Expatriation as an international phenomenon is gaining ground especially for young people under 35 years of age. With our closest neighbour, France, potentially being affected by Brexit, Expat.com asks whether the UK will lose its status as a favourite employment destination for young French talent.
Of the 7,040 young French expatriates currently living abroad for work, the majority are in the UK. This number doesn’t include those young French people who are in the UK’s higher education institutions, or are doing internships this side of the Channel Tunnel.
Recent university graduates are willing to explore their employment opportunities way beyond their homeland, in order to earn professional and personal experience, and England appears to be the most attractive destination.
According to the latest reports, up to 2.5 million French are living outside France, and the UK is on the top of the destinations’ list. While France is struggling with unemployment, markedly among young adults, the United Kingdom is embraced for its progressiveness and openness towards entrepreneurship, restricted bureaucracy, flexibility and support to change career paths, and distinction between an already obtained university degree and a professional future.
Many of the French citizens in London hold jobs in digital technology companies – an area where the UK is facing talent shortages.
Why is the UK the first choice for French expatriates?
Researchers learned that England is the most popular choice among other destinations for young French expatriates for several reasons:
- The English language: The cliché goes, “French people don’t speak English”. However, young French people shatter the myth, and collectively choose England for their first steps into the job market. These people understand the importance of the English language as an international language, and are more motivated than the previous generation to achieve proficiency, to be more confident when speaking and writing English, and to live in the country that officially speaks it.
- They are neighbours: Expatriation opens up new horizons, and is the key to many adventures and self-discovery, but at the same time spawns angst for the people and the familiar things that an expatriate is leaving behind — family, friends, favourite dishes, cherished spots for leisure, use of particular transport etc. France is only a stone’s throw away from England, which makes the expatriation a whole lot easier — especially for young people, who might be moving out from home for the first time. At the same time, the bearable distance translates to affordable travel expenses.
- Excellent education: The United Kingdom is the second most popular destination in the world for higher education. Oxbridge institutions are reknowned worldwide, and the standard of education is internationally perceived as excellent. Young French professionals might be drawn to the UK by a logical assumption — the UK has excellent education, therefore its employment market is equally excellent. Furthermore, many of these young French expatriates may have already studied in the UK, as a result of the country’s popularity with foreign students, and may have completed an internship in the country — all good reasons to seek UK employment.
- The international experience: Many French workers head for London. It is a cosmopolitan city, a financial centre and a cultural hub — summing up to an ideal international experience, while you are building a successful career. There’s a lot for a young expatriate to learn about the world at work, and enough to entertain young people outside office hours.
Limited expatriation in the rest of the United Kingdom
While England, and particularly London, absorbs most young French working expatriates, the rest of the United Kingdom is less attractive to them — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland fall low on the list of countries where young French expatriates choose to work, according to Expat.com. There’s no evident preference for these countries, even among the future French expatriates, who are still in the process of planning their departure but haven’t moved out of France as yet.
The impact of Brexit on young French expatriates
The outcome of June’s 23rd referendum hasn’t left the young French wannabe expatriates unresponsive. Despite most of the current expatriates choosing to work in the UK, Expat.com found that the number one preferred destination for to-be-expatriates is the United States, with England coming second.
Young French people, who are about to invest money and time in expatriation, and are ready to sacrifice the convenience of home for better career prospects, might be hesitating to move to a country undergoing political and economical uncertainty. Thus, the post-referendum situation in the United Kingdom discourages future expatriates, who will have concerns about increased administration hassles and visa applications.
The United States is without a doubt a rather complicated destination for expatriates with strict rules – but United States has a predictable process and expats know exactly what to expect during a stable administration process that has been going on for many years.
Young expats-to-be are emotionally affected by the ongoing stories of older expatriates in the UK, who after the Brexit decision feel insecure and worried about their identity as French expatriates in the United Kingdom.
Even if nothing changes for French citizens after Brexit, it would appear that the decision to leave alone could see future talent deterred from continuing to head to London.