Despite the fact that an exodus of Hong Kong’s expat population is continuing, fueled in part by the draconian Covid-19 quarantine laws as well as political concerns, French citizen Marc believes he would remain in the city.
He described his 21-day seclusion time after returning from France as a “burden,” yet he continued to find Hong Kong appealing. According to him, he relocated to the city three years ago because it was multicultural and hyper-connected to the rest of the globe, and that has not changed.
“Hong Kong is one of my favorite places in the world.” “I can see myself being here for a few more years,” Marc remarked, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. “I believe the epidemic will pass, therefore I’m okay with it.”
Marc, on the other hand, is looking forward. Those in charge of executive recruiting, on the other hand, believe that talented employees in Hong Kong and Singapore have grown tired of the continuing, stringent Covid-19 limitations, compared to the West, where there are almost no limits. These employees have moved for what they consider as brighter pastures, citing an increase in xenophobia in Asian centers as a factor.
According to official figures, Hong Kong’s population has been falling at an all-time high, with the city losing 89,000 people in the year ending June. Meanwhile, the non-resident population in Singapore fell by 10.7%, or around 175,000 persons, during the same time period.
Some observers believe that Asia may lose its luster in the near run as employees weigh new pandemic-related concerns when deciding where to work. This might stymie the region’s access to highly sought-after global talent, such as data scientists, artificial intelligence experts, cybersecurity experts, and software developers.
The good news is that this discomfort is most likely quite brief. Border restrictions and severe social distance, according to Bruno Lanvin, distinguished fellow at the Insead business school, are “cycle aspects” that will not last.
In the end, cities like Hong Kong and Singapore offer significant attraction elements, such as world-class health care, high-quality education, and infrastructure that facilitates digital connection. Analysts believe that these features, together with business-friendly administrations, enable them to attract a consistent inflow of overseas labor.
These “quality of life” elements, according to Ivan Tan, Mercer’s chief consultant of incentives and general mobility, ensure that countries like Singapore “will continue to be appealing despite all the fears, problems, and disappointments.”
This is reflected in global rankings. Despite falling to fifth position from first place for two years in the World Competitiveness Ranking issued by Switzerland’s Institute for Management Development, Singapore remained the top-ranked Asian economy.
Singapore was rated sixth most talent-competitive city in a Global City Talent Competitiveness Index released on Tuesday by Insead and the Portulans Institute in the United States. The ranking was headed by San Francisco in the United States, Geneva in Switzerland, and Boston in the United States. They were the only two Asian cities to reach the top 20.
Lanvin, a study co-editor, said he “would not be shocked” if additional Asian cities made the top 20 next year since the Asia-Pacific region is likely to be the “global engine of development” in the coming years.
He noted that Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul, as well as Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai in China, were all “strong challengers.”
The “cyclical aspects,” on the other hand, continue to bite. “Critical now because we’re not out of the epidemic yet,” Lanvin remarked.
Temporary Short Term Pain
Singapore and Hong Kong have long been hailed as magnets for skilled labor, but recent events, including as the governments’ response to the epidemic, have aroused fears that their reputation may be jeopardized.
Tan from Mercer stated that employees in Asian cities would find the conditions “difficult,” referring to the cities’ comparatively rigorous border controls compared to the West. According to him, the uncertainty and unpredictability have produced concern among the international labor.
During the early stages of the pandemic, Asia-Pacific jurisdictions were mostly successful in keeping the virus at bay, thanks to border restrictions. When the globe was focused on eradicating the virus, this tactic worked off, as regions with zero Covid, such as New Zealand, topped Bloomberg’s Covid-19 resilience index in November.
However, as Europe and North America become more receptive to the virus and begin to treat it as a mild sickness, worldwide opinions have evolved. New Zealand has dropped 37 places in the same list as zero-Covid tactics become less popular. The rating now favors nations that deal with the virus “the most effective while causing the least social and economic disruption.”
