The Brexit Effect: How Global Mobility is Being Impacted in Europe and Beyond

Recent legislative and policy changes in many countries around the world seem to be signaling a global shift from open market to a form of protectionism. Today, I would like to discuss what exactly this is and how it impacts everyone in Global Mobility, using the example of an upheaval close to us: the dreaded Brexit.

Before we delve into Brexit, let’s take a look first at how open market policies were and still are beneficial to Global Mobility.

Open Markets and Free Trade

It all boils down to the fact that free trade agreements specifically include concessions for mobility. Combined with reduced taxes and government programs to encourage foreign investments, this literally opened the door for GM professionals to successfully ply their trade in different countries. Another step later down in this pipeline is the streamlining of visas and entry requirements – all things that promote the movement of skilled professionals across borders.

Brexit: An End to Unrestricted Movement

The political machinations that led to the UK deciding to part ways with the EU, that is, Brexit, have been discussed far and wide and I will not be going over them. If you are looking to brush up on it, the NY Times and BBC have good summaries here and here, respectively. Relevant to this discussion is the fact that the British people have been promised that Brexit would mean an end to the EU’s famed free movement, that is, the right of people from mainland Europe to live and work in Britain. This is a form of protectionism, the term mentioned earlier. Protectionism refers to the economic curtailing of foreign imports through tariffs, quotas, and other governmental policies. Cutting down on the import of foreign workers falls under it, in direct opposition to the free movement that made the EU a unique success story in world history.

Common sense identifies this as a detrimental idea, not only to GM professionals but to long-term economic stability and growth, yet so few speak up against it – the very fact that Brexit is happening is evidence of that fact. Why is that so?

Fear-based Politics Is a Tool of Suppression

A major reason for that is the fear-mongering stoked by politicians, particularly about how immigration and immigrants “steal” the jobs of the locals – this belief is particularly strong among the working class who rally behind all attempts to close down free movement. Unfortunately, this spread of fear works on everyone, at various levels, especially in these times of economic hardship, it is easy to buy into the idea that immigrants are responsible for the worsening economy or the lack of jobs. No one likes to step out of their comfort zone, especially to speak up about uncomfortable topics.

The result? While Brexit has been lingering for years, the political uncertainty it has led to is already creating ripples across the GM community. Companies will be faced with increasingly challenging situations when seeking to move the talent they want, into the location where they are needed most.

Many companies are moving out of or planning to move out of the UK, taking with them hundreds of thousands of jobs from locals. Clearly not the best-case scenario.

This unpredictability is not limited merely to the immigration aspects of Global Mobility, as taxation and exchange of information would become increasingly sophisticated, making it more difficult for companies and authorities to work out and resolve issues of governance and tax payment. A potential problem that arises from this unpredictability is not knowing how the UK will treat its laws and legislation dealing with worker rights, taxation and other aspects that were based on relevant sections of EU law. That is something troubling corporations and experts in finances, taxation and mobility alike.

Another factor determining why we haven’t been more outspoken about the ramifications of politics on our field is the overabundance of fake news. When someone’s statement is countered with aggressively presented “facts”, the people believing in those “facts” can end up influencing others and drowning out our voice of reason.

Does anyone remember the infamous “Brexit Bus”? Despite being proven to be a falsehood, that “fact” is considered one of the major reasons the Brexit referendum was won by Leave. Despite people speaking up about the falsehood of that “fact”, the Brexit Bus still swayed millions with its lie. How does one make themselves heard in such a scenario?

Echoes of Brexit Around the World

Brexit and EU are not the only places where this tidal wave of fear-based politics and misinformation have had an impact on Global Mobility. In March 2018, Australia ended one of its most popular work visas for global professionals with claims that the visa was taking jobs away from Australians, replacing it with one that was a lot more stricter on professionals and companies alike. The USA’s stance towards the mobility of foreigners is also of note, targeting millions of Muslims from around the world, and about the same number from south of their border through the implementation of various “travel bans”. These policies have been crucial in disrupting nearly all companies that source their talent globally.

As these roadblocks mount, we are faced with a unique, ever-growing challenge of navigating political opposition to its core tenant and unpredictable laws that can spring up at any moment. Given this uncertainty, what we can do at this turbulent time is developing a series of rapid response protocols/procedures that allow us to stay on top of these shifts while carving out a longer-term plan for navigating these changing political waters.

We need to stay relevant

As mentioned by Tracy Figliola and Gina Vecchio in their excellent article “Global Mobility Coming of Age” (The International HR Adviser, Winter 2019/2020) we are currently at the crossroads of extinction or expansion of our profession. As I’ve been working on expanding our skillset and mindset over the last few years, I would certainly hope that we step up our game this year.

If we want to continue adding value as a function we need to show through our actions that we are finding solutions to all those ever more complex issues. I usually hold back my political opinion here and on social media for fear of attracting trolls and haters but I committed yesterday to support “outsiders” more, and to work with an even more diverse team in 2020.

We need to think big and start with baby steps at our own front yard. For example, I will work with an intern from Africa this year. My clients come from around the world but we can still do more to encourage global competency development and break down the barriers to Global Mobility. We can set examples and work on positive changes in our realm of influence whether we are expats, expat entrepreneurs, scientists or Global Mobility Professionals.

Are you in? If yes, what are you committing to do more of in 2020? Write back to me with one sentence only.

Kind regards,

Angie.

PS: As a lecturer and Expatise Academy Advisory Board member I recommend the Master Course in Global Mobility at Erasmus University. As the Registration deadline is approaching you should decide fast and read more here.
My lecture and workshop are on 31 March 2020 and zooms in on “Branding the Global Mobility Profession”.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Some HTML is allowed