Europeans less keen to move to North America and UK, survey reveals

Europeans are less keen to move to Northern America and the United Kingdom than in the past, a survey has revealed.

Europeans less keen to move to North America and UK, survey reveals
An American Airlines plane approaches the runway at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia, on April 2, 2022. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP)

It might be the effect of the pandemic, but Europeans are less keen to move to Northern America and the United Kingdom than in the past, a new EU survey has revealed.

While the percentage of Europeans saying they would be interested to work abroad has not changed significantly over the years (18 percent in 2022 compared to 17 percent in a previous survey carried out in 2009), there are significant changes in their favoured destinations. 

In 2022, Germany was the most popular choice for those who considering moving to another country at some point in the future, followed by Switzerland, Spain, the United Kingdom and Northern America (US and Canada).  

Germany and Switzerland have risen in popularity as a destination to move to among all nations except Slovenia, with the sharpest increases seen in Finland, Luxembourg and Italy.. 

Some 12 percent would choose Northern America and the UK.

The US and Canada remain favoured work destinations in four EU countries – Finland, Malta, Portugal, and Latvia.

Overall, however, their popularity has decreased by 14 percentage points compared to 2009, with the biggest falls seen in in Ireland, Luxembourg, France, Denmark, Spain and Italy. 

Brexit and the administrative barriers it created might have had an impact on the declining interest for the UK as a chosen destination for Europeans.

However, the UK did see a rise in popularity as a work destination among Swedes and Romanians. Interest also remained high in the Netherlands and Portugal, but declined strongly in Cyprus, Slovakia and Latvia.

Going or staying? 

The survey was conducted between May and June 2022 and was carried out for the European Commission to understand EU labour mobility after the pandemic.

The respondents most likely to say they would see themselves working abroad were from Finland (39 percent), Slovenia (33 percent), Sweden, Malta and Latvia (30 percent). The least likely were from Italy (11 percent), Romania, Austria, Cyprus, Greece (13 percent) and Poland (14 percent). 

The number of people saying they would not work abroad has also increased, reaching 79 percent (+6) compared to the previous research. 

Who moves and how to find a job abroad

Demographic data show that women in Europe are more likely than men to say they would move abroad and the same is true for city dwellers compared to residents in rural areas. Young people are more interested in having experiences in other countries too than older generations. 

Almost three quarters, 73 percent of Europeans considering a move would plan to stay abroad for more than one year. 

Personal contacts (51 percent), dedicated online job search tools (34 percent) and online social networks (32 percent) are the main channels used to find a job in another country, according to the responses. 


Some 13 percent of Austrians would consider working abroad in the future, even for a short time. Almost half of these would want a permanent employment while 28 percent would be keen on an internship. The top destinations for Austrians are Switzerland (23 percent), Germany (17 percent) and Northern America, although the latter saw a drop in popularity of 8 percent. Austrians are more likely than European peers to say they would require a salary offer at least 50 percent higher than the current one to accept a job in another country. Austria is the most popular destination for Hungarians (31 percent). 


Just less than a quarter (22 percent) of Danes would work abroad, a drop of 29 percent over 2009, the largest drop in the EU. The majority (59 percent) would be interested in a permanent employment, and 43 percent would be keen on a temporary assignment abroad through the current employer. The favourite locations are Germany, the UK and Northern America, although the last two countries saw a drop in appeal in recent years. A share of respondents above the EU average (26 percent) would move for the same salary and 8 percent for a lower one. 


About quarter of French respondents (26 percent) said they would consider working abroad. The vast majority (64 percent) would move for a permanent job and more than 50 percent said they would want to earn more. A percentage above EU average (10 percent) would move for volunteering. The favourite destinations are Northern America (18 percent), although it dropped by 17 percentage points compared to the 2009 survey, Spain and Switzerland. There was no significant change in interest for the UK (13 percent). 


Germans are less likely than EU peers to be interested in a job in another country (14 percent), although the percentage is on the rise (+3 percent). Some 59 percent would move for permanent employment and 24 percent for temporary assignment with their employer. In a nod to language preferences, Switzerland (21 percent), Austria (15 percent) and Spain (12 percent) are the favourite destinations among Germans. North America saw a big drop in popularity among German – a drop of 13 percent compared to 2009. The UK also saw a drop in popularity from 12 to 6 percent.


Only 11 percent among Italian respondents would be keen to move, a growth of 7 percentage points compared to 2009. Almost half (44 percent) would move for a permanent employment, 28 percent for traineeship and 20 percent for seasonal work. Spain, Switzerland and Germany are the favourite destinations, followed by the UK, which however lost 10 percentage points. The vast majority of respondents need to be offered a higher salary than the current one to take up a job in another country.


Among Spaniards, 15 percent would move abroad for work. The majority (63 percent) would want a permanent job and 29 percent seasonal work. Some 36 percent said they would need to earn at least twice as high to make the move. Germany, France and Italy are the favourite destinations, although the latter two lost some of their appeal over the years. 


Some 30 percent of Swedish respondents would move abroad, with a vast majority among them (66 percent) looking for a temporary assignment through the current employer and 47 percent a permanent job. The favourite locations for Swedes are the UK, Northern America and Germany. 

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Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.