So there is a global market for British workers then, eh?

An increasing middle-class \”brain drain\” of British professionals moving abroad to live and work is raising concerns about future skills shortages in the UK, Home Office research has found.

Gosh, how many?

The study of emigration from Britain reveals that an estimated 4.7 million UK-born people now live abroad,


The study found that those moving abroad are overwhelmingly (93%) of working age

This is going to piss all over a pet theory isn\’t it?

The Home Office study says a large and increasing proportion of British citizens moving abroad are those from the professional or managerial occupations and this has implications for the future availability of skills in Britain.

This group made up just over a third or 37% of British emigrants in 1991 but reached nearly half or 48% in 2010 after a steady year-on-year rise until the global recession of 2008. Most moved abroad to a definite job rather than simply speculative looking for work.

My my…..

Now, if we piece all that together: professionals, leaving the country for better/different jobs elsewhere.

That does rather look like there is indeed an international market for British labour, doesn\’t it? Which pisses all over the Work Foundation\’s (and various other lefties) insistence that an international market in UK labour doesn\’t exist and therefore what Johnny Foreigner pays people should have no effect on wages or inequality here.

I\’m one of those 5 million, John B is, Pete in France is, Bloke in Spain, our mate in Bilbao……the one theory that doesn\’t hold water after these figures is the idea that the UK labour market exists in glorious isolation from global trends.

Sorry, but it just doesn\’t.

38 thoughts on “So there is a global market for British workers then, eh?”

  1. There’s plenty of traffic the other way too. For the last couple of years there has been a steady stream of skilled workers leaving southern Europe and heading to London in search of work. They tend to be young professionals aged 25-35 rather than the traditional older managerial class expats aged 35-55. As long as the eurozone crisis shows no sign of abating, they’ll keep coming.

  2. Add to your list those who work abroad while domiciled in UK. The Centre of My Universe works from home whilst commuting to Brussels and Mannheim on a regular basis – effectively working abroad. The Eurostars to Brussels and Paris are similarly filled with de facto expats. My son has emigrated to Australia, where he is earning over twice what he could expect in a similar job in UK with a much better lifestyle.

  3. Quite so, I’m currently mulling offers of work in: China, Spain, France, Holland, Germany, the UAE and….Bristol!
    This in addition to other work in and near London. I work in Oil and Gas as a Senior Engineer.

  4. Robert: Have you looked at Western Australia? They’re currently throwing large piles of money at anyone they can find in that industry.

  5. Add yours truly to the list. Had enough of the commuting treadmill, rapacious taxation, ever worsening quality of life.

    The ATO now takes 1/3 of my gross income in taxation, not the 40+% HMC&R would confiscate on the same low 6 figure same amount.

  6. Matthew, id be a bit careful heading to WA at the moment, the breaks have come on big time for the iron ore business which drives the place. There have been thousands of layoffs with a lot of planned projects being canned, or put on hold.

  7. Yup, I’m on that list. Brit, engineer, now a manager…almost a decade overseas, no intention of going back. Primary motivation: work opportunities, money, quality of life.

    They’re currently throwing large piles of money at anyone they can find in that industry.

    But only if you’re Australian, or lucky enough to get assigned there by your employer. Australia is full of dumb fucks when it comes to staffing oil and gas projects. The trades are unionised to hell, and pack quite a bit of political clout, and therefore have ensured no foreigners get employed (which makes the cost of Australian projects sky-high, and in some cases, unviable). The politicians then point to unemployment in Melbourne and Sydney and decree that foreign professionals cannot therefore be employed in Western Australia, perhaps not realising that the skillset is completely different and nobody from Melbourne and Sydney would move to WA for all the money in the world.

  8. Well, depends what sort of labour. This is talking about middle class “professionals”. The picture is rather different for lower class labour, for whom relocation would be considerably less economically sensible or possible.

    One way to look at it is that “professionals” tend to be members of guilds and cartels with high entry barriers which restrict supply (doctors, lawyers, etc) whereas manual labour is not. I think it can probably be argued (though I admit to not exhaustively thinking this through) that if there are competition differentials between sectors effectively a price differential is exaggerated, leading to relative (depending on your datum) impoverishment of the non-cartelised or enrichment of the cartelised.

    What I mean by that is that in practical terms, open immigration would drive the wages of the lower orders down, transferring them to the upper orders. That is, lawyers or brain surgeons don’t suffer market flooding effects that factory workers do from free migration, due to a sustained global supply restraint on their professions maintained by the cartels. Open competition in the lower labour market forces down the price of factory goods purchased by brain surgeons, but the factory workers don’t get corresponding reductions in the cost of brain surgery.

  9. Oops, failed to follow through on the first paragraph; the point there was professionals can play in a global market because of their (artificially?) high prices that make relocation economically viable. A manual worker already in the First World probably can’t get a much higher wage by relocating (e.g. from UK to USA) and incurs considerable relocation costs, so won’t bother. But he does suffer considerable competition from competitor manual workers flooding in from Third World economies.

  10. One way to look at it is that “professionals” tend to be members of guilds and cartels with high entry barriers which restrict supply (doctors, lawyers, etc) whereas manual labour is not.

    Doctors can travel reasonably well, but often fall foul of local qualification standards which they must pass before they can practice. Lawyers are of little use abroad unless the place (e.g. Dubai or Singapore) uses loads of English law, and then you’re only going to get the corporate lawyers. So probably these groups aren’t going to be leaving in big numbers anyway.

