numbers for Russia. Feel free to clone the table and replace it with the country you want.

Filter by freedom

We will use the Freedom House Index. They rate political and civil liberties. We could have simply taken all the countries marked as Free (rating above 70 with a few exceptions). Immigration is a big deal. Let's shoot for the stars and raise the bar to 80. Results:

  • Netherlands
  • Germany
  • Luxembourg
  • Switzerland
  • Singapore
  • France
  • Ireland
  • United States
  • Belgium
  • United Kingdom
  • Austria
  • Canada
  • Sweden
  • Australia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • Finland
  • New Zealand
  • Japan
  • Norway
  • South Korea
  • Iceland
  • Slovenia
  • Cyprus
  • Poland
  • Greece
  • Lithuania
  • Slovakia
  • Latvia
  • Portugal
  • Chile
  • Croatia
  • Argentina
  • Estonia
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Uruguay
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Panama
  • Costa Rica
  • Mongolia
  • Ghana
  • Taiwan

Here we face the first evidence that humans can never stay 100% objective. I've heard so much nice stuff about Singapore, so I decided to let it pass trough to see how it performs by other criteria.

Filter by Human Development Index

Truly remarkable rating built on 3 pillars: life expectancy, education, and wealth.

Human Development Index decomposed

If I had to use a single index, I would choose this one. Multi-factor ratings rule! Let's sort the countries in descending order by Human Development Index.

CountryHuman Development Index
Norway0.954
Switzerland0.946
Ireland0.942
Germany0.939
Iceland0.938
Sweden0.937
Singapore0.935
Netherlands0.933
Denmark0.93
Finland0.925
Canada0.922
New Zealand0.921
United States0.92
United Kingdom0.92
Belgium0.919
Japan0.915
Austria0.914
Australia0.914
Luxembourg0.909
South Korea0.906
Slovenia0.902
Spain0.893
France0.891
Czech Republic0.891
Italy0.883
Cyprus0.873
Poland0.872
Greece0.872
Lithuania0.869
Slovakia0.857
Latvia0.854
Portugal0.85
Chile0.847
Croatia0.837
Argentina0.83
Estonia0.822
Romania0.816
Bulgaria0.816
Uruguay0.808
Trinidad and Tobago0.799
Panama0.795
Costa Rica0.794
Mongolia0.735
Ghana0.596

Look at that! My bet on Singapore paid off! I love simplicity, so I would like to take 0.9 as the bottom line. One thing stopping me is that Microsoft has an office in Prague. I do not want to discard a chance to work there just because the number was slightly lower than I wanted. So let's take 0.891 as the bottom line to let Czech Republic pass to the next stage.

We are now left with:

  • Norway
  • Switzerland
  • Ireland
  • Germany
  • Iceland
  • Sweden
  • Singapore
  • Netherlands
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Canada
  • New Zealand
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Belgium
  • Japan
  • Austria
  • Australia
  • Luxembourg
  • South Korea
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • France
  • Czech Republic

Filter by population

Luxembourg and Iceland show great results so far. Population there is 0.62 and 0.35 millions of people respectfully. I reckon these countries might easily be by-invitation-only clubs that do not welcome new members. To make filtering a bit easier, let's assume that we will only consider countries with 5 million of people and greater. Time to say goodbye to Luxembourg, Iceland, Slovenia, and New Zealand.

Here is what is left:

  • Norway
  • Switzerland
  • Ireland
  • Germany
  • Sweden
  • Singapore
  • Netherlands
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Canada
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Belgium
  • Japan
  • Austria
  • Australia
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • France
  • Czech Republic

Filter by corruption

We will rely on the data by Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.

CountryCorruption Perceptions Index
Denmark87
Finland86
Switzerland85
Singapore85
Sweden85
Australia85
Norway84
Netherlands82
Germany80
United Kingdom77
Austria77
Canada77
Belgium75
Ireland74
Japan73
France69
United States69
Spain62
South Korea59
Czech Republic56

I wish I could take 75 as the bottom line, but it would effectively filter out the USA with tons of amazing work opportunities. Let's adapt our wishes to reality and say that 69 also sounds not that bad.

We now have:

  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Switzerland
  • Singapore
  • Sweden
  • Australia
  • Norway
  • Netherlands
  • Germany
  • United Kingdom
  • Austria
  • Canada
  • Belgium
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • France
  • United States

Economy

As the primary economic filter, we will use Index of Economic Freedom. It rates inviolability of private property, the effectiveness of the jurisdictional system, the amount of national debt, taxes, business opportunities, and my beloved market freedom. The creators of the index mark countries as Free if they score over 80. They say the countries are Mostly Free if they score over 70. Let's leave only Free and Mostly Free ones.

