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During the latter half of the 20th century expatriation was dominated by professionals sent by their employers to foreign subsidiaries or headquarters. Starting at the end of the 20th century globalization created a global market for skilled professionals and leveled the income of skilled professionals relative to cost of living while the income differences of the unskilled remained large. Cost of intercontinental travel had become sufficiently low, such that employers not finding the skill in a local market could effectively turn to recruitment on a global scale.

This has created a different type of expatriate where commuter and short-term assignments are becoming more common and often used by organizations to supplement traditional expatriation. Additionally, many people who do not necessarily hold any highly sought after skills, qualifications or experience have moved to new cities, states or countries on their own accord due to their own personnel inspiration. 

Many aspects of private motivation are becoming more relevant. Families might often stay behind when work opportunities amount to months instead of years. The cultural impact of this trend is more significant. Traditional corporate expatriates did not integrate and commonly only associated with the elite of the country they were living in. Modern expatriates spread amongst the classes and work within all corners of the globe. Integration is incomplete but strong cultural influences are transmitted.

The continuing shift in expatriates has often been difficult to measure. According to United Nations (UN) statistics and The World Bank, more than 215 million people live outside of their home country (country of birth). However, this number also includes economic migrants.

Some cities, states and even countries are made up of a significant percentage of expatriates. For instance, in Dubai the population is predominantly expatriates, from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines, with only 20% of the population made up of citizen.

The Global Economic downturn of 2008/9 saw many expatriates returning back to their home country due to extreme currency fluctuations, redundancies and hiring freezers. However, 2010, 2011 and 2012 have seen steady increases in the number of expatriate jobs from most industries once again being advertised.