Dealing with expatriation is a multi-faceted and often difficult process. The key is to find the invisible line between business expansion into other markets for sustainable growth and managing those individuals who are willing to relocate to a foreign cultural, socio-economic and political environment.

The goal is to ensure that the expatriate yields a return on investment for the business, as sending individuals on assignment can be a costly exercise, for both company and employee. Market penetration and operational expansion are two key strategic imperatives for most multinational organisations, therefore, there are certain skill sets which will drive operations abroad: management and specialist skills.

As these skill sets are paramount to an organisation's success, ensuring that these individuals are successful, whether it be on a short term or a long term assignment, is critical for achieving operational targets and retaining key talent.

Expatriate selection and preparation
The selection and preparation process is a vital step in managing an effective expatriate workforce, and there are many and varied requirements that have to be considered.

Relocation is an intensive and stressful exercise for the employee and their family. When a company embarks on and expatriate assignment, a number of elements need to be taken into account, among these are visas, banking, insurance, medical cover, shipping, storage, schooling, housing, security and transport, to name only a few.

Additional considerations would be the emotional and psychological effects encountered by the employee and their family, whether the family is accompanying the expatriate on the assignment or staying behind, and therefore selecting the most suitable candidate is of critical importance. The reality often is that you may not always be involved in the selection process or there may only be one individual suitable, willing and available to fill the role and in these cases the preparation of this employee and their family is all the more important to ensure a successful assignment. Where assignments fail, it is at huge cost to the company and negatively impacts on the employee, and therefore the myriad requirements that are part and parcel to the planning stages should be done with methodical precision.

Expatriate Preparation
Judging which personality type is the correct one is critical and demands specialised evaluation. We see time and time again where companies identify employees to go on assignment, where they do not score well on in the pre-assignment evaluations. It is therefore important to take all eventualities into account. Marilize de Witt, a registered industrial psychologist, concurs and insists that the best candidates have to be avidly searched for, and may not always be the obvious candidates.

One of the main reasons for the failure of expatriate assignments is the spouse and family of the expatriate employee and their unhappiness. As much as 69% of assignments fail. All these items must be taken into account when entering into any expatriate programme and as far as possible an attempt to ensure these reasons are dealt with during the selection and preparation phases. This approach, where cognisance is taken of the realities will minimise assignment failure.

Visas

Marisa Jacobs, an immigration specialist with Xpatweb, says that interestingly, while the market is severely under pressure in these economic times, and many organisations are retrenching and looking for ways to cut costs, a number of organisations are capitalising and pinching top talent. In particular, the IT industry is showing signs of strength and are on the lookout for specialist skills, which continues to expand and thrive.

There are a number of practical problems which expatriate mobility executives are faced with in terms of the immigration and visa process, making it more difficult for the employer. One of these are the requirement of a Department of Labour certificate, which includes an audit conducted by the department before being able to apply for a work visa. We are seeing increasingly long turnaround times hereon and often a negative outcome issued even where the requirements are met and well-motivated. The Critical Skills Work Visa is favourable for skilled candidates and we recommend considering this category first and foremost.

The visa requirements are usually tackled during the planning phase of the expatriate life cycle as there are quite a number of steps to follow, these include identifying the correct category of visa for both the expatriate and their family, determining whether the applicant will have to apply in their home or host country, and then off course the process of collecting all the necessary documents from both the employee and the employer. This can be quite a lengthy process and the sooner it gets underway the better.

Expatriate remuneration
Expatriate remuneration is often a highly sensitive and contentious issue. It is therefore crucial that an objective and consistent methodology is used to adjust an expatriate's salary to the specific assignment which they have been selected for. The golden rule to expatriate salary adjustment and entitlement to benefits is simple, it must be fair for both the company and the employee and a consistent methodology must be applied, in other words what is good for one is good for the other. It is vital that the International Mobility policy is formulated around this principle, obviously taking into account market best practice, local laws and current business affordability.

Repatriation
Companies should be cautious not to solely focus on the assignment; the repatriation process at the end of the expatriate's term should not be neglected. This process however can be just as stressful as the initial expatriation phase, and also needs monitoring and assessment. Many repatriated assignees believe that their term of office in a foreign country had a negative impact on their career.

In conclusion, the most consistent approach to international assignments encompasses the definitive and disciplined methods of leaving absolutely nothing to chance, and no assumptions should be made in the planning or execution phases. Companies have to ensure that the expatriate provides a good return on investment and an important part of this is ensuring the expatriate is productive as soon as possible after arrival in the host country.

A mobility programme that is all-encompassing is much more than simply moving employees from one country to another.

Information about contributors:

  • Paul Marais is a certified Global Remuneration Professional with the World@Work Society and a member of SARA. Paul has been working in the reward space for close to ten years on various remuneration projects across industry and Africa.
  • Marilize De Witt is a registered Industrial Psychologist at Africorp Solutions and Advisory who specialises in placements, selection assessments, employee development assessments and team cohesion workshops.
  • Marisa Jacobs has a wealth of knowledge on Immigration, specialising in the application of temporary and permanent residence applications. She assists both large corporate companies and individuals enabling her to provide a high quality immigration service that is customized to organisation and individual needs and circumstances.