CountryEconomic Freedom
Singapore89.4
Australia82.6
Switzerland82
Ireland80.9
United Kingdom79.3
Denmark78.3
Canada78.2
Netherlands77
United States76.6
Finland75.7
Sweden74.9
Germany73.5
Norway73.4
Austria73.3
Japan73.3
Belgium68.9
France66

Farewell, Belgium, and France.

Nd to the next stage pass:

  • Singapore
  • Australia
  • Switzerland
  • Ireland
  • United Kingdom
  • Denmark
  • Canada
  • Netherlands
  • United States
  • Finland
  • Sweden
  • Germany
  • Norway
  • Austria
  • Japan

You will be surprised, but even at this stage no poor countries left. In all of the above gross national income per capita (smart word for "person") is over $40000. Average salary is also above $40000.

CountryGross National IncomeAverage Salary
Singapore9155753244
Norway7052550956
Switzerland6954564109
United States6663763093
Ireland6634247952
Denmark5870055253
Netherlands5813554262
Austria5673350868
Germany5597949813
Sweden5474244196
Australia5192453349
Finland4954044111
Canada4943148849
United Kingdom4625344770
Japan4287240573

As you might remember, Japan scored poorly on corruption (73). Let's leave it out by the confluence of factors.

IT job market

Let's take a number of job openings on LinkedIn and divide it by the population in millions.

CountryTotal number of IT job openingsNumber of IT job openings per one million people
Netherlands1281947410
Germany4807375994
Switzerland370434410
Singapore221053565
Ireland129722495
United States8044442439
United Kingdom1590132417
Austria162371824
Canada493201308
Sweden114531123
Australia20313797
Denmark3695626
Finland2244401
Norway1334243

Based on the numbers, I feel the urge to discard Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Australia. However, Australia has offices of several major IT corporations at once - Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Atlassian. So we will let Australia keep its place.

Results:

  • Netherlands
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Singapore
  • Ireland
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Austria
  • Canada
  • Sweden
  • Australia

Science

Let's take the adjusted number of articles (Share) from, Nature Index and divide it by the population in millions.

CountryTotal number of articlesNUmber of articles per one million people
Switzerland1467.12175
Singapore632.26102
United States20462.0762
Sweden637.1162
Germany4602.8657
United Kingdom376257
Netherlands963.8656
Australia1275.3450
Canada1635.243
Austria363.0541
Ireland122.2324

Ireland - you are the weakest link. Bye!

Our finalists:

  • Switzerland
  • Singapore
  • United States
  • Sweden
  • Germany
  • United Kingdom
  • Netherlands
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Austria

Apart from data we have used for filtering, let's add a few other sources::

Finalists as a filtered view in Google Docs

CountryFreedom HouseCorruption PerceptionsEconomic FreedomEconomic CompetitivenessEconomic ComplexityHuman DevelopmentGross National Income per capita ($)Average wageHomicide rateMilitary budget ($m)Population (millions)Total number of IT jobsNumber of IT jobs per 1 million peopleEnglish proficiencyMigrant IntegrationPassport PowerTotal number of scientific articlesNumber of scientific jobs per 1 million peopleTax CompetitivenessTax (%) for average incomeTax (%) for 133% of average incomeTax (%) for 166% of average income
Netherlands99827782.40.980.93358135542620.581205917.3128194741070.2761115963.865672.537.339.842.5
Germany948073.581.82.090.93955979498130.954927680.2480737599463.77631164602.865766.949.450.851
Switzerland96858282.32.170.94669545641090.5951798.437043441060.23461161467.1217579.522.324.726.9
Singapore508589.484.81.850.93591557532440.16112116.222105356566.8281632.26102
United States866976.683.71.550.9266637630934.96731751329.880444424391008320462.076263.729.832.534.2
United Kingdom947779.381.21.510.9246253447701.24865065.815901324171005611637625760.130.933.937.1
Austria937773.376.61.810.91456733508680.9732378.916237182464.1148116363.054171.447.950.851
Canada987778.279.60.650.92249431488491.762219737.7493201308100701151635.2436730.531.231.7
Sweden1008574.981.21.70.93754742441961.08529010.211453112368.7480115637.116275.542.746.851
Australia978582.678.71.810.91451924533490.892591225.520313797100661161275.345076.427.932.134.4

Immigration policy

Information below applies to Russian citizens only! Please, double-check it for your country!

