Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Political Science

First Advisor

Beth Simmons


Populist backlash has emerged as an alarming trend shaping immigration policy across the developed world 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. Policymakers 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 a theory of the multinational corporation (MNC) as the instrument of international policy diffusion. It explores the preferences and incentives that shape the behaviors of individuals, policymakers and firms and demonstrates that there is a window of political space within which firms have an opportunity to advance a skill-selective compromise. To test this theory, two original datasets are introduced, the first tracking policies targeting highly skilled migrants from 1980-2017 and the second following the expansion of MNC subsidiary locations over time. Using spatial regression analysis and case study evidence, this project finds considerable support for the idea that MNCs act as agents of international policy diffusion with regard to skill-selective immigration policies. The major contribution of this dissertation is its contention that the geographic structure of the multinational firm alters the firm’s strategic incentives and political activity, making it organizationally unique from the single-nation firm and connecting MNC incentives with policy diffusion.

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