The UK's brain drain - and the countries trying to tempt away the talent

Adverts are beginning to appear, encouraging workers to escape the broken-Britain blues

A recession in Britain is expected to stretch into 2024. Illustation: Nick Donaldson / The National
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After an exhausting year in Britain with three prime ministers, a budget fiasco, a surge in food and energy prices, a crisis in the health service and a wave of industrial unrest, the feeling that “nothing works” has become a catchphrase.

The British despair is being watched with interest from abroad as other countries try to tempt people to relocate.

Near London’s Piccadilly Circus, workers laid off by tech companies were greeted with posters telling them: “Got fired by Meta or Twitter? Move to Vilnius.”

The capital of EU member Lithuania is offering to cover relocation costs of up to €3,000 ($3,190) and says its rental prices are two thirds more affordable than in London.

The poster campaign is about “showing thousands of potential newcomers that there is a world beyond London which offers amazing opportunities for talents”, Pija Indriunaite, from tourism agency Go Vilnius, told The National.

“We wanted to bring to the talents’ attention that qualified employees are truly welcome in other European countries and are offered plenty of opportunities to showcase their skills.”

A recession in Britain is expected to stretch into 2024, inflation could remain high for two years, property looks ever more unaffordable and many feel that the UK is becoming a second-rate economy.

A survey last year by TotalJobs suggested 4.5 million people were considering emigrating from Britain, with almost half of them saying the rising cost of living was to blame.

'Move to Vilnius' adverts placed around London. Photo: Go Vilnius

Ms Indriunaite said 3,000 people from Britain had used a Vilnius talent website aimed at recruiting people with tech skills.

Migration figures show 90,000 Britons followed through on their ambitions and moved abroad in the past year, up from 66,000 in the lockdown-affected year before.

Many more non-British nationals left the country after working or studying in the UK, and they are also on the radar of Britain’s competitors.

After leaked plans to cut the number of foreign students in Britain dismayed many MPs and academics, diplomats from Germany saw their chance.

“For foreign students, Germany is an attractive place to study,” the German embassy in London said, in an online post advertising the country’s cheap tuition fees and many English-language courses.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who was visiting London on Thursday, has her eye on reopening doors to Europe that were closed by Brexit for British students and workers.

Brexit is a consideration for some people. In 2022, Ireland received 100,000 passport applications from UK nationals. In Germany, more than a quarter of eligible Britons took up citizenship before exit day.

Some foreign doctors who left Britain after qualifying in medicine reported feeling unwelcome after the EU referendum.

But the desire for new opportunities and a better quality of life ranks higher among people’s motivations to leave Britain.

The economic picture in Britain is expected to remain gloomy during 2023. Reuters

A French property exhibition will take place in West London at the end of January as couples, pensioners and families seeking a laid-back rural lifestyle consider relocating across the Channel.

Demand from British buyers is strong, with push factors in the UK accompanied by the pull of France’s climate, cuisine and scenery, said Karen Tait, the editor of French Property News.

Ms Tait said prices could be favourable in 2023, although British expatriates face competition from French city dwellers looking for larger country homes after the pandemic.

“Any dissatisfaction with their current lifestyle and country will push people to look for alternatives where the 'grass is greener', so the current crises in the UK may prompt some people to move sooner rather than later,” she said.

“Of course, France is experiencing the same crises as the UK and other countries globally.

“However, rural France is perceived, rightly or wrongly, to offer lower living costs, and certainly the change to a simpler lifestyle sought by many Brits when moving to France can come with lower costs.”

Australia, which like European economies is dealing with labour shortages, is another country hoping to cash in.

Adverts taken out on British radio networks urge people to “build a life in Western Australia”, which boasts of its beaches, food and thriving construction industry.

The campaign is aimed specifically at Britain and Ireland and is meant to plug gaps in construction and manufacturing.

Elsewhere, a town in southern Italy, Presicce-Acquarica, made headlines last year for offering a €30,000 golden handshake to newcomers who buy property there.

If these recruiters succeed in luring Britons, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak may find that his promise to reduce net immigration from more than 500,000 people a year is met — but not in the way he intended.

Updated: January 06, 2023, 6:01 PM
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