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Could blockchain-based digital health passports reignite employee mobility in a post COVID world?

As international recruitment gets hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, can technology hold the key to turning the tap of professional migration on again? Yes, says Rene Seifert, and one way to enable this is through the use of digitised health passports 

Blockchain in HR

The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly brought about huge change to the world of work over the past six months; organisations have had to pivot their operations entirely, speed up their digital transformation plans and completely alter how their workforce operates. One element of this shift has been seen in the abandonment of the traditional office. For those who can work from home, they have been doing so for the majority of the year now and it’s looking as though this will remain in place until at least the beginning of 2021.

While this has been successful for many organisations, there are a vast number of businesses which cannot do this because the work their employees carry out requires them to be physically present at a site. Similarly, another area which is suffering is that of industries that depend on hiring from overseas to ensure they have the right skills in place and a future pipeline of talent.

Many sectors rely heavily on recruiting internationally and are now struggling to source candidates with the right skills for their roles available. While some progress has been made in this area with international travel showing signs of life, there are still restrictions on global movement imposed by various countries, which is continuing to impose a widespread pause on professional migration. In particular, the healthcare industry, which is a heavily immigration-dependent sector, has felt the full force of the drop in the ability to recruit internationally.

It's therefore important that we start considering how we can open up borders again, to restart international recruitment and reignite the flow of professional migration in these sectors.

For us at TrueProfile.io, like so much else during this pandemic, technology holds the key to turning the tap of professional migration on again and one such way to enable this is through the use of digitised health passports.

The basic idea of a digital health passport is to provide a detailed, digitised record of where and when an individual has been tested. In other words, citizens would have access to an app to present a negative COVID-19 result at check-in and again on arrival at their destination, helping them avoid spending weeks in quarantine at the end of their journey.

In theory, this could not only open up professional migration, but the travel industry more widely. However, for the sake of saving international recruitment, having a portable, digitised mechanism to demonstrate to immigration officials, employers and other relevant authorities their health status, they can freely and safely travel and migrate to other countries. This can help restart professional migration and support sectors, such as healthcare, continue to garner talent from abroad, which is fundamental to their ability to help reduce skill shortages and ensure a future pipeline of talent.

Securing data is paramount

Before getting ahead of ourselves, a key question that will linger is: how can we make sure that information is unalterably and securely linked to one’s identity so that it can be considered authentic and the risk of the virus spreading kept to a minimum? With this in mind, the concept of digital health passports has some purchase to it, but only if it harnesses the latest technologies, such as blockchain.

A blockchain can be best defined as a shared, distributed database which records transactions. Each transaction is added as a block and is stored, decentralised, in the chain. Importantly, this means that no central party has control over its content and nobody can tamper with the records.

If blockchain were to be at the centre of any digital health passport development, we can ensure that professional migrants present an unalterable, secure and digitised health passport to anyone, including their employers or immigration authorities, at any point, to prove when and where they have been tested for COVID-19. This can provide a turnkey solution to opening up the doors to international recruitment again.

Science must dictate the feasibility

Although a digital health passports solution isn’t readily available just yet, it’s clear that blockchain-enabled technology is a plausible way to help support sectors, such as healthcare, continue to tap into pools of global talent and get the skills they need in place.

However, it is worth closing on the point that, for a blockchain-enabled health passport to truly work effectively and be taken seriously, it is crucial that COVID-19 tests are not only readily available to the general public, but that they also have high levels of sensitivity and specificity, which are essential measures to express the rate of false negatives and false positives of a result. Yet this should not mean that the development of blockchain-enabled health passports stops altogether, as it is clear that they can and will play a key part in helping restart international recruitment again.

Réne Seifert, pictured below, is co-founder & co-head TrueProfile.io and chief digital officer at The DataFlow Group

Rene Seifert, TrueProfile.io

Published 8 October 2020

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