Fragomen Report Examines Global Immigration Trends

Despite progress made last year, the state of global immigration remains complex, primarily due to constantly-changing health measures and restrictive immigration policies. 

In their most recent annual report, the Fragomen Knowledge Group examines political, economic, and cultural factors driving global immigration trends and highlights the major impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has on global immigration policies. Fragomen leverages its experience in the business immigration community to take the requisite look back on immigration in 2021, but also offers compelling projections about global immigration trends in the future. 

Throughout this massive report, Fragomen illustrates how the immigration world is reacting to fast-changing global situations, leading to positive changes. Most importantly to the global mobility industry, the newly released report predicts that business travel will rebound as unemployment levels improve globally. Despite new immigration policies being introduced in 2021, Fragomen predicts that more countries will relax immigration policies to boost local economies as we emerge from the COVID-19 era.

The full report warrants a careful read, but below are the key takeaways from Fragomen’s 2022 Worldwide Immigration Trends Report:

Key drivers of immigration policy change

Fragomen identifies four key factors driving immigration change: access to foreign talent, process changes, government enforcement and employer compliance, and COVID-19 imperatives.

The global pursuit for skilled foreign talent weighed heavy on the minds of government officials as they created and enforced new immigration policies that restricted access to foreign talent. Governments strive to boost their economies, but they are forced to weigh the risk of welcoming foreign travelers in terms of infection concerns, local job protection, and skills gaps. 

International entry rules were — and continue to be — directly influenced by the health policy changes governments introduce to manage the epidemiological and economic situation in their countries. Recently, many countries have pushed to reopen their borders with increased COVID-19 testing and additional health requirements, such as proof of vaccination which began to replace quarantine requirements and entry bans. While travel bubbles and regional travel agreements between countries continued to increase, there were instances of temporary suspensions as variant cases rose.

Governments increased their enforcement efforts for more than just travelers passing through. In the European Union, the commission took enforcement action against 24 EU Member States to ensure posted worker rules were enforced correctly. And in Peru, the government implemented strict criminal background checks for temporary and permanent residence visa applicants.

Other governments focused on assisting foreign nationals who were stranded abroad due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Some of these countries granted and extended temporary exceptions to compliance checks and document requirements for visa applications.

Themes from 2021

Fragoman discerns three themes in immigration in 2021: restrictive immigration policy, the competition for talent, and digital transformation. 

Despite a growing understanding that travelers present minimal risk to spreading COVID-19, governments continued to create and enforce restrictive immigration policies throughout 2021.

Currently, many immigration policies focus on vaccinated and recovered travelers, although other health-related travel restrictions are still in place. Less developed countries with high unemployment levels and slow economic recoveries have kept a close eye on local workers and tend to have more strict mobility law restrictions.

The pandemic has only accelerated global competition for talent. COVID-19 dominated policy discussions in 2021, and welcoming qualified foreign workers was the goal of many new laws and regulations. These immigration policies focused on streamlining entry processes and reducing administrative in-country requirements, such as weeks-long quarantines.

Remote work has become increasingly common, so as borders reopen, workers have become more mobile than ever. In a study released in January 2021, the Conference Board found that a growing share of organizations expect remote work to become the new normal. As we enter 2022, many companies have cooled to the prospect of remote work becoming a permanent option. Organizations are analyzing almost two years of data that reveal performance levels to determine the goals and strategies that will shape the future of the workplace. Data in hand, many employers have determined that a hybrid approach is the better choice. 

Emerging Trends

Fragomen predicts three major trends that will impact the immigration landscape over the next several years: global catered cities, increased social protections for immigration, and removing sponsorship requirements.

1: Creation of global catered cities

Most companies were forced to quickly adapt to pandemic-induced restrictions by adopting remote work programs that complied with government-mandated social distancing rules. Since the start of the pandemic, remote work has increased significantly and governments have responded by recognizing and regulating this work category. 

Some governments are taking it a step further and are working to actively attract remote workers and digital nomads. They are creating high-tech cities with connectivity centers and temporary housing that become an appealing destination for the discerning worker.

2: Increased social protections for immigration

As a result of merging humanitarian visa programs with work authorization, more governments will increase social protections for immigrants. Since immigrants were among the most affected by unemployment during the pandemic, countries have introduced allowances to protect them. Some of these allowances will include health benefits, eligibility for stimulus payments, and access to social security. This signals an emerging trend of support for vulnerable groups through immigration-related measures.

3: Removing sponsorship requirements from immigration tours

As the world moves to a post-pandemic hybrid work model, the traditional employment and sponsorship-based view of labor migration increasingly falls short of providing sought-after flexibility to employers and migrant workers. This need for flexibility in immigration policies is especially vital as competition for foreign talent increases and skills gaps continue to widen. 

Currently, only 10 out of 105 surveyed countries do not require sponsorship for their primary work authorization tour: Belarus, Botswana, Ethiopia, Finland, Lesotho, Luxembourg, Madagascar, New Zealand, Slovenia, and Zambia. 

Fragomen expects more countries to separate work authorization sponsorship obligations from immigration requirements to compensate for this shift to a post-pandemic hybrid work model.

Strategies for success as organizations tackle key immigration issues in 2022

Fragomen wraps its 2022 Worldwide Immigration Trends Report with a checklist of actions businesses can take to manage risk and strategically plan to tackle key immigration issues. 

The first step in remobilizing during the covid-19 recovery period is to understand the changing environment. This will include developing processes, procedures, and frameworks to systematically collect and analyze data on the rapidly changing immigration environment. Businesses must also ensure that their recommendations and instructions are consistent with national, regional, and even local quarantine and health-related measures. 

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