Will global elections change immigration flows?

Expat news
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Written by Asaël Häzaq on 25 June, 2024
Prospective expats are closely monitoring immigration reforms in countries seeking labor. They are also paying close attention to the social atmosphere in their targeted countries. Anticipated elections around the world reveal the socio-political crises these countries face. Will this influence their plans to move abroad? Let's take a look at some of the most popular expat destinations.

France

Both left and moderate right-wing politicians are concerned about France's international image. The "country of human rights" was already lagging behind popular destinations like the United States, Canada, and Australia. There is a particular fear of a far-right government coming to power, which could impact immigration laws significantly.  

There is also a noticeable fear that visa procedures could become longer and more complex. Many French citizens say they are determined to leave in the case of a political "shift." Opposed to each other are those against the far-right party National Rally (RN), which won the European elections, and those against the far-left party La France Insoumise (LFI), part of the New Popular Front formed by left-wing parties to win the anticipated legislative elections.

Should we fear an exodus in the event of a political shift?

On Saturday, June 15, French unions called for a major mobilization against the RN. Police counted 250,000 protesters, while the CGT union (General Confederation of Labor), which called for the mobilization along with other unions, counted over 600,000. Among the protesters were French citizens who would be ready to leave their country in the case of an RN victory. They believe that the strategy launched by the party is not working, predicting "the end of the Republic" and the birth of a "fascist country." According to them, an RN government will lead to increased discrimination. The LGBTQIA+ community has similar fears, especially the repeal of their rights (such as marriage equality and access to assisted reproduction) and an increase in homophobic and anti-LGBT violence.

LFI also raises concerns for different reasons, particularly the divisive personality of its leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. His stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict does not align with that of a large portion of the population. Many French citizens, even those on the left, made it clear that they would not support a government led by Mélenchon. They would rather live in another European country like Belgium, Spain, or Germany. However, whether against LFI or RN, French people considering a move are mainly waiting for the legislative election results. Many indicate they will not make any decisions (not even by researching a destination country) until the final vote results.

Voices of French people abroad

French expats, with a majority who voted for Emmanuel Macron in 2017 and 2022, are in no hurry to return to France. They still don't understand the president's actions and are alarmed by the "dangerous turn" the country has taken. A minority but active group of French expatriates now supports the far-right. Among them are long-term expatriates who insist on being called "expatriates" rather than "immigrants" and claim to be "French above all." They advocate for a union between RN and moderate right-wing parties. Whether they plan to return to France or not, they say they fight to preserve "French identity."

Spain

Such concerns are less significant in Spain, which remains a top destination for expatriates. Residents praise its quality of life and climate. Foreign retirees enjoy their days there, and working professionals appreciate the benefits of digital nomadism. The outcome of the anticipated regional elections in Catalonia is unlikely to affect moving intentions. Since the health crisis, there has been a surge in the number of expatriates in Spain, especially in tourist areas. Barcelona records one of the highest increases, with foreigners making up 10% of the population, according to official estimates. Italians are the largest foreign community, followed by the French.

The Spanish state is caught between local discontent over the rising cost of living and the economic boom supported by foreign workers. It's worth noting that in 2023, 42% of jobs in Spain were held by foreigners, and the government is proud of its attractive labor market. However, more and more Spanish workers are leaving the country due to a lack of opportunities in Spain. They would rather move to the United States or other European countries. They also criticize the lack of transparency in the local job market, where cronyism defeats meritocracy.

United Kingdom

"Bregret" (a blend of "Brexit" and "regret") voices are getting louder, just weeks before the anticipated legislative elections—they still haven't gotten over the UK's exit from the EU. Britons abroad or who have become expatriates to retain their EU nationality still call for a return or a new treaty to bring the UK back into the EU.

Although a referendum is not an option for the moment, many anti-Brexit citizens feel that the social climate will force a new debate on the issue "sooner or later." According to them, the toxic atmosphere since Brexit has deeply divided the population. The Brexit proponents' apologies still leave a bitter taste. This bitterness is particularly noticeable among young people, who mostly voted against Brexit. Some talk about a "wasted future" due to Brexit. As confirmed by numerous studies, the negative impact of Brexit has also affected former Brexit supporters. Faced with soaring living costs, job difficulties, and rising immigration, they are very critical of the conservatives (despite the numerous measures to tighten immigration rules). The extent of this discontent remains to be seen in the election results.

However, Britons do not necessarily intend to relocate abroad, depending on the forthcoming election results.

Algeria

Algeria is rolling out the red carpet for its expatriates and foreign tourists. The country is capitalizing on the anticipated Presidential elections to win over its diaspora. Around 7 million Algerians abroad are called to vote on September 7. Will they keep supporting their homeland regardless of the presidential results? Some critics downplay the importance of support from Algerian expatriates, pointing out what they consider a low financial contribution to the country. According to the World Bank, remittances from Algerians abroad to Algeria decreased significantly—$1.8 billion in 2022, down $100 million from 2021.

However, Algerians abroad remain essential contributors to the country's wealth. They criticize the state's double standards, which do not encourage them to support their homeland or live there. The state mainly relies on foreign tourists to develop its economy, as Algeria lags far behind Morocco and Tunisia, which have higher numbers of expatriates. The Algerian government aims to attract 12 million foreigners by 2030, committing to increasing investments in the tourism economy and facilitating visa acquisition. However, these measures may not be enough to compete with Morocco and Tunisia, which offer visa exemptions for many nationalities.

Expected migration wave in the United States

More Americans have decided to expatriate since the 2016 shock and Donald Trump's rise to power. While intentions do not always lead to actions, some countries, like New Zealand, have noted a rise in the number of American immigrants. The November 2024 Presidential election recalls the 2016 concerns. Since the campaign began, some Americans have announced their intention to leave the country if Trump wins. Many did not wait for Trump's return to the political stage. New Zealand's official statistics show that 6,000 Americans immigrated there between 2022 and 2023. These Americans praise the country's lifestyle, although they worry about the conservatives' influence since their victory over the Labor Party. Other Americans choose Spain or France more for lifestyle than political reasons. However, it remains to be seen whether the rise of the far-right in France will change the plans of Americans.

Conversely, the "American Dream" is still alive for thousands of prospective expats, regardless of the presidential election's outcome. Of course, a Trump return raises fears of new immigration restrictions. The American Dream is already very costly, with complex immigration procedures for not always very protective statuses. Obtaining a work visa remains a challenging process. However, prospective expatriates remain convinced they can improve their living conditions in the United States. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, the United States is the third most popular destination for Germans, although working conditions are deemed tougher than in Germany.

Remote work has revolutionized international mobility

Remote work, a new trend in the international labor market, has disrupted company organizations. Some have permanently turned their back to offices, existing only virtually worldwide. Other companies were created to support businesses wishing to transition to remote work, partially or entirely. A growing number of professionals, especially workation enthusiasts, are opting for this work method. Instead of immigrating to the country where their company is based, they prefer to live in another country while continuing to work remotely.

Others no longer commit to long-term immigration plans and take advantage of new remote work practices. In fact, some companies allow employees to work remotely from abroad for several weeks a year. This form of "mini expatriation" is quite appealing to workers who benefit from all the advantages of remote work (new living environment, change of scenery, "vacation spirit") while avoiding the inconveniences of international relocation (visa formalities, financial cost, waiting time, etc).