    Is suspect most of the professionals who leave are engineers or managers. Quite a few who I bump into are corporate finance managers. But the beauty of engineering is that it crosses borders so well, and it takes very little time for an engineer to understand the technical details of his foreign colleagues.

  11. Matthew L : I worked on a project in WA, Barrow Island which is big and going to get bigger if anything, but the design work was/is being done in London due to costs and government bullshit re employment etc. as noted above by several people.

  12. Ian B said: “What I mean by that is that in practical terms, open immigration would drive the wages of the lower orders down, transferring them to the upper orders.”

    More of my money staying in my pocket is not a transfer from someone else to me.

  13. I remember reading a study which linked rising wages in Sweden with high levels of emigration to the US – in the late nineteenth century. Labour mobility is not new.

  14. More of my money staying in my pocket is not a transfer from someone else to me.

    It is if it’s due to a non-market force. A classic example is guild systems.

  15. The simple reason that the government should be worried about this is down to the message it conveys. Wealth creators have other options.

    If you squeeze them to pay the wages of the nanny state army, they will leave taking their skills with them. (You started out on the back foot anyway because of the weather)

  16. Richard,

    im sure i can recall Murphy talking about a tax on expats to pay for the allmighty states contribution to their education etc.

  17. I’m the opposite. Aussie Lawyer working in the UK, getting paid more and have more interesting work than would ever exist in Australia.

    Still as a non-dom the tax isn’t quite that fierce for me personally but I will head back one day (when the cross rates return to normal)

  18. Robert: Barrow was the one I was thinking of, I know a few people working there. Interesting comment… makes a lot of sense.

  19. Yes, me too. Thirty years in South America and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

    Oh, and fuck Richard Murphy.

  20. Yup, I can add to the anecdotal evidence. Not me, but two of my best friends from university now live on different continents, and a third is to be gone within a twelvemonth. All 28-35. All educated to postgraduate level at proper universities. It it weren’t for my wife’s job and somewhat sentimental attachment to blighty (both of which could be overcome by varying amounts of cold, hard, cash), I’d be giving it very serious thought myself.

    You read about higher taxation rates sending the superrich overseas, and I’m sure they would, but as far as I can see unless things change the major crisis is going to be the managerial classes fucking off en masse.

  21. Genuine question – is this a significant amount (4.7 million living abroad) or roughly what one would expect? Does it really tell us anything at all?

    If we have large multinationals, they’re going to send managers overseas. That counts for some. Retirees and remittance men, that’s a few. Oil bods are likely to spend time overseas for obvious reasons, and we have some large oil cos.

    Relatively prosperous, relatively welcoming and English speaking nations are available (Aus, NZ, Canada), we’d expect a few to go there? And given the number of Aussies and Kiwis living here, some will/do get hitched and take UK born spouse back.

    (And as noted above, we have plenty of Aussies and Kiwis living over here doing professional jobs.)

    And we have the whole EU where we can live and work, unlike, say Aussies.

    I’m not really arguing against Tim’s point that there is an international market (for some). Just wondering if there is really anything remotely significant or even interesting in the figure quoted. I have no idea.

  22. It approximates 10% of total population. I’d say that was significant. For example, it’s the same order of magnitude as the population who aren’t of recent British Isles descent.

    The Commonwealth is unusual in that, basically because until we went bigoty in the 1960s everyone could go everywhere and did. There aren’t 25m Americans overseas, or 100m Chinese-born-in-China/Indians-born-in-India (distinction important, obviously).

  23. BTW, in my experience, the Brits probably travel better and for longer than anyone. Lots of nationalities work overseas – French, Aussies, Americans – but almost all want to someday go back home. The stark exception is the Brits, who more often have no intention of going home and are quite happy to spend the rest of their lives in somewhere like Thailand. Personally, I blame the weather.

  24. “Pouring pints is a profession now?!”

    Spot the expat. Years out of date. That’s Poles now. And 20 yrs ago, Aussies/Kiwis picked hops and fruit. not any more.

    See comment @ 18 – London law firms, for example, have loads of Aussie/NZ lawyers, quite a few South Africans.

  25. “That is, lawyers or brain surgeons don’t suffer market flooding effects that factory workers do from free migration”
    … no shit Shylock, i’d a never fuckin thunk it.

  26. john b (#26), the estimates are around 50 million overseas chinese and 25 million overseas indians. That’s an attempt at counting anyone with Chinese origin (the Indians are a bit more restrictive).

    So the expat Brits are not only a much bigger proportion, but also these numbers are just the Brits who have left in one generation.

    I’d agree, that makes this a pretty big thing.

  27. Ian B said: “It is if it’s due to a non-market force. A classic example is guild systems.”

    Surely with falling labour costs qualified professions see lower costs not because of their protection from competition but because they are consumers?

    They are free to pass on those savings to their own customers and some will do so in order to remain competitive against each other.

  28. Richard: those numbers for emigrating medics look odd. I checked what’s claimed to be the source dataset and the numbers there are quite different. The ranking order is first India, by a distance, then Philippines, Canada and UK fourth. I think this is just telling us that there is an international market in English-speaking doctors, but that US-trained doctors don’t emigrate much, perhaps because they can’t afford to.

    For what it’s worth, when I considered relocating to the USA one of the things that stopped me going was that my wife’s skills as a consultant oncologist would have been insufficiently recognized by the US medical system.

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