This time last year, my headhunting firm had zero inquiries on opportunities outside of the US that were due to political considerations. But now I’m getting at least 10 messages a week from senior tech leaders seriously considering work outside the US. President Trump’s new immigration ban, which should be announced next week, will likely exacerbate this trend. With surreal news headlines almost hourly, it’s easy to see why there is this sudden interest in exiting America.
I conducted a speed survey of 45 senior American execs to get a gauge on their current thoughts. The trends were clear: Many are considering, strongly considering, or actively seeking alternative living and working arrangements outside of the US. About 90 percent of US citizen respondents said they are considering or actively seeking work outside the US due to the current political climate. The respondents who didn’t want to relocate their work and lives were immigrants, or Green Card holders. Could this be because immigrants have weathered worse before and have a more pragmatic view that America will soon come to its senses?
Curiously, respondents who are natural born US citizens and hold VP, President, CEO, or Head of Department level roles in tech, media, and entertainment were most eager to leave. This tells us the talent pool responsible for carving out economic growth is feeling insecure.
Here are a two trends I predict we’ll see over the coming months:
1. H1B visa talent pipeline moves to Canada. Expect to see the H1B visa talent pipeline being rerouted to Canada as startups and major operations move or grow their operations across the border. As it stands now, 86 percent of H1B visa workers in the US are from India, followed by China at 5 percent and Canada at 1 percent. Many of the larger media, entertainment, and tech companies could easily move operations to Canada or expand their operations further in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. These companies can easily recruit the same talent from India, China, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, most startups have enough flexibility to locate their operations in any province with sizable tax breaks — Nova Scotia, Alberta, Quebec, Ontario, and of course British Columbia. Canada welcomes innovators. America’s loss could be a huge gain for Canada.
2. Talent exits the US. Highly qualified leaders and contributors won’t find much difficulty moving to another country where the skills gap is large according to the World Economic Forum’s future of jobs report. There are many emerging economies desperate for the skills and experience. In Japan, where the skills gap is exacerbated by the aging workforce, there are unique opportunities for career advancement. The more credentials, experience, and qualifications a candidate has, the more likely they are to find opportunities like these. This means the global system favors America’s best and brightest moving to greener pastures elsewhere, especially to Europe and APAC. For example, obtaining a work permit or permanent residence in Canada works on a points system. Under such a system, people with degrees and advanced degrees plus hard-to-find skills are favored. For most Americans, Canada would be the easiest place to assimilate culturally, although moving to another continent might be more of an adventure and do more for the resume.
As human capital moves to others parts of the globe, it could help spark a more balanced international innovation wave too. Those who cannot secure full-time corporate jobs or who do not want to could embark on ventures of their own overseas, taking advantage of the capital and labor sources available to them. With lower startup costs than what they would face in New York or San Francisco, entrepreneurs can move quickly. Entrepreneurs moving to countries with lower costs of living could find it substantially less burdensome to innovate.
Regardless of the EU and Brexit situation, Europe is already a location many tech leaders are eying. Barcelona, Prague, Amsterdam, Helsinki, Copenhagen, London, Geneva, Dublin, Lisbon, and Berlin are all highly desirable and thriving economic locations. And for many, Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila, Tokyo, and other APAC locations are also highly desirable.
With a talent drain, will the US face a decline?
If our high achievers leave the US en masse, Silicon Valley will face an even bigger skills gap than it has now; we’ll also lose media and entertainment talent, resulting in long-term economic decline. The young and talented leaving America could deal a severe blow to the nation’s economy over the next 10 to 20 years. Emerging economies rich with resources are ripe right now to support startups. These countries could benefit enormously from an influx of highly talented American workers. And we could speculate that some companies would be less likely to keep their headquarters in the US if attracting talent became too difficult.
Caroline Stokes is founder of executive headhunter firm Forward.