International mobility: Is the pandemic behind us?

  • mobilite internationale
Published on 2023-09-26 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
After a challenging period during the health crisis, international mobility is back on track and even on the rise in many countries facing severe labor shortages. But does this mean that the Covid pandemic is now part of history? How are economies faring?

Most countries are seeking foreign workers

The number of countries experiencing labor shortages is growing, including Canada, France, the United States, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Slovakia, Italy, Belgium, etc. Growth, which will come to a virtual standstill in 2020, will resume in 2021. Since then, the sectors under pressure have remained the same, starting with healthcare, construction, transport and information and communication technologies (ICT). These sectors were already under pressure before the health crisis, and their vulnerability has increased due to the crisis.

It would be safe to say that prospective expatriates have a range of choices. While the power balance between employers and employees is no longer as significant as it was during the "Great Resignation" observed in the United States in 2021 (47 million Americans resigned), certain sectors that are particularly under pressure are rolling out the red carpet for foreign workers. Various immigration reforms promise greater flexibility in hiring foreign workers. Singapore has embarked on a reform to improve its immigration services. Canada offers its provincial programs to attract expatriates to areas less popular than Vancouver, Montreal, or Toronto, but just as job-creating. Canada still expects to welcome 500,000 newcomers by 2025. Germany and South Korea are proposing more flexible laws to welcome more expatriates.

Less popular is the fate of the millions of artists who have been unable to perform because of the pandemic. Aware of the impact of the health crisis on the artistic community - an impact that is still being felt today - Japan is relaxing rules on artist visas. Before the health crisis, the immigration authorities issued 45,400 artist visas (in 2019). However, this figure dropped to 1,570 in 2021 before rising to 24,404 in 2022. The measure is particularly aimed at artists who perform in small venues.

International student mobility is back to pre-pandemic levels

International student mobility is also back on track. Students have also been struck by the health crisis. Student associations in Canada, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and France have warned that international students cannot work to finance their studies and stay in their respective host countries. Governments are responding by extending the time limits for student jobs. A temporary solution for those who warned of its possible perverse effects. Too much time working means too little time studying.

Governments are well aware of the benefits of welcoming more international students. In July 2022, Japan launched its "300,000 target". This means welcoming at least 300,000 international students by 2027. Their numbers have plummeted with Covid, from over 300,000 in 2019 to around 240,000 in 2021. This is due to both the health crisis and Japan's stringent policies. The country was one of the last to keep its borders closed. After a few jolts and attempts to open up, students were not officially allowed to return to Japan until March 2022. In the meantime, the hopes of international students with visas who were banned from traveling to Japan have been dashed. Some have moved to other countries. Others gave up on their study abroad plans. Most of them agree that it was a traumatic experience and regret the government's lack of clarity on the issue.

International students are expected to save the economy and demographics

The Japanese government is mobilizing to revive international student mobility. The country has a shortage of workers, especially in engineering, IT and communications. Training foreigners in Japan ensures that they will be ready for the Japanese job market.

The same goes for South Korea, which will unveil its Study Korea 300K project in August 2023, a plan to attract 300,000 international students by 2027. The Korean government also expects a positive impact on the labor market. Japan and South Korea have another goal: to get foreigners to stay. Faced with an increasingly alarming demographic crisis, both countries are turning to immigration as a means of restoring population growth.

The pandemic is no longer a "global threat"

Is it safe to say that the pandemic belongs to the past? As far as travel and borders are concerned, all the indicators are green. Borders are open and travel restrictions have been lifted. While many websites have stopped tracking the daily number of Covid cases (even governments no longer update their data), the virus is still on the loose. France has experienced a rise in new infections since the summer; the government has not updated its graphs since June. Canada is still showing Covid trends, with a new increase in contamination cases in recent weeks. The same is true for Japan, which is currently experiencing its 9th Covid wave. According to official figures, the number of new cases in Tokyo alone was 15,000 in the first week of September.

Nevertheless, the pandemic is "over," since the announcement made by German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach at a press conference in Berlin on April 5. He cited the "good vaccination coverage" of the population (77.9% have received at least one dose) and lifted the last Covid rules, starting with the requirement to wear an FFP2 mask when visiting medical facilities, hospitals and retirement homes. France came to the same conclusion and, therefore, stopped updating the Covid data, relying on a statement made in May by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO). But although Covid is no longer a "global threat", it remains present. The WHO is calling for vigilance to avoid making the same mistakes, in particular, a "lack of coordination, equity and solidarity". In other words, there will be no return to the pre-crisis situation, but international mobility still bears the brunt of the impact of the pandemic.