Europe

They have the coolest thing ever - Blue Card). It is a work permit that works across whole European Union except Denmark and Ireland. You need to have a bachelor's degree. There is a solid salary threshold. Spouse CAN work or study. Apart from the Blue card, each country has its own program for skilled immigrants with lower thresholds. However, the primary benefit of the Blue Card is that you will be able to relocate inside of the European Union and still meet the requirements of EC-long term resident.

Blu Card works for the following countries out of our list of finalists:

  • Netherlands
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Sweden

Note that Switzerland does not want your Blue Card! To work there you need to get the local Swiss Work Permit. Your spouse sill CAN work or study.

Singapore

They have Employment Pass. You need to have a job with the local company. Spouse CAN work or study.

UK

The most common way to enter the country is via General work visa (Tier 2). You need a contract with an employer. Your spouse CAN work or study. There is another option - Global talent visa. If you are a conference star, a book author, regularly publish research papers, you have a shot if you find a good lawyer. You do not need to win a Nobel, but have to have something that makes you stand out. With Global talent visa you will no longer depend on your employer.

Australia

If you get an offer from a major corporation, you will, most probably, wind up with TSS 482 visa. It is a work permit linked to your employer. You can try to work around it by getting Skilled independent visa, but it has an extensive limited queue. With Skilled independent visa you will no longer be linked to your employer. It is no uncommon to enter the country with TSS 482 and get Skilled independent visa later. This way you will have a higher chance of getting the one because the previous experience of working for an Australian employer moves you up the queue. For both visas, your spouse CAN work or study.

USA

Most of the alien talent comes via H1-B visa. It has a yearly limit. If the number of applications exceeds it, almighty random decides who gets a visa. There are plenty of stories where people tell they got an offer, but could not get in because of this limit. You could get in via O1, but it has more or less the same requirements as Global talent visa in the UK. With both of these options, your spouse CANNOT work or study. There is the only way not to make your spouse give up their career when you move - L1 visa, but there is a catch. The visa is meant for corporations to move their existing employees from one location to another within the US. You have to work for at least 1 year in a different office of the company outside the US to be eligible for L1 visa. The visa is linked to your employer. This is not the end of the story. The USA is the only country from the list, where you will need your employer to sponsor your permanent residence permit (Green card). It is not true for all cases, but for over 70% of them. To get your Green card, with a few exceptions, you, as a skilled professional, have 3 options:

  • EB1 (Priority Workers)
  • EB2 (Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees or Persons of Exceptional Ability)
  • EB3 (Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers)

You can apply for EB1 and EB2 yourself. At the same time, your employer can sponsor them for you. EB3 can only be sponsored. Let's take a look at the numbers of issued visas in 2019.

  • EB1 - 2,223
  • EB2 - 3,497
  • EB3 - 13,028

Even if all EB1 and EB2 applications were self-petitioned, it means that the percentage of self-petitions is 30.5%. In real world, it should be even less.

Immigration policy cheatsheet

CountryProgramWork permit for spouseYears to citizenshipMultiple citizenship allowed
NetherlandsBlue Card+5-
GermanyBlue Card+8-
SwitzerlandSwiss Work Permit+10+
SingaporeEmployment Pass+~3-
United StatesH1-B or O-1 or L1--+~8+
United KingdomGeneral work visa (Tier 2) or Global Talent visa+6+
AustriaBlue Card+10-
CanadaExpress Entry+3+
SwedenBlue Card+5+
AustraliaTSS 482 or Skilled independent visa+4+

For freelancers and contractors

Other countries have some programs for startups, but, as far as I understand, they are meant for bigger companies that create new jobs, not for lonely contractors and freelancers.

Results

A few years ago, after several business trips, I was under the spell of the USA. At this moment, after visiting some other European countries, having collected objective numbers, having studied their immigration policies, I am doubtful I will try moving to the USA over the next years.

Another important factor for me, personally, is the language you can get your Master's in. Next year my wife is going to graduate from the local Russian university with her Bachelor's in Architecture. Unfortunately, Switzerland does not provide a whole lot of Master's in Architecture in English. So we decide to rule it out.

Here is my personal list of finalists:

  • Netherlands
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Sweden
  • Singapore
  • Germany
  • Austria

Here is the same list as a filtered view in Google Spreadsheet

Title image is based on deviantart.com/gio0989/art/World-map-wallpa..

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