Abu Dhabi and Dubai rise as talent magnets for foreign workers

02 April 2021 Consultancy-me.com 3 min. read

According to the latest global workforce mobility survey from strategy consulting firm BCG, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have further gained in popularity as international destinations for foreign workers.

As willingness to work abroad slips across the globe, both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have shot up the rankings as desirable destinations for foreign workers, coming in at 3rd and 5th worldwide in Boston Consulting Group’s latest global workforce mobility survey. The third of its kind since 2014, this year’s Decoding Global Talent report also found that the UAE overall is gaining in popularity, moving up six places over the past two years to 13th.

Of the more than 200,000 people surveyed worldwide, 14 percent of respondents signalled they would be prepared to pack up and relocate to Dubai for a work opportunity, the emirate trailing only London and Amsterdam in desirability, while 11 percent would accept an offer in Abu Dhabi. In all, Dubai moved up three rankings to move ahead of Berlin in 4th, while Abu Dhabi jumped a massive nine places to rocket past among other cities New York, Paris and Barcelona.

Top city destinations for foreign workers

“The UAE’s status as being less impacted by the pandemic than other countries is a key factor behind its heightened appeal on the world stage, with several notable cities now considered much less appealing compared to two years ago,” said Christopher Daniel, BCG Middle East People & Organisation lead. “Dubai and Abu Dhabi are among the latest success stories in the global city rankings – on the back of the UAE proving to be a regional safe haven in a year of crisis.”

The decline in a number of long-time premiere expat hubs, together with Canada overtaking the US and Australia’s strong performance in the country-stakes, gives credence to the pandemic having had a heavy impact on worker sentiments. But it is worth noting that Abu Dhabi had already jumped to 14th spot from outside the top 30 between 2014 and 2018, while other cities with limited Covid-19 caseloads such as Tokyo and Singapore have nevertheless fallen in the this year’s rankings.

Perhaps the clearest impact of Covid-19 however is on the overall inclination to work abroad among survey participants, with barely one half now willing to move overseas for employment – a figure which was closer to two thirds in 2014. Still, the four years to the 2018 survey had already seen a decline in aspirations for mobility, from 64 percent to 57 percent, with a sharp rise in nationalism in various parts of the world given as another factor in shifting opinions and limiting options.

Willingness to move abroad; 2014 - 2021

“Restrictive immigration policies have already weakened the mobility trend,” said Rainer Strack, BCG senior partner and a co-author of the study (which was locally conducted in collaboration with Middle East job site Bayt.com). “Covid-19 is a new variable that is making people cautious about considering international relocation. And with the rise of remote working, many workers may feel that they can further their careers virtually, without needing to move at all.”

Among respondents from the Middle East and North Africa alone, the UAE was the second-most preferred country destination for regional talent behind Canada, with Qatar (4th), Kuwait (7th) and Saudi Arabia (9th) also in the top-ten. In addition to Canada, other leading intercontinental locations included, in order, Germany, France, the US, UK, and Australia. The especially high rate of UAE residents willing to work abroad remained steady, at around 95 percent.