Escaping a COVID catastrophe – adaptability and responsiveness will be critical to the survival and success of countries and individuals alike

16 April, 2021

The report earlier this week highlighting the latest update of the Henley Passport Index ranking was an important reminder that economic recovery and development will be dependent on global mobility, including personal travel freedom (SEE REPORT: Japan revealed as holding the world’s most powerful post-pandemic passport, but wealthy nations with premium passports still ‘flounder and fail’ through the health crisis).

These travel freedoms have been severely restricted over the past year and we will likely remain to see some level of constraints continuing through 2021, into 2022 and even perhaps further ahead. However, Henley & Partners, the company behind the passport ranking, believes that we will now see a “global war for talent super-charged by Covid”.

This is based on the commentary and insights of leading scholars and experts on the major trends influencing mobility patterns today in the latest quarterly update of its Global Mobility Report. Grounded in geopolitical analysis and focusing on the realities shaping our world – from the global talent war to dual citizenship and the ethics of vaccine passports – the quarterly report offers exclusive insights into what we can expect in the months to come.

The 2Q 2021 edition suggests that adaptability and responsiveness will be critical to the survival and success of countries and individuals alike. It observes that in the wake of COVID-19, even high-net-worth individuals from advanced economies with premium passports are now looking to create portfolios of complementary citizenship and residence options through investment migration programmes in order to access health security and optionality in terms of where they can live, conduct business, study, and invest, for themselves and their families.

In the publication, Dr Parag Khanna, founder and managing partner of FutureMap, says the second half of the year may well see millions of people scattering again. “The shifting patterns of migration in the post-Covid world (when it comes) will be non-linear and perhaps unpredictable. They will mimic the reality of a world in which there are many unfolding crises, from pandemics to climate change to political polarisation,” he says.

Countries facing fiscal pressures as well as skilled labour and investment shortages “will seek to attract and recruit everyone from start-up entrepreneurs who can stimulate innovation to doctors and nurses who can boost public health services,” according to Dr Khanna. “The global war for talent is now well underway,” he adds.

Commenting on how governments can begin to harness post-pandemic migration opportunities, Greg Lindsay, director of applied research at NewCities, writes in the same report that “destinations ranging from Helsinki to Dubai in terms of climate and temperament are already drafting programmes and policies targeting footloose talent whose employers have given them permission to roam”. He also suggests that the ballooning rate and popularity of programmes catering to mobile workers means that “any global destination without one is at risk of being left behind when the world opens up again”.

However, for some countries, notably the US, embracing a more fluid approach to migration is by no means a given. Annie Pforzheimer, senior non-resident associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, points out in the Henley & Partners report that the current polarised political environment means that “immigration reform faces significant headwinds”.

The introduction of vaccine passport, while not a perfect path, are seen by many as the quickest path to recovery, but they are no guarantee of mobility for all. Political science researchers Uğur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh, point out in the Henley & Partners report that there is a danger that vaccine passports will create perverse incentives.

“Given that people will likely need to be vaccinated every year, developed countries might seek to secure vaccine supplies for future use. Ultimately, this could prolong the pandemic and raise the risk of further mutations,” they say.

But the magnitude between the fastest and slowest in the race for herd immunity – when a large part of the population of an area is immune to a specific disease – will remain immense, notes Professor Mehari Taddele Maru, a part-time professor at the Migration Policy Centre and a fellow at the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies in Belgium.

He says that “countries able to vaccinate their populations relatively rapidly will also facilitate their citizens’ higher mobility and attract visitors for business and leisure, while countries that are facing conflicts and those that lack funding to ensure adequate storage and efficient distribution of vaccines will lag behind in easing mobility restrictions”.

As Dr Khanna suggests, 2021 is likely to be a fascinating year during which we could see millions of people scattering again. “Much of humanity is aching to get moving again,” he says. “Stranded workers and remote professionals, tourists and hospitality workers, digital nomads and investor migrants – all have had plenty of time over the past year to decide where to go next and to prepare for the new mobility protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic”.

It is sometimes hard to see past the barriers that have limited our mobility since 1Q 2020. Even with the antibodies to fight infections from vaccinations, new coronavirus waves of mutated forms appear to remain a threat to the recovery. Uncertainty remains a cloud over the path to recovery. But, let’s be honest with ourselves, we can now at least see that path and that is a much better position than we have been previously.