For the 19 million Europeans who live in a European Union country other than the one they were born in, it would be hard to imagine a continent where they were not free to move across borders. Brexit may be changing this though. When the UK puts up barriers to free movement, citizens of EU countries will no longer be guaranteed the right to live there and Britons won’t be able to pop across the Channel to settle where they please.
At Indeed, we are already seeing the effects of Brexit on the search patterns of European job seekers. Job seekers in most EU15 countries who want to work abroad are more or less equally likely to look within the EU15 today compared with two years ago. But, since 2015, people in the UK looking for work outside the country have scoped job opportunities in the EU more often.
At the same time, while the UK still remains the preferred destination for Europeans looking outside their home countries, its position at the top has eroded substantially. The share of international searches directed at UK jobs from EU15 countries—the core group of the oldest EU member states—now stands at 31.8%, down from 37.3% two years ago. That’s the biggest drop of any country in the EU.
Over the same period, Ireland—Britain’s English-speaking neighbor—has caught the eye of more Europeans. Traffic from job seekers based in other EU15 countries now makes up 11.2% of all searches on Indeed’s Irish site, up two full percentage points from 2015, the biggest gain except for tiny Luxembourg.
Who’s most focused on the EU?
No bureaucratic obstacles prevent EU citizens from moving wherever they please in the bloc. These open borders have transformed labour markets, spurring international job searches and migration throughout Europe. However, the probability of relocating for work varies from country to country, and big differences are found in the propensity of job seekers in different EU15 countries to focus their search within the Union when they look for opportunities abroad.
For starters, most Europeans are homebodies—90% of EU15 job seekers want work in their own countries. When they do hunt for jobs abroad, they’re often drawn to other EU destinations.
The international job seekers with the greatest EU focus are those from smaller member states that share a language with a populous neighbor. Luxembourgers, Belgians and Austrians are the most enthusiastic about jobs in other EU member states. In those three countries, more than 60% of searches abroad are in other EU15 countries. At the same time, between 40% and 50% of Spanish, Greek, Portuguese and Italian job seekers hunting abroad are interested in other EU15 countries.
After Brexit, British EU job searches jump, while Irish searches fall
Job seekers in most EU15 countries are more or less equally likely to look within the EU15 today compared with two years ago, but two countries stand out: the UK and Ireland. In post-Brexit Britain, the EU has become more popular. Although British job seekers looking abroad are still the least likely among EU workers to pursue opportunities in other EU15 countries, their searches for work there as a share of all international searches grew by 15% between 2015 and 2017.
At the same time, in Ireland, other EU countries have lost some of their allure. Only 39% of job seekers in the Republic seeking work abroad are now exploring other EU15 country compared with 46% two years ago. In fact, people in Ireland are less likely to look outside of Ireland altogether, not just in the EU. These trends are testaments to the improving Irish labour market, which also explains the Republic’s increasing popularity with other EU job seekers.
Overall, among the EU 15, almost one in three individuals searching for a job abroad is looking in other EU15 countries, but the numbers are not evenly split. The UK is still the most popular destination by far, but, as noted, its lead has narrowed significantly in the past two years.
All things being equal, larger economies draw greater numbers of migrating workers than smaller ones. That makes the high rankings of countries such as the Netherlands and Ireland all the more striking. Despite their smaller populations, they command greater job seeker interest than Italy or Spain.
Overall, in the period since the UK’s vote to leave the EU, European cross-border job searches have shifted from the UK to countries like Luxembourg and Ireland, as well as Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Spain. Ireland registered the biggest gain after Luxembourg, soaring from the eighth most popular destination in 2015 to number five today. Over the same period, Germany overtook France as the second most desirable destination for EU15 cross-border job seekers.
EU job seeker interest in the UK is shifting
In the UK, traffic from other EU28 countries continues to make up almost a third of international job searches. However, with some exceptions, interest from countries that have traditionally been big sources of migrants to Britain is either steady or declining. Among the top ten countries for inbound UK searches, only traffic from the Netherlands, Spain and Greece increased in relative terms between 2015 and 2017. Job seekers from these ten countries account for almost 80% of EU-based searches on indeed.co.uk.
Of the ten countries, searches from job seekers in Ireland and Poland dropped the most in relative terms. Ireland-based job seekers today are 28% less likely to search for jobs in the UK when they look outside the Republic. Today, they make up 11.7% of all EU searches directed to the UK, down from 14% in 2015.
A tale of two isles?
Cross-border job searches in the EU are more important than ever, despite variation from country to country. Small member states and the PIGS countries have a higher proportion of international job seekers looking within the EU. The UK remains the most popular destination for EU job seekers, but its lead has narrowed significantly in the past two years. At the same time, Ireland has leaped in popularity among EU job seekers.