International assignments are a boon for employers that want to establish a global presence because they allow organizations to explore opportunities overseas without incurring the costs, or taking the risk, of creating a new business abroad. These assignments are relatively quick and easy to set up, with the relevant terms and conditions applying to the employee during the assignment confirmed in writing.
However, in order to reap the benefits of the international assignment an employer must prepare for and properly manage international assignments from the outset. Here are six key issues an employer must take into account before sending an employee abroad on an international assignment in order to ensure success:
1. Determine the Structure of the Assignment
First and foremost, before sending an employee on an assignment, an employer needs to determine the length of the assignment or if the assignment will be of indefinite duration. In addition, a decision must be made as to whether the home or host entity will be the employer.
Once an employer makes these determinations, it should consider drafting and distributing an international assignments policy that sets forth its internal process and procedures. This will alert employees regarding the organization’s practices prior to accepting any such opportunities so there is no misunderstanding.
2. Prepare the Employee for the Assignment
When sending an employee abroad, the home organization needs to consider what training or guidance would be beneficial for the employee in order to facilitate an easy transition into his or her role in the assigned country, including:
- Cultural training on any unique local customs;
- Offering foreign language classes;
- Appointing an individual in the foreign location to act as the assignee’s “buddy” or mentor; and
- Encouraging the employee to join a local expat organization.
The more quickly an assigned employee feels settled, the more likely he or she will be engaged and productive at work.
3. Provide Assistance for the Employee’s Family Members
It is in the home organization’s discretion on how much assistance it will offer an assigned employee’s family members. However, there is a greater likelihood of success of the assignment if the employee’s family members also easily transition and integrate into their new community. An organization may provide educational assistance, a number of return trips home and job placement assistance for the employee’s partner.
In addition, the organization may provide the family members with similar training and guidance as it would for the employee, including cultural training and foreign language classes. By providing this support, an assigned employee and his or her family members will adjust more easily which, in turn, will lead to a happier employee.
4. Ensure the Employee Obtains the Proper Work Authorizations
If a visa or work permit is required, then in the letter confirming the assignment, the employer should clearly state that the assignment is conditioned upon the employee obtaining and retaining the proper work authorization to carry out the duties of the assignment. The home organization also needs to determine whether it will pay for the costs for obtaining the work authorization. And, it must consider whether it will provide support to the assignee’s accompanying family members, including whether to pay for the costs involved in obtaining a visa or permit. Immigration requirements are country-specific so employers should obtain professional advice to ensure that they are complying with the country’s immigration process.
5. Establish Rewards
An organization has several options from which to choose when deciding on the reward package for an international assignee. For instance, the reward package could be closely linked to what the assignee would receive if he or she were to remain at the US-based location. On the other hand, an organization could consider placing the employee on the host organization’s package. Organizations typically use that approach where the host organization is employing the assignee during the assignment.
The organization also must consider whether it will provide the employee with a relocation package that would include:
- One home-hunting trip to the host location prior to the assignment;
- A housing allowance;
- Transportation costs for the employee’s goods and personal effects to the host country;
- Storage costs for goods and personal effects in the home country;
- School fees for the assigned employee’s children;
- Private healthcare and/or medical insurance in the host country; and
- Return trips to the home country during the assignment.
Organizations should conduct research (e.g. benchmarking surveys) to determine what their competitors are offering to position their benefits competitively and also to manage their assignment costs so they avoid paying more than is necessary in the context of the external market.
6. Prepare for the Assigned Employee’s Return
Your organization should be as prepared for the repatriation of the employee as when it sends the employee overseas. There are a multitude of considerations prior to the employee’s return, including what guarantees, if any, the US entity is willing to make regarding employment in the US following the assignment and whether the employee will be entitled to reimbursement for his or her travel and moving costs. However, these considerations should be determined before the assigned employee’s return. The home organization also should communicate regularly throughout the assignment so that the assigned employee understands his or her career expectations and there are no surprises.
And finally, an employer must never forget when developing its international assignments structure to make sure it complies with the laws of the host country. To that end, the organization should make use of local HR experts, employment lawyers, and financial and tax experts, to guide it through the thicket of relevant laws and processes.