Canada is among the four countries of the world that consistently attract the top tier of highly skilled immigrants, new research from the World Bank suggests.

In a working paper, researchers Sari Pekkala Kerr, William Kerr, Çaǧlar Özden and Christopher Parsons looked at migration patterns in recent decades to track any changes in either the volume of people moving around the world, or where they are coming from or going to.

Four countries — the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Australia — attract the vast majority of the world's immigrants, the researchers have found.

Despite alarmist political movements and media coverage, the reality is that global immigration today has been largely steady for the past half-century, the data shows. Worldwide, the percentage of people who live in a country other than the one they were born in is the same today as it was in 1960: about three per cent.

That's not to say, however, that immigration trends are steady and unchanging. Outside of a recent surge in people leaving certain parts of the world as refugees, there's a clear pattern among people with education and above-average income levels voluntarily moving for economic reasons.

"A pattern is emerging in which these high-skilled migrants are departing from a broader range of countries and heading to a narrower range of countries," the paper said, "in particular, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia."

To be sure, the United States is still at the top of that list, well ahead of the next three. A full 40 per cent of the world's high-skilled immigrants are moving to the U.S., the paper estimates. But Canada is solidly in that second tier. If the U.K., Canada and Australia are included, the ratio jumps to 75 per cent of the world's skilled migrants.

That's great news for Canada, as those people typically come with an existing source of wealth, and their skillsets help boost and change the economy wherever they land.

"The weight of the evidence points to high-skilled immigrants boosting innovation and productivity," the report says, "mainly through the increased quantity of skilled individuals pursuing innovative work."

In particular, the paper notes a surge in the number of skilled women moving across the globe. In 2010, for the first time, the world saw more high-skilled women migrants than men. A large number hailed from Africa and Asia, and were headed for English-speaking nations in North America and Europe.

"The root causes of this surge have yet to be traced out fully," the paper says, but it's clear the impact of that migration will change the way of life in both where they came from, and where they're going.

"The high-skilled members of the next generation appear to be less tied to any particular location or national identity, but instead have mentalities and connections that are much more global in nature than those of their predecessors," the researchers said.

In the face of the successes by Canada and the other big three target nations, other developed economies such as Germany, France and Spain have stepped up their efforts to attract skilled immigrants. But so far they have yet to make a dent.

The top four countries continue to absorb a disproportionately large share of the world's skilled immigrants — almost three-quarters of software engineers working in Silicon Valley are foreign-born, and more than half the doctors in Western Australia weren't born there.

That's unlikely to change, the researchers say, as "competition for skills will continue to be fierce and will likely remain unequal."

"Talented, motivated individuals often find their way to the countries they want to move to," the researchers said, "even if it means marrying an American."