Health and Healthcare Systems

How COVID-19 has affected where - and even whether - people want to relocate for work

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The UK capital tops the list of cities where people would willingly relocate. Image: Unsplash/Nick Morrison

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • The COVID-19 pandemic – and the remote work trend – has made people less willing to relocate for work, according to a survey by Boston Consulting Group and The Network.
  • But it may also have ushered in a new era of ‘virtual mobility’ that could open up the talent pool and help companies improve diversity.
  • Canada is the top country destination for workers to relocate to physically.
  • London retains its place as the top city destination for workers looking to relocate.

Around 114 million people have lost their jobs during the pandemic, according to the latest International Labour Organization monitor.

Many of those across the globe who have kept their jobs, no longer commute to an office. Almost half of employed people in the UK did some work from home during the first lockdown in April 2020.


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The remote work trend has also made people less willing to relocate for work, but may have ushered in a new era of ‘virtual mobility’ that could help companies improve diversity, according to a new report from Boston Consulting Group and The Network.

Willingness to move abroad has been on the decline.
Willingness to work abroad is down over 10% from 2014. Image: Boston Consulting Group

Workers less willing to relocate

The latest results, from a survey of 209,000 people in 190 countries, see the continuation of a downward trend over the past six years, from 63.8% of respondents willing to work abroad in 2014, to 50.4% in 2020.

“The travel restrictions that have come and gone during the pandemic have clearly had an impact on people’s attitudes,” says the Decoding Global Talent, Onsite and Virtual report.

But the trend toward remote working has also affected relocation willingness.

“For instance, in some cases foreign employers have been willing to offer applicants a job without requiring them to work in any company office. To get the benefits of a foreign job without having to relocate may, to some people, be the best option of all.”

Top 10 most desirable countries for relocation

There’s also been a shift in the countries seen as most desirable to relocate to, with Canada replacing the United States in the top spot for the first time.

The report suggests that countries’ handling of COVID-19, as well as the number of cases, perceived job opportunities and immigration policies, have all played a part in their appeal for workers considering relocation.

“The reputation Canada has built for itself is evident in its broad appeal,” says the report. “The country is the number-one work destination for many of the types of people that countries prize, including those with master’s or PhD degrees, those with digital training or expertise, and those younger than 30.”

Canada replaces the US at top destination.
The top 10 country destinations for working abroad. Image: Boston Consulting Group

Australia has moved up from 4th in 2018, into 3rd place.

The UK retains its position in 5th place, while Japan, which was 10th in 2018, has climbed the highest, up to 6th place while Switzerland moved up from 8th to 7th.

Singapore and New Zealand both make the top 10 for the first time, in 8th and 10th respectively, while Singapore has risen 10 places since 2018.

“New Zealand has been a model of effective coronavirus management almost since the pandemic began and has other appealing characteristics,” says the report.

Germany and France both dropped two places, from 2nd to 4th and 7th to 9th.

London still calling as top city destination

The UK capital tops the list of cities where people would willingly relocate, for the third time in a row. Amsterdam and Dubai come 2nd and 3rd, both rising three places since 2018.

Abu Dhabi has climbed the highest of cities in the top 10, rising nine places into 5th place – making the top 10 for the first time.

“The United Arab Emirates’ effort to turn its premier cities into desirable work destinations seems to be succeeding,” notes the report.

Tokyo and Singapore also have growing appeal as work destinations, which the report puts down to their “effective pandemic response”.

Asian and Middle Eastern countries are among the top destinations.
The top 10 city destinations for working abroad. Image: Boston Consulting Group

International remote work

Interestingly, more than half of respondents (57%) would work remotely for an employer with no physical presence in their country. This rises to 71% for people with digital or analytics backgrounds and 67% of people in IT and technology.

“The overall openness to virtual work may be of particular interest to employers, especially the many employers that struggle to fill jobs in the IT and digital fields,” says the report.

While, for employees, the model of remote international work enables people to “offer their services to the highest bidder without having to uproot” lives and families.

The US returns to the top position when the question is about virtual world.
The US returns at the top as a destination for international remote employment. Image: Boston Consulting Group

When respondents were asked which countries they would work for remotely, the US regained the top spot.

Countries could embrace this new ‘virtual mobility’ strategy to address some of the skills shortages they face – and enable companies to become more diverse, says the report.

“That diversity can then be a calling card for companies, helping them attract highly trained workers from other parts of the world.”

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Health and Healthcare SystemsJobs and the Future of Work
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