Working abroad is the new normal, study says

by Ray Clancy on October 9, 2014

A willingness to work abroad has become the new normal, at least among people looking for new job opportunities, according to a new survey.

The proportion of people willing to work abroad is particularly high in countries that are still developing economically or are experiencing political instability, researchers at the Boston Consulting Group have found.

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Almost 64% of those surveyed said they would move abroad for work experience

One in every five survey participants already has international work experience, and almost 64% said they would be willing to go to another country for work.

For instance, more than 97 % of Pakistanis say they’d be willing to go abroad for work.

However, there is also a very high willingness to work abroad in some countries that aren’t struggling with major political upheaval.

For example, about 94% of survey respondents in the Netherlands say they would consider moving to another country for work. In France, where the economy has been showing signs of stagnating, the same proportion is willing to leave home, at least temporarily.

‘Depending on the project, I’m ready to pack a bag and go tomorrow,’ said Alexis Sebaoun, a 29-year-old engineer living in Marseille who has already worked in Spain, Argentina, and the UK in his short career.

Mihaella Ciornei, a 23-year-old account manager at a securities firm in Romania and part time anthropology student, says a lot of her friends have left to look for overseas opportunities. ‘They’re all over Europe; they’re in America and Australia. They want to see the world,’ she explained.

Ciornei already has a mother living in Italy and a sister living in France; she herself is among the 81% of Romanians who say they would be willing to work abroad.

On the other hand, people in the United States, Germany, and the UK, three economies that have rebounded more convincingly, aren’t nearly as willing to go abroad for work. Barely a third of US respondents say they’d consider the idea, and only about 44% of those in the UK and Germany say they would be interested in taking a job in another country.

The reasons for the lower numbers differ, but many people in these countries say economic stability and the comfort of home keep them from considering a job abroad.

In most countries, young people are more mobile than their older compatriots. One of the biggest differentials is in the US. At 59%, Americans aged 21 to 30 are far more willing than Americans in general to consider opportunities abroad, possibly because of the difficulty many of them have had in getting their careers started in the wake of the financial crisis.

Young people in Germany are much more conservative about the idea of working abroad. While the survey found that there is a difference in the willingness to do so between younger Germans and the country as a whole, the difference is a relatively small 8%.

The survey report suggests that this may be explained by Germany’s singularly strong performance in the wake of the financial crisis and its aura of economic security. The country has the lowest unemployment rate in Europe for people under the age of 25.

People who work in engineering and in the information technology and telecommunications fields, in particular, are the most likely to say they would be willing to go abroad, with 70% of engineers willing to do so.

‘The world is hungry for what these workers have to offer, and engineers may also sense that they have a chance to significantly increase their earnings by going to places where there is a high demand for what they do, such as Silicon Valley in the US and Silicon Roundabout in the UK,’ the report says.

At the lower end of the mobility spectrum are those in the medical and social work fields. Only about half of the workers in these highly regulated areas say they would be willing to go abroad for work.

‘This may be a cause for concern in the many countries facing physician and social worker shortages in coming years. Indeed, some countries are embarking on programmes to attract qualified health care workers from abroad. Germany, for instance, is tapping the Asian labour pool for Vietnamese workers willing to learn a new language, emigrate, and work as care nurses for the elderly in rural areas of Germany,’ it adds.

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