Brave New Worlds? An Insight into Relocation

A recent BBC article caught our attention due to its very human account of the effects that relocation can have, not just on the assignee but on the accompanying spouse, partner or immediate family.  The consequences for a spouse of following their loved one across the world have always been something we are extremely aware of, and we feel that it is worth drawing as much attention as possible to this important issue.

The article gives moving case studies of spouses who struggled with adjusting to a new life far from their family and friends.  It is true, however, that relocation is not always a negative experience.  It can be a chance to seize new opportunities which were not available in one’s home country.  Expatriates often form strong communities within their new countries and can be an invaluable source of support and friendship to one another when learning to adjust to a new life.

Despite this, the fact remains that relocating is often a difficult process and Andrew Walker, a director of global mobility, states in the BBC article; ‘The number one reason for assignment failure is the family’s inability to acclimatise and adjust to the new location.”  If an assignee’s family cannot settle into their new home, there is a good chance the assignment may fail.  However, acclimatisation can be particularly hard for spouses if they are not allowed to share the same rights as the person they are following to a new country.  

When expatriates arrive in host countries to take up their assignments, legislation in some countries such as the UK allows for accompanying spouses or partners to seek employment if they choose to do so.   Clearly, this is of great benefit as it allows a spouse to continue to share in the provision of income for the household.  However, it also means that a spouse has the opportunity to continue with a desired career path towards achieving personal goals.  Whilst some families choose to have only one main fee-earning member of the household, in others both partners enjoy and are fulfilled by their work and it can be very hard for the spouse of an assignee to leave this behind. 

The Permits Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation which campaigns tirelessly for working rights to be awarded to all expatriate spouses and partners.  Their 2008 global survey of 3,300 partners of international staff revealed that 25% of international staff had turned down or terminated a job opportunity because of concerns about the partner’s employment or career.  70% of partners interviewed said that their own employment was important in the decision to relocate, with almost 60% stating they would be unlikely to relocate to a country where it was difficult to get a work permit.   This shows that if spouses are prevented from being able to seek work in their new country, aside from the resulting emotional stress inflicted on the assignee and their partner, a cancelled assignment may incur losses and expense for the employer.  If a manager with specialised skills who plays a vital role in a new project terminates his assignment early or abandons it altogether, this will clearly have financial ramifications for the company, and may result in lengthy delays to the proposed venture.

In 2011, the foundation’s survey of 200 global organisations employing a total of 7.5 million people between them disclosed that 74% of companies felt it was important for the partner of a relocating assignee to be able to work and 95% agreed that partners should be allowed to work in the host country.  Clearly, global companies recognise the importance of access to work for partners of the assignee they wish to move across the world.  We applaud the work of the Permits Foundation and support its aim of establishing access to work for spouses and partners of expatriates across the globe.  It has already made important achievements, for example, representations made to the Government of India resulted in a change of regulation permitting spouses of intra-company transferees to apply for an employment visa in India, and we hope that it only continues to build on such successes, to create a fairer system for those who find themselves in a new life.

Have you had to move across the globe with your spouse or partner?  We’d love to hear your stories of how you adjusted to a new life.  Leave us your comments below.

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