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Canada Unseats U.S. As Top Destination For People Moving For Work In BCG Survey

The Great White North is especially popular among "the types of people that countries prize."

Canada has replaced the U.S. as the most desirable location for migrants moving for work, and the change seems to have everything to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a survey from Boston Consulting Group, respondents in 190 countries were most likely to pick Canada as a destination, while the U.S. was in second place. The U.S. had placed first, and Canada third, in BCG’s previous surveys carried out in 2014 and 2018.

“Hurt by an inconsistent pandemic response, the adoption of more nationalistic policies, and social unrest, the U.S. has fallen to second in the rankings, behind Canada and basically in a tie with Australia,” BCG said in its report, released this week.

BCG's ranking of the top 10 most desirable countries for people looking to move for work, for 2014, 2018 and 2020.
BCG's ranking of the top 10 most desirable countries for people looking to move for work, for 2014, 2018 and 2020.

“The pandemic has had a major impact on people’s attitudes toward work abroad, reducing their interest generally and inclining them toward countries that have done the best job of containing the coronavirus.”

Tellingly, two European countries notable for their high COVID-19 case counts ― Italy and Spain ― fell out of the top 10 in the latest survey, replaced by two Asia-Pacific countries ― New Zealand and Singapore ― noted for their success in fighting the virus.

The survey involving nearly 209,000 participants was carried out in October and November of 2020, meaning it wouldn’t reflect any changes in perception created by the vaccine rollout, which began in most developed countries in December or January.

Working abroad … from home

The BCG survey found a notable shift in attitudes towards moving for work. While fewer people are willing to move to another country for a job ― around 50 per cent, down from 57 per cent in 2018 ― a larger number like the idea of working for a foreign employer from home.

Some 57 per cent said they would be willing to “work abroad” from home, with people in the IT and digital fields most open to the idea. When the question is about virtual work for a foreign company, the U.S. returns to number-one position, while Canada is tied for second with Australia.

“Restrictive immigration policies have already weakened the mobility trend,” study co-author Rainer Strack said in a statement. “COVID is a new variable that is making people cautious about considering international relocation. And with the rise of remote working, many may feel that they can further their careers virtually, without needing to move at all.”

That puts a question mark over Canada’s immigration targets going forward. The country had benefited from the Trump administration’s anti-immigration stance, which made Canada a more attractive place to create jobs, particularly in fields dependent on skilled migrants like IT.

But the U.S. is now on a path to immigration reform and with pandemic-related travel restrictions still in place well into 2021, many experts say it could be some time before regular migration patterns return.

A February report from Royal Bank of Canada forecast the country will only hit around 69 per cent of its immigration target for this year, and only if “things return to normal” in the second half of 2021.

London rules, New York falls

Despite the U.K.’s acute COVID-19 breakout, London retained its status as the number-one city for migrants ― a position it has held a lock on in every edition of the survey.

But BCG noted some other cities with intense COVID-19 outbreaks have fallen ― notably New York, which dropped to eighth place from second in 2018.

BCG's survey found London retains its top spot as the most desirable city for people moving for work.
BCG's survey found London retains its top spot as the most desirable city for people moving for work.

And Canadian cities underperform on this metric, to the point that the study’s authors felt compelled to point out that Canada’s highest ranking city, Toronto, clocked in only at 14th spot, behind Los Angeles and Melbourne. Vancouver ranked 20th and Montreal 24th.

The relatively weak branding of its cities notwithstanding, Canada has “broad appeal,” BCG said.

“The country is the number-one work destination for many of the types of people that countries prize, including those with master’s or PhD degrees, those with digital training or expertise, and those younger than 30.”

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