Dr. Parag Khanna is the founder and managing partner of FutureMap, a data-and scenario-based strategic advisory firm headquartered in Singapore, and author of numerous books including Connectography, The Future is Asian.
Much of humanity is aching to get moving again. Stranded workers and remote professionals, tourists and hospitality workers, digital nomads and investor migrants — all have had plenty of time over the past year to decide where to go next and to prepare for the new mobility protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic. 2021 is likely to be a fascinating year during which we could see millions of people scattering again.
One year on from the global lockdown that commenced last March, we can more clearly than ever before measure and track the origin, destination, and motivation of the world’s migrants. Importantly, today’s mobile migrants are not responding only to Covid. Economic opportunity, political tensions, and climate change all play roles in instigating moves as well. We do not get to pick from among crises when all strike at the same time.
One trend that continues to proliferate is countries embracing temporary nomads and branding themselves as nomad hubs. From the Caribbean to Pacific Islands, nations facing dwindling tourist revenue have had no choice but to seek longer-term residents. Accelerated digitization helps their case and has spurred them to join the investor migrant game with lower barriers to entry. Many countries have cleverly amended their visa policies on the fly, allowing tourists to become classified as nomads, nomads to convert into entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs into residents.
At the higher end of the spectrum, numerous countries are doubling down on their strategies to focus on attracting committed investor migrants, especially in light of their success against Covid. Singapore, for example, has taken in many Americans, Europeans, and Indonesians who want to enjoy its relatively Covid-free ‘normalcy’ and world-class health system. Prior to the pandemic, Singapore had been diversifying its residence offerings to include categories for investors, entrepreneurs, technologists, and family offices. Now it has also allowed for more flexibility among them as people’s circumstances change. Other islands such as Malta and Ireland have similarly intensified efforts to become long-term residential hubs on the back of strong Covid controls.
The investment migration industry has come under pressure from the EU and other bodies, but regulators should rethink their approaches considering migrants’ valid desire to live in ‘green zones’ with better healthcare. Furthermore, seismic demographic and economic transitions are leading societies to accommodate and support aging populations by importing young investors and taxpayers and pursue diversification by attracting talent to new industries. All of this means that countries facing fiscal pressures as well as skilled labor and investment shortages are well within their rights to seek to attract and recruit everyone from start-up entrepreneurs who can stimulate innovation to doctors and nurses who can boost public health services. The global war for talent is now well underway.
The shifting patterns of migration in the post-Covid world (when it comes) will be non-linear and perhaps unpredictable. They will mimic the reality of a world in which there are many unfolding crises, from pandemics to climate change to political polarization. Many countries may learn from the Covid experience and improve their health security while also undertaking other reforms designed to attract the next wave of investor migrants. The options in the future may well grow rather than recede.