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What Might the US Immigration Clampdown Mean for Adland’s Globe-trotting Talent?

London, UK
Between Brexit and the shocking new US immigration squeeze, Laura Swinton asks if adland’s hotspots could face a talent squeeze

Talent, we often hear, is the lifeblood of the creative industries. It courses from agency to agency, country to country, swarms of haemoglobin bringing the oxygen of new ideas, experience and insight to the creative mix. Companies compete to attract the best, the boldest, the most ingenious from all over the world… but certain markets may find that their talent pool is set to shrink. Businesses have always had visas to contend with, but with the US suddenly preventing even those with visas and green cards from certain countries from entering and Brexit looming, certain advertising hotspots may find attracting top talent trickier than ever. 

Or, by way of torturing an analogy that’s already overstaying its welcome, the arteries of movement are clogging up and a cardiac event must be in the offing.

Last week, Johnny Hornby spoke to Sky News in the UK about the ad industry’s concerns about Brexit and highlighted the fact that one of the reasons that London performs so strongly is its ability to draw ambitious creatives from all over, and its pool of European top talent makes it a regional and global hub for many brands.

But while we pondered on the implications of that, there was something bigger and more cataclysmic in the offing. The news that Donald Trump signed an executive order to prevent refugees from entering the US for 120 days, as well as immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, was a shock for all sorts of reasons. Leaving politics and the personal and wider socio-political implications aside for now (it’s something that’s been written about at length elsewhere), for international businesses, the big worry is that the ban also covered immigrants from these countries with pre-approved visas and green cards, potentially affecting current staff and future prospects for attracting talent. Who wants to uproot their lives to pursue a career opportunity if they run the risk of getting turfed out on a whim? 

And now there are reports that there are to be massive reforms of the H-1B visa, which potentially hits a wider range of nationalities.

Anecdotally, last year I was at an event in the States where I met a Syrian creative who worked at a big agency in Lebanon. She very nearly hadn’t made the event because of the very stringent vetting already in place. She was one of her agency’s brightest young talents and was only visiting the US for a week or so; what happens when she, or someone like her, becomes a sought after commodity with the potential to sky rocket an agency and win clients can’t be hired or chooses to move to a different market that’s more welcoming of her skills?

We talk a lot about diversity in the ad industry, the importance of a wide range of voices and perspectives and experiences in the creative mix. It’s not just a nice-sounding platitude – there’s solid evidence supporting the hypothesis that working with people who are different to us makes us more effective creatives. Part of that is about social inclusion – making the industry more accessible to smart thinkers from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Ironically, while the industry is pretty dreadful when it comes to things like race, gender and class, it’s been pretty good at encouraging people from different countries. Agency bosses boast of having offices peopled with 18 nationalities. It’s seen as a selling point, especially on chunky, international accounts.

It’s too early to call what the knock on effects will be, whether we may see other strong advertising centres slowly catch up or take over London or New York as talent magnets. Right now, I’m speculating. But if the past year has taught us anything, even the most unlikely scenario is possible.

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