Labor migration has been revitalized as part of economic competition and growth strategies across Europe over the last decade. Scholars have framed policy changes towards more liberal recruitment as a turn towards 'competition state' and Schumpeterian innovation goals. This article evaluates the extent to which British, French and German labor admission policies are dominated by competition state logics. I apply a cultural political economy perspective, thereby substantiating this relatively new approach analytically and testing its usefulness for capturing the economic governance of labor migration. I argue that the highly selective arrangement of admissions - with regard to skill-level targeted, and causal, spatial, and operational foci of recruitment - creates a fragmented cultural political economy of labor migration. While competition state logics shape the economic imaginary of 'high-skilled global labor competiveness', rival logics dominate the imaginaries of 'skilled national labor shortages', and 'lower skilled EU labor self-sufficiency'. Findings pinpoint limits of competition state theory in explaining contemporary labor migration policy. I demonstrate that semiotic and regulatory selectivity is a key remedy for coping with competing state projects and associated policy tensions. The political ordering of labor migration simultaneously entails amplification and silencing of competition state logics in policies.