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Cover image for Immigration in IT: Choosing your new home objectively

Immigration in IT: Choosing your new home objectively

aigoncharov profile image Andrey Goncharov Originally published at blog.goncharov.page ・17 min read

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.

Country Human Development Index
Norway 0.954
Switzerland 0.946
Ireland 0.942
Germany 0.939
Iceland 0.938
Sweden 0.937
Singapore 0.935
Netherlands 0.933
Denmark 0.93
Finland 0.925
Canada 0.922
New Zealand 0.921
United States 0.92
United Kingdom 0.92
Belgium 0.919
Japan 0.915
Austria 0.914
Australia 0.914
Luxembourg 0.909
South Korea 0.906
Slovenia 0.902
Spain 0.893
France 0.891
Czech Republic 0.891
Italy 0.883
Cyprus 0.873
Poland 0.872
Greece 0.872
Lithuania 0.869
Slovakia 0.857
Latvia 0.854
Portugal 0.85
Chile 0.847
Croatia 0.837
Argentina 0.83
Estonia 0.822
Romania 0.816
Bulgaria 0.816
Uruguay 0.808
Trinidad and Tobago 0.799
Panama 0.795
Costa Rica 0.794
Mongolia 0.735
Ghana 0.596

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.

Country Corruption Perceptions Index
Denmark 87
Finland 86
Switzerland 85
Singapore 85
Sweden 85
Australia 85
Norway 84
Netherlands 82
Germany 80
United Kingdom 77
Austria 77
Canada 77
Belgium 75
Ireland 74
Japan 73
France 69
United States 69
Spain 62
South Korea 59
Czech Republic 56

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.

Country Economic Freedom
Singapore 89.4
Australia 82.6
Switzerland 82
Ireland 80.9
United Kingdom 79.3
Denmark 78.3
Canada 78.2
Netherlands 77
United States 76.6
Finland 75.7
Sweden 74.9
Germany 73.5
Norway 73.4
Austria 73.3
Japan 73.3
Belgium 68.9
France 66

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.

Country Gross National Income Average Salary
Singapore 91557 53244
Norway 70525 50956
Switzerland 69545 64109
United States 66637 63093
Ireland 66342 47952
Denmark 58700 55253
Netherlands 58135 54262
Austria 56733 50868
Germany 55979 49813
Sweden 54742 44196
Australia 51924 53349
Finland 49540 44111
Canada 49431 48849
United Kingdom 46253 44770
Japan 42872 40573

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.

Country Total number of IT job openings Number of IT job openings per one million people
Netherlands 128194 7410
Germany 480737 5994
Switzerland 37043 4410
Singapore 22105 3565
Ireland 12972 2495
United States 804444 2439
United Kingdom 159013 2417
Austria 16237 1824
Canada 49320 1308
Sweden 11453 1123
Australia 20313 797
Denmark 3695 626
Finland 2244 401
Norway 1334 243

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.

Country Total number of articles NUmber of articles per one million people
Switzerland 1467.12 175
Singapore 632.26 102
United States 20462.07 62
Sweden 637.11 62
Germany 4602.86 57
United Kingdom 3762 57
Netherlands 963.86 56
Australia 1275.34 50
Canada 1635.2 43
Austria 363.05 41
Ireland 122.23 24

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

Country Freedom House Corruption Perceptions Economic Freedom Economic Competitiveness Economic Complexity Human Development Gross National Income per capita ($) Average wage Homicide rate Military budget ($m) Population (millions) Total number of IT jobs Number of IT jobs per 1 million people English proficiency Migrant Integration Passport Power Total number of scientific articles Number of scientific jobs per 1 million people Tax Competitiveness Tax (%) for average income Tax (%) for 133% of average income Tax (%) for 166% of average income
Netherlands 99 82 77 82.4 0.98 0.933 58135 54262 0.58 12059 17.3 128194 7410 70.27 61 115 963.86 56 72.5 37.3 39.8 42.5
Germany 94 80 73.5 81.8 2.09 0.939 55979 49813 0.95 49276 80.2 480737 5994 63.77 63 116 4602.86 57 66.9 49.4 50.8 51
Switzerland 96 85 82 82.3 2.17 0.946 69545 64109 0.59 5179 8.4 37043 4410 60.23 46 116 1467.12 175 79.5 22.3 24.7 26.9
Singapore 50 85 89.4 84.8 1.85 0.935 91557 53244 0.16 11211 6.2 22105 3565 66.82 81 632.26 102
United States 86 69 76.6 83.7 1.55 0.92 66637 63093 4.96 731751 329.8 804444 2439 100 83 20462.07 62 63.7 29.8 32.5 34.2
United Kingdom 94 77 79.3 81.2 1.51 0.92 46253 44770 1.2 48650 65.8 159013 2417 100 56 116 3762 57 60.1 30.9 33.9 37.1
Austria 93 77 73.3 76.6 1.81 0.914 56733 50868 0.97 3237 8.9 16237 1824 64.11 48 116 363.05 41 71.4 47.9 50.8 51
Canada 98 77 78.2 79.6 0.65 0.922 49431 48849 1.76 22197 37.7 49320 1308 100 70 115 1635.2 43 67 30.5 31.2 31.7
Sweden 100 85 74.9 81.2 1.7 0.937 54742 44196 1.08 5290 10.2 11453 1123 68.74 80 115 637.11 62 75.5 42.7 46.8 51
Australia 97 85 82.6 78.7 1.81 0.914 51924 53349 0.89 25912 25.5 20313 797 100 66 116 1275.34 50 76.4 27.9 32.1 34.4

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

Country Program Work permit for spouse Years to citizenship Multiple citizenship allowed
Netherlands Blue Card + 5 -
Germany Blue Card + 8 -
Switzerland Swiss Work Permit + 10 +
Singapore Employment Pass + ~3 -
United States H1-B or O-1 or L1 --+ ~8 +
United Kingdom General work visa (Tier 2) or Global Talent visa + 6 +
Austria Blue Card + 10 -
Canada Express Entry + 3 +
Sweden Blue Card + 5 +
Australia TSS 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 https://www.deviantart.com/gio0989/art/World-map-wallpaper-127690139

Discussion

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ravikrishnappa profile image
Ravi Krishnappa

I'm surprised by your command over English.

Also, in this kind of knock-out elimination, the order is important. I love Japan, Dubai and Israel and you eliminated them. There is a strong influence from personal choices.

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aigoncharov profile image
Andrey Goncharov Author

Thank you for your kind words!
The final list is indeed heavily influenced by personal preferences. I wish I had enough time and energy to properly investigate immigration policies for each and every country! Unfortunately, I had to somehow leave only a handful of finalists. So we got what we got.
I tried to fill in the numbers for the extended list of countries, so you should be able to clone the spreadsheet, and filter it to your liking.