Migration, as a driver of change, is not just about relocation from one country to another. It covers decisions about where people base themselves, whether nationally or internationally.
Covid-19 has already been and will continue to be a catalyst for movement from big cities to smaller towns and rural locations, prompted largely by the success and benefits of homeworking and a desire for more space. Ease of access to work is no longer the major consideration it once was for many in deciding where to live, while avoiding long commutes or crowded public transport now seems realistic. Retailers and other service providers are being forced to adapt to this domestic migration. City centres will need to reinvent themselves as fewer workers will work there.
This poses many challenges, both for government and employers. The UK housing market has responded to increased demand for homes away from cities (with Paisley in Scotland, Lancaster and Newquay in Cornwall among the fastest-rising house price locations), and rising house prices in rural areas are already pricing out local residents. Moves to towns and the country will impact jobs in city centres while creating new employment opportunities in more rural areas.
As far as international migration is concerned, the end of the Brexit transition period and the curtailing of free movement rights for EU workers has predictably seen a falling-off of migration from the EU to the UK and a reduction in the number of EU nationals living here. Non-EU migration has only partially compensated for this. UK nationals are similarly affected as their rights to work elsewhere in Europe have been removed, leaving a lucky few to exercise their rights to acquire a second EU citizenship to ease travel and work possibilities throughout the EU. Migration was one of the key motivations for “Leave” voters (see globalisation - Brexit).
The end of free movement, combined with EU nationals returning to their country of origin throughout the lockdowns during the pandemic, has contributed to the British economy experiencing significant job pressures. The long-term impact remains to be seen but shortages are already being felt across a number of sectors as the economy opens up again. The British Retail Consortium estimates that 25,000 EU lorry drivers returned home after the Brexit transition period, contributing to shortfall and supply issues. Similarly, the hospitality industry was frustrated in meeting the pent-up demand when restrictions eased through having insufficient staff, partly caused by an absence of the EU migrant labour on which it has previously relied heavily (see emerging themes – labour market). It is becoming clear that the shortages contributed to by the absence of EU migrants filling lower-paid jobs is resulting in material pay rises in those occupations. While this will be a welcome and positive contributor to reducing inequality (see emerging themes – inequality and division), it will increase consumer prices and contribute to inflation.
Net migration into the UK has been declining since the financial crisis in 2008 and UK work permit rules have been relaxed to make it easier to work in the country. Globally, international migration has continued to rise, albeit more slowly over the last ten years than the preceding decade. Migrants escaping climate change, increased disparities in wealth, repressive regimes and conflicts will continue to put pressure on richer nations.
Many countries, over several decades, have relied on cheap and sometimes illegal migrant labour. Visibility of such exploitation is greater nowadays, however, and societal tolerance for such abuses is shifting.
Technology and Covid-19 have boosted the trend towards remote working, with many workers now able to base themselves almost anywhere (or at least anywhere with good internet connection). The gap-year student relying on savings from bar work is morphing into the digital nomad with a laptop, seeing the world while funding their trip by working remotely. Countries such as Mauritius, Seychelles, Mexico and some Caribbean nations offer “digital nomad visas” enabling remote workers to live and work generally for one to two years. Locations with declining populations are also seeking to attract remote workers. Villages in countries such as Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Greece and states such as Alaska and Oklahoma in the US offer financial incentives to encourage remote workers to relocate.
Employers looking globally to secure the best people need to consider the various challenges presented by employing individuals in other jurisdictions. These include: immigration rules; employment regulation; the continued provision of employment benefits; insurance; the law on creating a “permanent establishment”; data protection; and tax and social security issues. Some multinational employers are responding to these risks by only permitting work from a country in which they already have a business presence. This is also creating opportunities for “employers of record” to employ these individuals outside the jurisdiction of the organisation who benefits from their work and to supply the individuals to that organisation, overcoming many of these challenges.
For employees, while this option affords the opportunity to travel or base themselves somewhere interesting, whether temporarily or permanently, it similarly generates issues for themselves relating to work visas and tax - especially if they plan to operate on a self-employed basis.
Migration will impact upon the who and where of work.