Many countries in the area have imposed stringent limitations and have struggled to adjust to Covid-19. Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, defended travel restrictions earlier this month, indicating that the city’s limits will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
If pandemic-related travel restrictions are prolonged for another year or two, Taimur Baig, chief economist at DBS Bank, believes it is “possible” that some Western professionals may return home.
There has already been considerable harm. Singapore’s foreign worker population is dwindling, according to official data. The skilled foreign workforce in the city state declined from over 796,000 in December 2019 to 647,000 in June this year, excluding domestic employees and work-permit holders in the construction, maritime, and process industries.
The expat community in Hong Kong, according to sources, is becoming more irritated with the city’s strict quarantine regulations. Some professionals and businesses have also left as a result of Beijing’s unpopular national security legislation, which is seen as undermining liberties.
After obtaining high vaccination rates, Singapore switched to treating the virus as endemic in recent months. It announced quarantine-free travel agreements with nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom on Tuesday.
Although the decision to gradually restart overseas travel has been widely applauded, several employees have yet to return home.
Rahul, a data scientist who has been in Singapore since 2017, has not seen his family in western India in over two years. International airplane operations between India and Singapore have been halted, according to the city state’s foreign ministry.
Rahul, who requested anonymity, added, “This has been a major worry.” He’d have to miss major family gatherings like his sister-in-and law’s cousin’s weddings because of the regulations. “If this keeps up, immigrants will have no choice but to leave since they cannot be separated from their families indefinitely.”
Despite the fact that Singapore and Hong Kong are facing labor shortages as a result of the epidemic, economist Baig believes their severe measures will be judged in light of their low mortality and hospitalization rates.
“As demonstrated in severe gyrations in the pandemic resilience indexes,” he noted, “no jurisdiction has consistently outperformed the rest of the globe during the epidemic.” “As a result, no one economy will seem to be a clear outperformer or a desirable destination.”
Search for Talent
Aside from border restrictions, analysts and human resource specialists believe the epidemic has uncovered new priorities among job searchers, which might alter the post-pandemic battle for and flow of competent personnel.
Health and safety would be “top issues” for jobseekers and their families, according to Samir Bedi, EY’s Asean Workforce Advisory Leader.
Cities would be judged on how effective their health-care systems were during the epidemics, as well as how successful their governments were in regaining control of their economy, he added.
According to Julia Radchenko, Mercer’s regional global mobility lead for Asia Pacific, the availability of medical facilities, the general city infrastructure, and other aspects like crime rates and the education system would all be considered.
Tan, a Mercer principle consultant, observed that the pandemic’s spurring of remote working has led to organizations looking to hire outside of the physical workplace. Employers in Singapore and Hong Kong may be impacted as a result of this, as they compete for talent with companies from all over the globe.
“The post-Covid-19 workforce will be virtual and hybrid in nature,” says the author. Cities must continue to invest in digital infrastructure and connectivity, including speeding up 5G rollouts, to satisfy the demands of the digital workforce, according to Bedi.
When it comes to top-tier talent, incomes have been influencing migratory flow, according to Mikal Skuterud, an associate professor of economics at the University of Waterloo. He used Canada as an example, saying that the nation has failed to recruit and retain top people in the ICT industry because companies couldn’t compete with the after-tax pay provided in other countries like the United States.
While Canada can compete at the lower end of the wage scale and has a reasonably robust social welfare system, including decent public health care and education, these qualities do not always help it recruit top talent.
Firms are looking for new methods to steal talent in the United States, where record-high numbers of people are quitting their jobs – over 4.3 million resigned in August – prompting them to hunt for new ways to capture talent. For example, PwC said that all of its 40,000 workers in the United States would be able to work practically from anywhere, while other institutions have stated that they will pay more.
Rahul, a data scientist in Singapore, said he had seen that companies in Europe and the United States were increasingly luring IT personnel with bigger salary packages than they were a few years ago. He had gone to the city state because of its thriving IT industry, as well as the high salary and cheap taxes, but now it looked that the West offered comparable prospects and compensation, he added.
