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The Post-Pandemic Scramble

Dr. Parag Khanna

Dr. Parag Khanna

Dr. Parag Khanna is the Founder and CEO of Climate Alpha, Founder and Managing Partner of FutureMap, and Member of the Henley & Partners Board of Advisors, as well as author of numerous books including MOVE: The Forces Uprooting Us and The Future is Asian.

Despite the stubborn persistence of the pernicious coronavirus pandemic, the contours of the post-Covid world are gradually coming into sharper relief.

From closed borders to competing for migrants

It is remarkable what a contrasting picture emerges from the ominous “Great Lockdown” of just two years ago. International travel is surging to record levels, dozens of countries have launched nomad visa or golden visa schemes, and relocations are surging as individuals take advantage of remote work opportunities, settle in tax-friendly regimes, or adapt to the impact of climate change on property markets.

Woman dragging a suitcase looking out of a window at a plane taking off

Let us look more closely at some of the underlying conditions that will drive mobility in the post-pandemic world. The first is the desire for economic revival after two years of fiscal shocks. This necessitates a significant reversal of the curtailed immigration policies that characterized the US and the UK, for example, in the period before Covid. Indeed, in 2022, the US appears to have experienced a massive immigration rebound after eight years of steady decline in immigration numbers. After the catastrophic impact of labor shortages on the UK’s nursing, agriculture, and other sectors, successive governments have also changed course and implemented significant migration liberalization measures to attract students and professionals. Canada has remained on track with its policy to grow its population by 1% per annum, and Australia is competing heavily again for talented entrepreneurs and investors.

Interestingly, despite political backlash from Germany’s acceptance of a half million refugees and asylum seekers during the 2015–16 crisis, the engine of Europe was on course to significantly exceed that number in 2023, not least because of the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The coalition government has also raised the stakes in its hunt for talent, unveiling a new “Opportunity Card” to appeal to highly skilled migrants from across the world. Japan’s borders are once again open as well, with Tokyo and Fukuoka appearing ever more to be cosmopolitan melting pots despite the country’s traditional and insular culture.

In short, countries are once again embracing the geopolitical adage that collecting people is collecting power. Not coincidentally, perhaps, this realization is setting in just as the world population reaches 8 billion people. Amidst rapid aging and low fertility, however, politicians and citizens are realizing that their nations will need to compete vigorously in a war for young talent in order to keep their finances in check and have enough workers, taxpayers, caregivers, homeowners, and entrepreneurs to maintain economic vitality.

Technology has reshaped the new world 

Technological factors will no doubt continue to play a fundamental role in motivating relocation in the years ahead. It is remarkable enough how quickly remote work took hold, and more impressive still how it has entrenched itself as the new normal for thousands of firms worldwide. With the vast majority of highly skilled technology jobs being advertised as remote-first, firms must compete on the basis of flexibility to attract and retain talent. This has been reinforced by the competition among jurisdictions to offer the most appealing remote work arrangements. From Dubai’s “golden visa” to “Silicon Bali,” immigration bureaucracy is being streamlined to cater to the permanently mobile class.

This principle extends to residence and citizenship by investment destinations. Despite pressure from the EU to curtail such programs, the backdrop of fiscal pressure and the war for talent still conspire in favor of countries pursuing strategies of “sovereign equity” over sovereign debt — and rightly so. Henley & Partners’ most recent research predicts a surge in migration among centi-millionaires in 2023, for example.

The brooding clouds of climate migration in an unpredictable future

Lastly, there is the climate factor, which we may generalize to speak to a desire for stability, whether political or environmental. In this period of intergenerational wealth transfer, families seek to minimize uncertainty and maximize the security of long-term assets. This takes the form of acquiring residence and real estate in climate resilient geographies for oneself and one’s children as well.

None of this is to suggest that there are clear and unalterable patterns emerging in the post-pandemic scramble. The recovery of mobility is itself something to be celebrated, but it will continue to unfold in many directions, not all of which are predictable. 2022 began on the horrific note of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which unleashed a massive refugee wave towards Europe and even Central Asia. Climate emergencies are growing in frequency as well.

We therefore cannot be sure exactly what lies ahead in 2023, but we can be certain that humanity continues to embrace its mobile destiny — and that mobility is itself the best insurance against an uncertain future.

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