Most such overseas assignments are regarded as temporary, the fourth annual NatWest IPB survey noted, with the employees typically maintaining a UK base while abroad, for what is said to be an average total of 5.4 years.
The survey dubs such peripatetic workers “global expat commuters”, and notes that this type of short-term expatriation has begun to blur traditional definitions of what is meant by "expatriate".
According to the survey, around three quarters of a million British workers currently travel overseas to work abroad annually.
Rather than representing a “brain drain” for Britain, however, the survey portrays the phenomenon as a “brain exchange”, as foreign workers from other countries simultaneously relocate to Britain and elsewhere.
Another key finding of the report was that the ratio of temporary to permanent workers looks set to rise to ten to one by 2020, from its current rate of five to one, as countries around the world “are progressively sharing their talent rather than keeping hold of it”, while also making greater use of temporary employees.
Dave Isley, head of NatWest IPB, noted that advances in travel and telecommunications had made it easier for UK companies to set up and maintain international operations, which in turn had “opened the door to sending young, talented, professionals abroad, while being supervised and coached by their managers in the UK”.
The study was carried out for NatWest IPB by the Centre for Future Studies between October and November 2010, and consisted of email interviews with 1,430 individuals in 12 countries, including Australia, Canada, China, France, South Africa, New Zealand and the US. Some were recruited from respondents to the previous year’s survey, while others were found via online recruitment notices posted on expat websites.
Other key findings of the survey:
• GenXYpats are drawn to global working, with 48% choosing to take up temporary posts overseas compared to just 28% aged over 50.
• Expats view working overseas as a positive experience, with 52% rating their overall quality of working life as either “excellent” or “very good”.
• English speaking countries are most popular among professional expats, with Australia, Canada and the USA coming out on top. merging top of the list. The
• Expatriate workforces are becoming more international, with more than 50% of companies now employing more than one nationality. Women make up 22% of the expatriate workforce, up from 6% 15 years ago.