There are also clearer paths for immigrants to gain residence in European nations, according to Rahul.
“There is a clearer system in other nations,” he added, “so at least there is some type of certainty that I can anticipate after a certain amount of years.” “In Singapore, things aren’t so obvious — it’s a bit of a black hole.”
According to DBS’s Baig, places like Dubai and Bangkok are gradually transforming into the future hotspots for overseas skilled people. The former benefits from a favorable tax policy and good connection, while the latter has attracted both professionals and long-term tourists. They are unlikely to “seriously threaten” Hong Kong and Singapore’s standing, he added.
The two megacities retain their allure. Low taxes, efficient infrastructure, ease of international travel, and exposure to Asia have all enticed high-skilled professionals to seek employment there, according to Baig. “Even if wages in the West grow, these characteristics are unlikely to fade, and will therefore continue to function as a draw factor to stay in these places.”
Because Asia has expanding markets, Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resource Institute, is optimistic that it will continue to be a favorable destination for international talent. After all, professionals often go to Asian locations such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, and Tokyo to complete their “global work experience,” he said.
“The pandemic was a stress test for the whole public health system to determine whether one could withstand it.” “Singapore and Hong Kong have shown that their systems are stable,” Tan remarked.
Nativism is on the Rise
While governments compete for the greatest brains from across the globe, the epidemic has brought a related concern to the forefront: growing nativism and protectionism.
With economies still suffering from the epidemic, job losses and unemployment rates have undoubtedly increased, making residents feel more uneasy about their career prospects.
According to Lanvin of Insead, a rising segment of the populace in various economies may feel disenfranchised. “They may feel that their credentials are less in demand, and that their position in society is being devalued,” he said, adding that this might lead to “not just expanding inequality, but also developing social tensions.”
In Singapore, for example, the epidemic has sparked anti-foreigner feelings and hatred. When the more contagious Covid-19 Delta form was discovered in Singapore, several people demanded tighter border controls. A rise in xenophobic and racist attacks has also been recorded.
Controversies surrounding the country’s free-trade pact with India, the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca), which was signed in 2005, were added to the mix. Despite several confirmations by authorities that Indians who enter under Ceca are subject to regular work-pass requirements, some have claimed that the arrangement allows for an unrestricted influx of Indian labor, putting the local workforce at a disadvantage.
In August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recognized a “growing dissatisfaction” towards foreigners, stating that more Singaporeans were experiencing the pandemic’s pressures.
In his annual policy talk, he attempted to allay public worries that locals were losing employment to foreign labor, citing a variety of government initiatives, including gradually increasing the qualifying income for foreigners. He said that foreign workers supplemented the country’s labor and helped the economy flourish.
He said, “We must not turn our backs on [foreigners] and convey the image that Singapore is becoming xenophobic and antagonistic to foreigners.” “It would severely tarnish our image as an international center.” We would lose investments, employment, and possibilities as a result. For us, it would be devastating.”
Lee was supported by Elisa Mallis, Asia Pacific managing director of leadership development business Center for Creative Leadership. She believes that for open economies like Singapore to recover from the epidemic, a broad and global workforce is required.
According to a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, companies in Singapore are already finding it difficult to employ locals for certain positions. The poll, which included answers from 95 senior executives and was released earlier this month, indicated that the largest barriers to recruiting local people for senior-level positions are a lack of “required specialized skills” and applicable experience. Firms are also having difficulty finding Singapore experts with creativity and critical-thinking abilities at the mid- to senior-level.
Lanvin’s response to nativism was to upskill local people and support lifelong learning so that residents are prepared to work in the knowledge economy and feel less alienated.
“Upskilling and reskilling are the buzzwords,” he remarked. “It is not just governments that will play a critical role in ensuring that their own workforce has the opportunity to learn the new skills required in a post-Covid environment; it is also employers, both public and private, who will play a critical role in ensuring that their own workforce has the opportunity to learn the new skills required in a post-Covid environment.”