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Canada tops US as most attractive destination for foreign workers


Canada has overtaken the United States as the most attractive destination for foreign workers, according to a report on global talent from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and The Network. The report surveyed 209,000 people in 190 countries between October and December 2020.

The report found the pandemic was a key factor affecting foreign workers’ preferences. Covid-19 has driven a reduction in overall interest in working abroad, with only 50% of people willing to move to another country for work, compared to 57% in 2018 and 64% in 2014. More restrictive immigration policies, such as in the US during the Trump administration, have also reduced willingness (and ability) to legally work abroad in recent years.

“Restrictive immigration policies have already weakened the mobility trend,” said Rainer Strack, one of the authors of the study and a senior partner at BCG. “Covid is a new variable that is making people cautious about considering international relocation.”

How countries managed the Covid-19 pandemic had a strong influence on the top-ranked destinations. Canada (number 1), Australia (3), and Japan (6) all had relatively low Covid incidence rates. Singapore and New Zealand, which managed the pandemic remarkably well, joined the top ten ranking for the first time.

Canada tops US as most attractive destination for foreign workersCanada was also the top choice for those with master’s degrees and doctorates, workers with digital expertise, and workers under 30.

The survey, however, was conducted at the crest of another pandemic wave in the US, and when President Trump was in office. Today, the Biden administration – which has more progressive attitudes to immigration – is in power, while the US is currently vaccinating the population at a breakneck pace. Add to that the lower cost of living and much higher relative wages for high-skill workers, and the US is a realistically more attractive target for foreign workers than Canada.

Why would a tech worker from Bengaluru pick Toronto over Austin – where the weather’s nicer, homes are cheaper, and they would probably get two to three times the take-home pay? The US’ drop to second place seems like a temporary adjustment stemming from a 2020 spike in social unrest related to racial inequality and the massively botched Covid-19 response of federal and state governments. But with a competent president overseeing a swift vaccination effort (in comparison to Canada’s glacial pace), the US is likely already rebounding from this temporary and marginal setback in foreign worker perception.

How countries have changed in the rankings compared with their COVID-19 levels

The new mobility

Though the pandemic has reduced overall willingness to move, workers are still eager to work remotely for companies with no physical presence in their country, at 57%. In the remote work category, the US ranks number one, removing any reservations about political, social, and health issues and leaving the central benefit of “higher relative pay.”

Openness to virtual work was especially high with tech workers, with 71% of digital and analytics employees willing to do it, and 67% of IT workers. That’s good news for firms that constantly bleat about a lack of domestic technology talent.

“Hiring people from other countries is not a new practice for employers,” said Pierre Antebi, a co-managing director of The Network and one of the report’s authors. “But the trend of remote working makes it possible to do it on a broader scale and expand the available talent pool.”

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