Monday, August 24, 2009

Protectionism and its effect on expats

Whether you’re a ‘corporate assignment’ type of expat or someone who is settling in a new country notionally forever, it seems likely that you’ll have read recently about moves towards ‘protectionism’ in many parts of the world. You’ve also probably been slightly concerned.

There are a few examples that have made headline news and others that have been rather less well reported. Examples include the “British Jobs for British Workers” strikes and disruptions in the UK oil industry and French politicians campaigning for the plants of French car manufacturers in Eastern Europe to be closed and their production moved back to France.

I’m not just picking on the UK and France. There have been major similar incidents and campaigns in many other countries in Europe plus the USA and Australia.

It’s no great surprise that economic hardship and recessions lead to a natural tendency to say, “let’s look after our own and let the foreigners sort their own problems out”. Sadly there are also a tiny minority of disreputable politicians who will also use troubles to wheel out their ancient and discredited views about how bad foreigners are in general.

In fact, the views and concerns of expats on this subject tend to vary slightly depending on the nature of their expatriate status. I’ve spoken to a number of expats of the fixed-term ‘corporate assignment’ variety that are slightly concerned that background political pressures to keep high-paying jobs for ‘locals’ may lead to an early curtailment of their job.

By contrast, many ‘permie’ expats seem to see this as a less of an issue. In some cases that’s a tribute to their integration or in others that they are self-employed and believe that they are more immune to ‘jobs for the locals’ types of pressures.

I’ll offer my personal opinion. I suspect that in some parts of the world, notably the EU, Australia and the USA, the idea that protectionism could directly affect the majority of expats living there seems unlikely. Arguing (rightly or wrongly) for trade protectionism is one thing, but using this to discriminate against an expat population is totally different.

In many parts of the above countries and political blocks, the world is essentially ‘global’. Vast numbers of people have upped and moved across national boundaries and there are very large expat communities of various nationalities in virtually every country in the industrialised world. Many expats are now an essential part of the economic infrastructure of the country they live in and it’s difficult to imagine how this could be changed.

So times may get tough and the odd person may ‘sound off’ about jobs for the locals but in reality I suspect that protectionism as such will probably have little effect on us expats. Of course if this is the last blog you ever see me post then you’ll know I was wrong!

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