Workers redefining global mobility

Aug. 9, 2021
Survey finds that the number of people willing to move abroad for work has declined and the U.S. has lost its status as the world’s most popular work destination

The number of people willing to move abroad for work has declined. The U.S. has lost its status as the world’s most popular work destination. And just about everybody’s view of work has been reshaped, in one way or another, by the pandemic.

These are among the findings of a recent survey of almost 209,000 people in 190 countries. The survey by Boston Consulting Group and the Network shows a very different set of attitudes toward mobility than the one that prevailed a few years ago.

Thirty years ago, if you asked someone from Brazil, South Africa or the U.K. which foreign country they'd most like to go to for work, there's a good chance that each would offer the same answer: America, America, America.

But the appeal of the U.S. as a work destination has declined, state the report's authors. Canada is now the first choice of foreign workers. Underscoring the shift in attitudes, two Middle Eastern cities and two Asian cities now rank higher than New York on the list of specific work destinations. And, in general, fewer people are interested in leaving their home country for a foreign work assignment; the idea has lost some of its allure.

These findings reflect several new factors that have penetrated the world’s consciousness and changed the workplace. The factors—the fallout from a difficult-to-control pandemic and a sharp rise in nationalism—have altered people’s thinking. Businesses and governments must understand these new attitudes, and make adjustments of their own to ensure they’ll have the future workforces they need.
For this study—the third in a series on global workforce trends, following studies in 2014 and 2018—the report's authors set out to find out whether and under what circumstances workers would move to a foreign country for work.

The reduced willingness to move undercuts previous narratives about the fluidity of talent in a global economy. But respondents demonstrate flexibility in different ways—about working remotely for a foreign employer, for instance—and executives can take advantage of these developments in competing for talent.

In the first of these global talent surveys, conducted in 2014, almost two-thirds of global respondents said the idea of working in a foreign country appealed to them. That proportion has declined by 13 percentage points since then, and is now about 50%, a drop rooted in both nationalistic immigration policies and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. The travel restrictions that have come and gone during the pandemic have clearly had an impact on people’s attitudes. Relocation willingness has also been affected by the trend toward remote work. For instance, in some cases, foreign employers have been willing to offer applicants a job without requiring them to work in any company office. Enjoying the benefits of a foreign job without having to relocate may be the best option of all to some people. During the pandemic, many people gained experience in working remotely for their employers. This has focused attention on the idea of remote work in all its incarnations, including working for a new employer located in a different country than the country a person lives in.

Virtual mobility has an understandable appeal at a time when the usual modes of working have been called into question. Fifty-seven percent of respondents say they're willing to work remotely for an employer that doesn’t have a physical presence in their home country, a level that is well above the proportion who are open to physical relocation. About one-quarter of respondents say they aren’t sure and would have to think about it more. Relatively few, however, reject the idea outright.
To read the full report, visit