LONDON — The prospect of companies axing thousands of jobs in the UK has haunted the national psyche following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union last year.
Concrete moves have been few and far between despite many companies, particular in the financial sector, talking seriously about moving jobs out of Britain.
But outside of the boardrooms, a smaller grassroots exodus has begun. Expats who came to Britain to further their careers are reconsidering their future.
“I’m not saying [Brexit] was the only reason, because we did have prior reasons, although I did think it did play quite a big role,” Natalia Briedis, a Pole working as a change analyst at a Norwich financial services firm, told BI.
Briedis is one of hundreds of people who have registered with Expat Exit, a new project that aims to help foreigners working in the UK find new jobs in other countries in the wake of the Brexit vote. The project is the brainchild of Marcin Czyza, a Polish commodities trader working in Amsterdam.
“My colleagues from the UK said they would be searching for new jobs now and I thought it would be a great idea to create some kind of organisation that I could turn into a business,” Czyza told BI, who has not worked or lived in the UK himself.
“At the beginning, of course, I struggled to promote the website. Then somehow Google recognised me and I started to have more and more registrations, almost everyday. I run this project as a non-profit organisation at the moment but I’d like to transform it to a recruitment business soon.”
Czyza says he has had close to 1,000 people register on the site since the middle of last year when he launched it and has seen spikes in interest corresponding with the government’s “Hard Brexit” rhetoric. This week, for example, his site saw four times as many registrations as usual in the wake of Theresa May’s speech announcing Britain would leave the single market.
“I talked to many people who registered on my website and in many cases they told me the same — Brexit was just a cherry on the cake,” Czyza says.
“They were already thinking about it for other reasons, whether furthering their career or the experience, sometimes not feeling welcomed in the UK — many reasons, you name it. Then the voting happened and many people felt they were not welcome anymore. Many people are just saying Brexit was a kick for them to search for another job.”
People who register on the Expat Exit website say where they would like to go and what type of job they would like. Financial services workers are by far the most common profession looking to relocate and Czyza says their destinations of choice are most often Frankfurt, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong.
But he adds: “In some cases people are just writing: somewhere where it’s hot, somewhere where I can swim. In these cases it’s quite hard to give a statistic.”
Despite the name, Expat Exit is not just for expats living in the UK. Harry Waterer is a 26-year-old Brit who worked in the City and broader financial services before turning to Marcin to help him relocate to Amsterdam.
“I started hearing this word Brexit and thought this is a little bit worrying, what options have I got?” Waterer told BI. “Am I best to stay here and look for options here or am I best to go somewhere else? I looked at options in Dubai, in Singapore.”
Both Waterer and Briedis connected with Czyza over Facebook and Waterer, who moved to Amsterdam in August of last year, describes himself as a “guinea pig” for Czyza’s project.
“He was great,” Waterer says. “He talked to me about taxation over here and the relief of going on your own. We’ve become quite close friends over it, which is great. We see each other quite a lot.”
For now, Czyza is using his own contacts to help people find jobs on the continent but he hopes to turn the project into a proper recruitment business.
He says: “There are many companies already interested in my project now. Most importantly, I bring them valuable people. Firstly, they’re available now. Secondly, they have experience from London or the UK which is always good. Right now I’m having conversations with a leading Polish bank because they’re interested in Polish professionals who want to leave London.”
Czyza thinks there his idea has big potential: “My personal opinion is the British economy will suffer. The sooner you decide to get out, the better it will be. Worst case scenario, London will lose its position as a world-leading financial centre.”
Waterer agrees, saying: “I think there’s a lot of volatility within the community, especially within London. People are moving to Frankfurt or they’re moving to Amsterdam because they see this as a sustainable place and secure within the eurozone.
“Post-Brexit, even now, nobody actually knows what is going to happen when we actually leave. We’re stuck in this very, very grey area.”
Briedis says: “I keep hearing about people losing their jobs, especially in financial service industry. I just didn’t want to leave my career to chance. If I’m going to leave I’m going to leave on my own terms.”
She adds: “I wouldn’t be coming to Britain now because I don’t know what the future would bring for the expats in one or two years time. I wouldn’t want to come to a country where I might be forced to leave or my terms of staying here could be altered in one or two years time.”