US ranked most attractive country for global talent

26 June 2018 4 min. read

The US holds onto its position as the world’s magnet for top professional talent, finds a huge global survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group. But it faces challenges from Europe, Canada, and Australia. Professionals are also less interested in moving countries than they were three years ago, perhaps due to changing priorities and rising flexibility.

Throughout globalization the conventional wisdom has been that more people are eager to migrate to new countries in search of fresh opportunities. That may still hold true but, among professionals, there are signs that migration has lost some of its appeal, perhaps due to technology permitting people more flexibility as to where they work.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) partnered with recruitment firm The Network to conduct one of the largest ever surveys of global professionals. A total of 366,000 people in 197 countries were asked about their desire to move countries, their favored locations, and their professional priorities.

A similar study was performed in 2014 and the headline difference between the two is in the decline in the percentage of people who are willing to move abroad for work. Four years ago a healthy 64% majority answered in the affirmative. In 2018 that proportion has fallen seven points to 57%.

There are a number of possible explanations for the drop. Technology enables people to work from their home country without uprooting themselves and their family to work abroad. Visas and immigration controls are also getting stricter, particularly in the US, UK and Australia – all among the most attractive destinations for global workers.

Willingness to work abroad by country

BCG also found that priorities have changed among a great deal of workers. In 2014 the primary reason cited by people keen to migrate abroad was ‘personal development’. Fast forward four years and ‘career development’ and ‘living standards’ come out top. In booming China, for instance, the proportion of workers keen to migrate has plummeted as opportunities and living standards rise at home.

The general decline in willingness to migrate does of course mask substantial differences across countries. In India, Egypt and Venezuela more than 90% would consider migrating. The proportion exceeds 80% across Africa and even in Norway and South Korea – two of the most developed economies on the planet.

The nature of a person’s work also determines to some extent how likely they are to be mobile. While the global average was 57%, among digital workers in areas like app development, AI, and machine learning, more than two-thirds (67%) were willing to move.

American magnet

Interestingly while the global desire to migrate has fallen, the propensity of American nationals to explore beyond their own horizons has increased – from just 35% in 2014 to a slim majority of 51% in 2018. The UK, Australia and Canada are the destinations of choice for US citizens considering migration.

Part of the reason for the low willingness to migrate among Americans is that the country is itself widely considered the best place to be by global professionals. The US topped the desirability chart in both 2014 and 2018. More than a third of global workers would consider moving to the US, compared to just over a quarter for Germany, and a fifth for the UK.

Top ten most attractive countries for the global workforce

The US is the most popular choice among African, Latin American and Caribbean workers. It comes second to Germany for Europeans, and lags behind Australia among respondents from the Asia Pacific region. After several years of heated rhetoric between the Trump administration and its opponents, Canada has supplanted the US as the No.1 choice for Mexican professionals.

Broken down by demographics, the US clearly outstrips its rivals. Whether workers are older or younger, male or female, highly educated or less educated, digitally savvy or not, they rank the US as prime candidate for migration. Germany and Canada still feature strongly, while the UK has been knocked from its perch in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. 

Top work destinations by geography and demographics

One factor stressed by the BCG authors that may affect the outcome of future surveys is the trend among companies, particularly in the tech world, to bring jobs to locations, rather than luring people to places. This is primarily the case in digital hubs and talent hotspots such as those found in San Francisco, Hyderabad (India) and Tel Aviv (Israel).

Also playing a role is the novel concept of ‘aqui-hiring’ where a firm forgoes the painstaking recruitment process and simply re-diverts the energy of staff at a company it has newly acquired. What distinguishes this from a regular acquisition is that the target’s human capital, rather than its name or assets, is the chief motivator for the buyout.