Home » Expat Focus International News Update September 2023

Expat Focus International News Update September 2023

Flight Chaos Across Europe

UK air traffic control suffered from a widespread failure at the end of August, causing the cancellation of more than 2000 flights and chaos at airports. Air traffic controllers were forced to revert to a manual system until the technical issue was resolved, but although the outage only lasted for around four hours in total, the subsequent disruption affected thousands of passengers. Martin Rolfe, the CEO of NATS (National Air Traffic Services) had this to say:

“Simply speaking, our systems received some data on an aircraft and it was unable to process it. That is incredibly rare – we process millions of flight plans every year, thousands every day. It is safer for us [in that situation] to revert to a manual system, that makes sure no data that is safety critical to people’s travel can ever fall into the hands of a controller, and they can continue to operate at a lower capacity. Very occasionally… we end up with a situation which is not possible to fix immediately. While I agree it is not the service we want to provide, the priority is safety.”

Some tough questions are now being asked of the CAA, which has control over NATS. 

Former BA boss Willie Walsh told the press, “Nats has crucial questions to answer about their responsibility for this fiasco. The failure of this essential service is unacceptable and brings into question the oversight of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) who are required to review the Nats resilience plan under the terms of its licence.”

Although flights are now back to normal, it’s likely that issues surrounding compensation for disrupted passengers will last for some months to come. 

Bali’s Crackdown on Foreigners

Bali has been in the news recently for deporting visitors, including a number of British expats. 213 people have been deported since the start of the year, including 13 Brits, 12 Australians and 14 American nationals. The deportations were made due to visa violations or anti-social behaviour, which can take a variety of forms – from running an illegal business, to climbing sacred trees, to using non-recyclable plastics. A new hotline allows people to report tourists who are misbehaving and the authorities are taking it seriously. If you’re visiting Bali, make sure you check the guidelines on visa regulations and behaviour.

Thailand Limits Foreign Residency

Another Asian nation, meanwhile, has been limiting the number of residence visas granted to foreign nationals. At the end of August, the Thai Ministry of the Interior announced that:

  • The annual quota for granting permanent residency is a maximum of 100 persons per country.
  • The number of stateless foreigners who will have a residence in the Kingdom in 2023 shall not exceed 50 persons.

This follows measures such as the crackdown in March on foreigners working as illegal tour guides – only Thai nationals are allowed to take up these posts under law. The restrictions on residency are not a new measure – the Thai authorities say that they are in line with the Immigration Act of 1979 – but they do follow more recent ‘localisation’ legislation in South East Asia and other parts of the world. 

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Global Trend of Downsizing Office Spaces

Recent post-pandemic reports on global business property suggest that the EU plans to reduce its office space, mirroring actions by other organizations. For example, HSBC has left Canary Wharf for a smaller HQ in Central London, and in the US, Nationwide has retained four of its big central hubs but has closed a number of its regional campuses. 

Business property experts attribute the downsizing trend to cost-cutting measures, continued work-from-home practices (due to many employees’ reluctance to return to the office), and rising interest rates. Facing falling profits, companies are streamlining operations, focusing on property downsizing and reducing employee numbers. The US tech sector has slashed around 150,000 jobs in 2023 alone, for example. 

Property researchers at CoStar Group estimate that about 13% of office spaces remain vacant. This has led to the rise of ‘ghost’ properties worldwide, where companies still pay rent even though employees work from home. 56% of American employees are estimated to be working from home, with 76% doing so at least some of the time – hybrid working proving to be a lasting phenomenon. 

Working from home is more prevalent in countries like the US, UK, Canada, and the Antipodes compared to Asia. Business experts say that this is due to the size of some Asian cities, with more people residing in urban centres, and many may experience overcrowding in their homes. Zero tolerance Covid-19 policies have affected this to some extent in places such as Singapore and Hong Kong, but as the pandemic wanes, more normal business working patterns may start to resume.

But in the West, it looks as though hybrid working is here to stay: JPMorgan Chase announced in 2022 that space for 65 – 70 employees out of every 100 would be provided in future, with 50% of employees working full time, 40% working hybrid, and 10% being entirely remote. In the UK, Capita permits some employees to work permanently from home. Similarly, Expat Focus has reported that some professionals in Washington DC have experienced this approach from their employers. Many employers believe that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Instead, a mix of strategies, from reducing office footprints and layoffs to increasing hybrid work models, appears to be addressing some of their economic challenges.

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