Emerging destinations and shifting immigration policies in 2024

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Published on 2024-06-11 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
On one hand, labor shortages continue to hinder economic growth in many countries. On the other hand, immigration policies are increasingly selective, prioritizing the recruitment of skilled and highly skilled foreigners. What impact does this have on moving abroad plans? Is there a decline in immigration rates? Which nationalities are most affected?

The pandemic hasn't stopped immigration

At the height of the health crisis, many predicted the end of economic immigration due to high costs. Thanks to the rise of remote work, companies could recruit internationally without requiring foreign workers to relocate. Many professionals also were also able to working internationally without changing countries. However, rather than a global decline, immigration flows are shifting towards certain countries. In 2024, Spain, Mexico, Germany, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Portugal, Australia, and Singapore are among the top destinations for expats.

Spain, Portugal, and Mexico are especially popular among digital nomads. Mexico is frequently cited for its affordable cost of living. From 2019 to 2022, visa applications by Americans rose from about 18,000 to over 30,000. Portugal is also sought after by digital nomads, investors, and retirees. Spain continues to attract foreigners, too -- according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), the country saw a 10.5% increase in foreign residents in 2023 (out of 48 million inhabitants).

Destinations vary depending on expat profiles

In general, skilled professionals still favor the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, or Australia. The UAE attracts both workers and foreign investors. Immigration to Saudi Arabia is also on the rise, especially among British nationals, with over 30,000 currently attracted by high incomes and the government's "expat-friendly" policies.

International students prefer South Korea, Japan, Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States. For several years, China has attracted fewer students, not due to its zero-Covid policy but rather due to a shift in international business strategies. As China's economy slows down, companies reduce their need for international graduates who can integrate into the Chinese market. In response, Beijing offers special scholarships to Taiwanese students, claiming to recruit "several thousand" annually.

Retirees still prefer warm and sunny destinations like Portugal, Spain, Greece, Thailand, Costa Rica, and Morocco. They favor nearby countries, with Europeans tending to stay in Europe or countries where they speak the language. Meanwhile, Americans favor Costa Rica, Mexico, Portugal, and Spain.

Stricter immigration policies

For those planning to move abroad, recent changes in the international job market, particularly in high-tech sectors, are quite encouraging. Despite ongoing tech layoffs in 2023 and 2024, skilled workers remain in demand. Recruitment is also increasing in industries like finance, logistics, and healthcare.

However, there is a greater focus on recruiting skilled and highly skilled foreigners. Denmark and Sweden, for instance, have tightened their immigration rules. Sweden even became the "least attractive country in Europe" in early 2023, making it harder for low-skilled workers to move. Denmark follows suit, focusing on highly skilled immigrants. Known for their open immigration policies, these two countries are now limiting immigration in tandem with the rise of the far right.

Australia, Canada, Finland, the UK, and Singapore have also tightened their immigration rules. Conversely, Germany and Japan are relaxing their policies to attract more foreign talent.

Countries easing their immigration rules

In January, the German Parliament passed a law making it easier for non-European foreigners residing in Germany to gain citizenship. Naturalization is now possible after five years of residence, down from eight. Dual nationality is recognized, and children born to foreign parents can obtain German nationality at birth if one parent has legally lived in Germany for at least five years. This nationality reform aims to attract and retain foreign workers, potentially benefiting 10 million people. Germany's new skilled worker immigration law also simplifies the process to attract more foreigners.

Japan is more discreet in relaxing its immigration rules. The country has increased the categories of workers eligible for the specified skilled worker visa program and introduced two new visas: J-Skip (for highly qualified foreigners and their families) and J-Find (for graduates of prestigious universities). Japan aims to welcome 800,000 skilled foreign workers over the next five years, double the number expected in 2023. The country faces significant labor shortages, with a projected 12% decline in the working population by 2040 due to demographic decline.

Top destinations in 2024 by region

According to the latest Decoding Global Talent report, 66% of respondents are willing to work for a foreign employer, up nine points from 2020. Immigration projects are trendy among young people, who are more mobile and have an international outlook on the job market. The report highlights regional disparities: international mobility is highest in Latin America and the Caribbean (82%), followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (78%) and East Asia and the Pacific (69%). Intentions to move abroad remain strong in other regions: 63% in South Asia, 58% in North Africa/Middle East and Europe, and 55% in North America.

Respondents from North America, East Asia, the Pacific, and South Asia favor Australia as the best country for expats. Latin Americans and Caribbeans prefer the United States, as do respondents from Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. Those in North Africa and the Middle East rank Canada as their top choice.

International mobility amid demographic and economic crises

The demographic crisis pressures countries to act. Italy continues to lose its graduates to Germany, France, or Switzerland. According to the AIRA (Italian Association of Residents Abroad), 6 million Italians lived abroad in January 1, 2023, including 2 million young graduates. Spain, Croatia, and Germany face similar issues. Canada remains buoyed by foreign nationals, as do the historically immigration-friendly United States.

Japan's example shows that countries grappling with demographic crises do not necessarily ease immigration rules. Japan prefers a "gradual" approach. In Singapore, prioritizing national employment could affect expatriation plans, focusing on recruiting skilled and highly skilled foreign professionals.

The global economic crisis is another factor. Skills shortages in the medical sector have led to unprecedented international recruitment, with countries like Germany and Canada recruiting doctors from labor-supplying countries like the Philippines, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Morocco -- countries which also face healthcare worker shortages. In March, an unprecedented healthcare worker strike in Kenya resulted in a salary increase after two months. This is, in fact, the primary reason these professionals move abroad despite challenging work conditions, as seen with the UK's stricter immigration policies and France's controversial reform on work authorization for non-EU doctors (PADHUE).

Reasons for moving abroad in 2024

The motivations for moving abroad remain consistent: higher salaries, career advancement opportunities, and a better quality of life. Along with economic considerations, cultural ones, such as experiencing a new country and learning a foreign language, also remain predominant. Long-term plans are more affected by restrictive measures on family reunification, potentially redirecting plans to more family-friendly countries like Canada with its recent caps on temporary workers.

Useful links:

Working in Japan: Specified Skilled Worker Program

Working in Singapore: Ministry of Manpower (MOM)

Working in Australia: Work Visas

Germany: New Skilled Worker Immigration Law; Working in Germany