The perfect storm brought about by Brexit, and the changing demographic of the labour market since the pandemic, has seen a large pool of workers take early retirement, a significant portion stay home to look after the family and a big portion of the workforce leave to return to their home countries.
The positive impact of international workers is no secret, but despite the government encouraging skilled migrants through changes to the post-Brexit immigration regime, just 1.6% of businesses in the UK hold a sponsor licence to enable them to recruit or relocate international employees to the UK.
With the UK now ranked seventh in the OECD’s Talent Attractiveness 2023 report, businesses are missing out on much-needed skilled international workers.
While the likes of India and the Philippines are experiencing a skills-surplus, demonstrating that there are skilled international workers ready to relocate.
Fluid movement of talent has the potential to fix so many issues with global labour markets, yet the barriers to global mobility are so high.
Post-pandemic, there’s been a real boom in businesses offering short-term 'work-from-anywhere’ perks as part of their employer benefits package.
If this could be done on a larger, more permanent scale, think about how this could transform the very make-up of a workforce.
And how it could see highly prized, skilled international workers contributing to the UK workforce.
But in order to unlock the opportunities of global talent, we need to understand what’s holding businesses back from recruiting or relocating skilled international workers.
The passport system has barely changed in the last century, migration systems are biased and legacy ways of doing things are not allowing businesses to thrive.
The current visa process for overseas workers is complex, convoluted and costly, with the UK having one of the most expensive employment visas in the world.
Currently, anyone looking to work in the UK faces long visa processing times, expensive service costs, anxiety-inducing immigration encounters plus countless piles of printed and wasted paper.
This system simply doesn’t support high-growth companies and the UK government is biting its own tail by making the process so prohibitive.
If more companies could afford to – and potentially even be incentivised to – bring in skilled workers then the government could profit significantly more through taxes and more globally competitive local businesses.
The passport system needs to be upgraded to unlock global talent
The existing passport system sees travellers moving around the world, carrying a small paper booklet that holds an unbelievable amount of power, dictating whether they’re allowed into a country or not.
Where an individual happened to be born dictates what level of bias they experience when it comes to freedom of movement.
In the 21st century, with rapid technological advances speeding us along to the AI revolution, how is it possible that the global movement of people is still constrained by this archaic system?
To propel global labour markets, the passport system needs to be brought into the 21st century:
- Migration needs to be digitalised to remove the many obstacles that currently exist; ultimately, enabling a fairer world with more opportunities for all.
Not only would this involve removing the paper passport and upgrading it to a digital concept, but also utilising technology to join up the various state services involved in migration: think taxes, healthcare, security, etc.
In essence, skilled migrants should be able to ‘subscribe’ to the various services they need and, naturally, pay the corresponding country taxes in a pain free way.
This could boost the economic impact that modern global mobility has on economies as well as significantly improve the user experience of a country.
- Visa fees for professional workers need to be standardised around the world, thereby removing the existing elitism of certain countries that try to restrict free movement by charging extortionate fees for individuals and families.
This elitism simply does not help anyone; even the countries since some of the top countries where highly educated migrants come from have some of the least travel friendly passports.
- Migration shouldn’t be seen as a one-size-fits-all.
Skilled workers may want or need to work from a different country for many reasons and for many different timeframes – similarly, the needs of employers will also all vary – so visa options need to be flexible and varied.
The digital nomad visa is a prime example of how a country can welcome international workers in for a temporary period of time and through that attract highly skilled people with a great impact potential to the local economy.
Skilled migration is ripe for disruption
Skilled migration is clearly a world-away from where it needs to be.
On top of inaccessible visa costs, it's taking some business leaders months to muddle through the unnecessary bureaucracy and burden of relocation.
This puts many off from even thinking about hiring internationally or offering relocation as an option for existing employees in other countries even though that could positively impact their company's competitiveness in the global market.
As a process, international recruitment and relocation are ripe for disruption and the potential of technology to solve a number of the existing issues should be explored.
Technology can speed up, reduce the cost and improve the experience of those going through international relocation.
Businesses are experiencing a global fight for talent, with every country in the world now fighting for the same workers. Ultimately, where talent moves will define the success or failure of economies.
Therefore, not only do more businesses need to get on the register to be able to sponsor crucial, overseas talent, but the UK government needs to rethink the current skilled migration process.
Doing so will help transform and modernise how businesses operate, their competitiveness and help ease short-term and long-term skills challenges.
Karoli Hindriks is CEO and co-founder of Jobbatical