The most comprehensive study into global talent mobility ever undertaken has crowned London the most desirable city for overseas workers worldwide, beating New York, Berlin and Barcelona*. In the four years since the first study conducted by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and totaljobs, the UK has dropped three places in overall attractiveness, from second to fifth in the country rankings.

Decoding Global Talent 2018, compiled by BCG, one of the world’s leading management consultancies, totaljobs in the UK, and The Network, a globalalliance of more than 50 leading recruitment websites, is one of the most expansive studies every undertaken into workforce migration trends. Shining a spotlight on the UK’s attractiveness to global talent, the research reveals the world’s most desirable destinations for work.

London retains top spot

London has retained its position as number one since 2014, when it was also ranked the top destination by over 200,000 workers from 189 countries. In 2018, London has once again been identified as the most desirable global city, this time by 366,000 workers from nearly 200 countries.

London’s enduring attractiveness does not appear to have been impacted by Brexit, given its prominence as a global financial, business and cultural capital.

UK attractiveness falls

Despite London remaining the first-choice city for workers, the totaljobs and BCG research revealed that the UK has fallen from the second-most popular country worldwide for overseas workers to fifth since 2014, potentially exposing the impact of the Brexit vote two years ago. The US, Germany, Canada and Australia now all rank higher than Britain in terms of attractiveness.

The fall in the appeal of the UK amongst workers has already begun to impact work-related migration. The ONS found that net migration to the UK decreased in the year ending September 2017, with 6.5% fewer European citizens moving to the UK.[1]

Of the countries that judge the UK most attractive to work in, the top five are in English-speaking Commonwealth nations: Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Ghana and Nigeria. The decline in the UK’s popularity is particularly apparent for residents of European countries, the UAE and China, who now pick the US, Australia, Germany or Canada as more attractive places to work.

Lawyers and tech workers, but no social workers

The UK is more attractive than the global average to people seeking highly-skilled and management roles, particularly in the legal, media, technology and science sectors. Meanwhile, social workers, manual workers and those in the service sector are least interested in coming to the UK for work.

UK brain drain

While willingness to emigrate has dipped globally, in the wake of the nation’s ground-breaking Brexit vote in 2016, more UK residents than ever before are now prepared to move abroad for work. Six in 10 (62%) British respondents are open to working overseas, a figure that has increased substantially from 44% in 2014 – which is the highest percentage increase out of any country in the world.

Nearly three quarters of under 30-year olds (73%) are willing to move abroad, as well as those holding advance degrees (72%) and those from job roles related to IT, technology and research (67%).

A notable change from 2014 is that more UK residents are looking to move to Australia, overtaking the US as the most popular destination for British workers. Canada and Germany have also proven attractive to UK talent, in third and fourth place respectively.

Mike Booker, International Director at totaljobs and MD of The Network comments on the findings:

“While the UK may have lost some of its lustre, London remains the number one destination for talent worldwide post-Brexit. London’s enduring attractiveness does not appear to have been impacted by the European referendum, and the city’s cosmopolitan reputation as a welcoming, open city for overseas workers remains.

“While international talent continues to come to London, UK workers are also broadening their horizons. With young employees and those with advanced degrees or tech backgrounds eager to move, the UK needs to look at how to retain this highly-sought after talent to address the skills gap.”

Nick South, Partner in The Boston Consulting Group’s London office comments:

“This research demonstrates the scale of the talent challenge facing organisations in the UK.  Despite London’s enduring appeal, the UK as a whole has become less attractive to international workers, with a fall from second to fifth place in the rankings. At the same time, British workers’ willingness to work abroad has significantly increased, from well below average in 2014 (44%) to above the average in 2018 (62%). This is the largest increase seen in any country globally.  Together, these two talent trends create a major challenge for the UK.  It is critical for UK private and public sector organisations to get on the front foot and proactively take steps to attract and retain top class talent to ensure their future success.”





Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.