The recruitment landscape in the UK has radically transformed following its departure from the European Union and in the aftermath of the global COVID-19 crisis. Interestingly, unemployment levels are at their lowest since the 70s, at under 4%. This has provoked companies to actively recruit overseas talent. The alteration in immigration directives has aimed to streamline the hiring process, whether the prospective employee is from France or Asia. This change has inevitably led to a focus on young, educated, and English-proficient populations.
The influx of non-EU citizens to the UK for work has, intriguingly, seen a rise from under 100,000 annually to a record-breaking 200,000 in 2022 – trending decidedly upward. Enter Thailand. An emerging origin country for workers looking to enter the healthcare, hospitality, and leisure industries. These sectors have been hit hard by staff shortages, a direct outcome of the combined effects of Brexit and the pandemic.
One particular niche that has seen significant growth is the UK’s beauty and massage industry. Historically, this sector has been primarily staffed by part-time student therapists. But with recent changes in regulations in the UK, small service businesses are capitalising on the skilled worker visa programme to attract potential talent from Asia. The programme, a points-based system favouring younger, better-educated recruits, is enabling fully qualified massage therapists to work full time in the UK under specialist visas. The advantages? They can earn considerably more than they would expect in their home countries while having the golden opportunity to live and experience life abroad.
Consider the case of Kanjana Sawangha, who owns London-based Thai Kosai, a specialist massage establishment. She says, “We’ve already sponsored six Thai graduates on work visas, and we’re likely going to need more unless the domestic recruitment landscape improves drastically. Admittedly, the process is challenging for small businesses to navigate, but recruiting domestically has proven to be an insurmountable hurdle.”
So how does the government and the authorities view this shift? On one hand, the UK government, who came to power in 2019 with a commitment to reduce immigration, finds itself in a precarious position. Caught between the undeniable economic need for more workers and the self-imposed boundaries as a consequence of halting the free movement of people around Europe.
In Thailand, emigration trends also reveal a telling picture. There was a noticeable spike in Thai nationals leaving the country from 2020 onwards. Are the authorities aware of the potential ramifications of such a “brain drain”? The healthcare sector is particularly vulnerable. An exodus of young workers not only puts pressure on local health services, as they may no longer care for aging relatives, but also when the emigrating workers themselves are future medical professionals, the effect is doubly impactful. The gender disparity is another issue, with 2020 UN data revealing that over 60% of Thai emigrants were female. This figure leads the pack in southeast Asia, with females being disproportionately represented compared to the global average.
A 2021 study in the International Journal of Current Science Research and Review interviewed a cross-section of Thai nationals. Across generations, it found that enhanced living standards were the primary motivation behind emigration. One thing is clear: unless the quality of work and life at home improves significantly, Thailand could face a future where more of its best and brightest talents are headed for greener pastures abroad.