London still the top destination for international workers

30 May 2024 4 min. read

A new study has found that while Australia is the top country international workers would like to migrate to, London is still the world’s leading city. With post-Brexit visa changes for skilled workers in Britain already seeing talent turned away, however, that may be set to change in the coming years.

Boston Consulting Group has teamed up with The Network and The Stepstone Group to poll more than 150,000 people across 188 countries – in the hopes of finding the most desirable destinations for global workers.

The survey assessed employees' attitudes on a variety of topics, including their willingness to move abroad for work, the countries they would most like to work in, their reasons for choosing those countries and their expectations of their future employers in a new country.

London still the top destination for international workers

The data collected in the survey included a wide range of information on the demographic and professional backgrounds of the participants. BCG also conducted follow-up interviews with selected study participants around the world, many of whom had been previously interviewed and followed for several years.

What the study revealed was that despite global challenges such as geopolitical tensions, widespread economic concerns, and emerging virtual mobility trends from the past several years, moving abroad for work remains a dream for many workers around the world, with 23% of professionals actively seeking jobs in other countries, and 63% expressing an overall willingness to do so.

Willingness to move

Explaining why they would be willing to move, workers most commonly cited reasons around professional progress. Most commonly, out of the 63% of respondents willing to move, 64% said financial and economic reasons were the key driver. Meanwhile, career considerations – from boosting work experiences to improved wages – were cited by 56%.

In contrast, of the 37% who said they were not willing to move, 54% said that being unable to bring family members of life partners along had put them off – while 31% cited the cost of relocation, and 26% suggested concerns of personal security would be a barrier. With many of the world’s leading economies seemingly determined to pull up the drawbridge, and making it harder on each of these fronts for expats to bring skills to their countries, these worries may see a shrinking number of respondents willing to move in the future.

Those factors may also have a pronounced impact on the places judged to be ‘top destinations’ for talent in coming years. According to BCG’s study, Australia topped the list for most desirable destination to move to for work.

London still the top destination for international workers

London ranks  as the top individual city. Of the respondents who would be willing to migrate, almost one-in-ten listed the UK capital as their ideal destination – ahead of Amsterdam, and Dubai. That top three has not changed since the last survey – but things may be about to change.

On the national front, Australia has been implementing stringent immigration rules since the start of 2024, aimed at reducing its migrant intake by half over the next two years. Similarly in the UK, the government has been implementing key changes to its visa system to halt the arrival of economic immigrants, even as the country struggles to fill skilled roles. Recently, this saw firms including Deloitte and KPMG withdraw offers to graduates from outside the UK, to avoid falling foul of new regulations.

Speaking on the outlook for many economies which have historically depended on skilled migrants, Jens Baier, leader at BCG, “They may have to challenge their own biases and look for talent in markets and regions that they had not previously considered. Governments also play a strong enabling role in this process. They must establish policies, incentives, and frameworks that help employers bring in the talent they need.”

“Employers and nations that tap into such positive energy from the millions of workers with mobile aspirations will gain a major competitive advantage and source of growth.”