Work abroad facts and myths

Almost two in every three job seekers globally say they would be willing to move abroad for work. Read among other things what are the most popular destinations.

It’s a world in which the geographic barriers to employment are coming down, including in the minds of some of the most talented and highly educated workers. This is opening up significant opportunities for individuals and for the many countries and multinational companies that are facing talent shortages of one sort or another.

The proportion of people willing to work abroad is particularly high in countries that are still developing economically or are experiencing political instability. But there is also a very high willingness to work abroad in some countries that don’t have these challenges. For example, more than 75 percent of survey respondents in Switzerland, more than 80 percent of respondents in Australia, and more than 90 percent of respondents in the Netherlands say they would consider moving to another country for work.

The U.S. is the top foreign work destination, seen as appealing by 42 percent of job seekers in the study. Next most appealing are two other English-speaking countries: the UK and Canada, cited by 37 percent and 35 percent of survey takers, respectively. Most of the remaining countries among the top ten work destinations, starting with Germany, are European countries that have strong economies, famous cultural attractions, or both.

A worldwide survey of more than 200,000 job seekers conducted by The Boston Consulting Group and The Network paints a picture of a global workforce that is startling in its diversity. Here are a few findings:

  • Although Western Europeans are often grouped together, willingness to move abroad for work varies significantly among countries. In both Britain and Germany, a mere 44 percent say they would be willing to work abroad. That’s less than half the proportion of Dutch who are willing to move for work and considerably below Swiss willingness as well.
  • Occupation has a big influence on mobility. People who work in engineering and technical jobs are the most likely to consider a job abroad. Those in more tightly regulated fields, such as social work and medicine, are the least mobile.
  • Age has a big impact on what workers look for in the workplace. People focus on career development in their twenties and on work-life balance in their thirties and forties as family responsibilities peak. As people get older, these factors fade in importance and the content of work—its intrinsic appeal—takes on added significance for most workers.
  • In countries with high per capita incomes, willingness to work abroad is usually tied to experiential factors, not economic ones. This is true of Swiss, U.S., German, and British workers, all of whom are the subject of standalone analyses that appear online along with Decoding Global Talent.
  • Would-be expatriates don’t just think in terms of countries; they think in terms of cities, putting London first, New York second, and Paris third in terms of desirability. As one Turkish job seeker says in the report, “If you ask a young person in this country, ‘Where do you want to go in the UK?,’ they'll never say Liverpool or Manchester. They all say London because of….the cultural harmonization.”

The increasing mobility of the global workforce and the shift in worker preferences, has huge implications. If they fail to see what’s happening, government policy makers and HR executives at multinational companies might find themselves watching as their most gifted workers emigrate and do not return. It’ll be much better to be on the other side of that equation.

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