How 2020 Paused Global Migration – and how to get it back

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Mauve Group discusses the restrictions and the future of global labour migration due to the pandemic.

Global labour migration was the key pillar of early globalisation and remains a driving economic force today. Internationally, the past year has been characterised by upheaval, disorder, and restrictions – but how has the pandemic and growing political resistance to immigration affected the global workforce? 

Labour migration was effectively shut down by the pandemic in early 2020. While a few exceptions were made for professional travel, immigration became increasingly complicated as countries closed their borders. Between March 2020 and February 2021, around 105,000 movement restrictions were implemented around the world and current estimates predict a decrease of 2 million international migrants globally compared to pre-pandemic figures. 

These restrictions paired with European political changes have left a pronounced effect on the global movement of workers and may even result in fundamental changes to the labour market.  

The Great British Take Off: Migration and Skills Gaps 

Migration is needed to plug talent gaps. When migration trends shift, availability of talent shifts and this can have positive or negative impacts depending on the direction of the trend. 

Talent is vital to innovation – if countries cannot homegrow their talent, then it needs to be drafted or trained into the workforce from external sources in order to retain competitive advantage on the global stage. Encouraging migration, whether on a long-term or temporary basis, is a key way of doing this. 

A clear example of the impact of migration is currently being seen in the UK. As a result of the pandemic, it is estimated that 1.3 million foreign-born workers have left the UK for their home countries – 700,000 of those in London alone. Thought to be the result of furloughs, job losses and inability to access financial support, the accommodation, manufacturing, food and retail sectors have been the worst hit by the exodus. 

The long-term impact of this migration is yet to be fully understood, but there are likely to be challenges. These sectors have long relied on the influx of lower cost labour from the EU – and in a post-pandemic world where a year of losses need to be recouped, wage levels are not likely to attract the required numbers of local workers. 

The British Retail Consortium also flagged the necessity of EU workers in the UK to fill skills gaps in areas such as data analysis and pharmacy, scarce in the local labour market. Similarly, with restrictions lifting at fairly short notice, the scramble to rehire from a limited talent pool will present further challenges for employers.  

Europe Reckons with Brexit  

Coming into force on 31st December 2020, the UK ended a turbulent year with a new trade and cooperation agreement with the European Union. 

New research from a LinkedIn Workforce Report indicates there was a significant shift in migration throughout the post-Brexit transition period that occupied most of 2020. Australia, previously the top destination for people leaving the UK, was knocked off the top spot by Germany. Migration from the UK to the EU has also increased, while those entering the UK from the European block decreased. 

This trend increased in 2021, with net migration from the EU to the UK down 24% in January 2021. In contrast, migration to the UK from the rest of the world, non-EU countries, was a net positive throughout the same period. LinkedIn’s Siobhan Morrin claims the UK’s March lockdown worked to accelerate the outflow to the EU, with France and Germany becoming the top destinations in March 2020 for people leaving the UK. 

Forecasts suggest this type of workforce migration will continue into 2022. Looking beyond this, the UK’s migration flow will depend on just how well the UK economy recovers post-Covid, especially those industries battered by the pandemic restrictions. If workforce talent outflow continues to favour Europe the UK may bear the economic brunt of this shift.  

Read the complete article on Mauve’s website: How 2020 Paused Global Migration – And How To Get It Back

Vithoria Escobar

Masters educated Public Relations and Marketing professional, with seven years international experience planning and managing strategic communications. Results-driven, with substantial knowledge across multiple industries and markets, including Digital, Technology, Corporate and Public Affairs. Available for both permanent and temporary roles in Digital Marketing, Social Media, Content Creation & Public Relations.

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