A Global Perspective

May 25, 2012

Recently, we attended the Totally Expat Show 2012 and had the opportunity to participate in a series of seminars with relocation professionals.  A heavy focus was placed on the analysis of current patterns and trends in global mobility, understanding how companies have been forced to change and re-structure in the current global economic climate, and looking at the emerging markets of the BRIC countries, which are experiencing increased numbers of foreign assignees relocating to their shores. 

We also had the first chance to read and discuss the Global Mobility Survey 2012.  The survey provides a broad analysis of key mobility issues and trends and flags up certain facts which HR professionals should be aware of.  In this blog we hope to draw out some of the most significant findings from the survey, and analyse them in the context of our own experiences as providers of global immigration advice.  We hope that this will prove useful for our readers when planning international assignments in the future.

The World is getting smaller…

It is quite clear from both the Report and the number of requests we receive for global immigration assistance, that the number of international assignments is on the rise.  Recently, we have noticed increasing volumes of assignees being posted to BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, with China being at the top of this list.  According to the Report, 47% of the 1,119 organisations surveyed reported growth in international assignments in the last 12 months, and of these, 21% stated that China was the most common relocation destination, with the US and the UK taking second and third place respectively.

Market growth is clearly the main reason for this increase in international assignments.  In the past decade, we have witnessed the emergence of the BRIC countries as economic powers, who have continued to build on their rapid rate of growth even in the face of a global recession.  We will undoubtedly continue to see large volumes of assignees being posted to such countries, but this does not come without difficulties.  The Report finds that, whilst the BRIC countries are indeed seeing the greatest rise in international assignees, they are also the most challenging relocations – China (17%), India (12%), Russia (7%) and Brazil (7%).

China, for example, has notoriously strict immigration rules and recently announced a three month campaign in Beijing which is targeted at identifying and removing foreigners who live or work there illegally.  It is expected that this campaign will be introduced in other areas of China with high numbers of migrant workers and HR professionals should advise their assignees to carry their immigration documents with them at all times.  When posting assignees to countries such as China, therefore, it is even more vital that HR are aware of the immigration requirements and ensure that the correct visa is always issued before the employee commences the assignment.

Cultural differences are indentified by the Report as being the primary reason why such countries pose challenges, and this accords with our own experience.  India has a unique set of cultural norms which many assignees from Western countries may not be aware of, for example, they do not like to express ‘no’ whether verbally or non-verbally, and therefore business negotiations will typically be rather drawn out.  However, losing one’s temper at the slow rate of progress would indicate to your Indian clients that you are unworthy of respect and trust, and undermine the whole transaction.  Obviously is important to be aware of these differences so that assignees can adapt swiftly and achieve their company’s business aims. 

Singapore, another country which is seeing a rise in foreign assignees, has an extremely strict penal system, with offences such as outrage of modest, drink driving and overstaying attracting corporal punishment (the rattan cane), imprisonment or hefty fines.  Chewing gum is banned in Singapore and on-the-spot fines are common for foreigners who are found chewing gum in public places.  Again, the importance of HR professionals taking some time to research local laws and customs in these countries must not be ignored. 

We may feel that global borders are dissolving in the face of increased accessibility to countries across the world, but the reality is that cultural, social and legal divides are still very much in force.

Where Next?

Goldman Sachs have identified the next 11 potential countries which, ‘combined with the right economic and political conditions have the capability to greatly impact the global economy.’  These ‘N-11’ countries are: Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Phillippines, Turkey and Vietnam.

As we have already discussed, however, there will be a number of important factors which HR must consider when organising assignments to these countries.  The Report’s summary of areas which frequently cause issues will help HR professionals to anticipate and assess these challenges when arranging assignments:

Cultural differences 59%
Personal security concerns 42%
Legislation difference 39%
Language difficulties 35%
Political climate 34%
Cost of living 26%
Housing 24% Lack of facilities 24%
Other 13%

In the face of such challenges, HR are having to adapt assignments and packages to ease the process and incentivise assignees.  The Report confirms that alternative assignment types are being used, such as mission contracts and short-term assignments.  Packages are also being adapted to include attractive services for spouses and other accompanying family members.  It is mentioned, however, that only 40% of the organisations surveyed offer cultural training, and this is quite surprising given that ‘cultural adaptation is a key feature of expatriate success, and this survey shows that cultural challenges are significant.’  We hope that in future, companies will appreciate the benefits that cultural training will have, not only for easing the assignee’s transition, but also in terms of ensuring business goals are met.

We hope this blog has provided a useful analysis of the Global Mobility Report 2012 and some helpful advice for HR professionals in the face of global changes.  If you have any comments, please post below…