International assignments are often highly complex, and few are without their challenges. Of these, as numerous studies have shown, family issues are often the most significant, and the primary reason for an assignment failure — or refusal to accept it in the first place.
This hasn’t always been the case, at least not to the degree that it is now. In the past, single employees without dependents were more likely to be deployed than those with spouses/partners and families, as this was usually cheaper and easier. Today, however, that has changed, due in part to a shortage of skilled talent. Companies struggling to attract the most qualified candidates typically have a smaller pool to choose from now and can no longer afford to exclude those with families.
Family matters have also gained in significance because the concept of family itself has changed in recent years. In the United States and other countries, this definition (legal and otherwise) has expanded, and now includes the following:
- Traditional nuclear families
- Single parents who are separated or widowed
- Multi-generational families, including dependent parents or grandparents
- Same-sex couples, with or without children
- Common-law or unmarried partners
- Child dependents who still live at home, who are not minors
- Adopted children of married or unmarried couples
- Dependent relatives
- Interracial or multicultural couples and children
Many countries, however, don’t recognize all of the above categories which can create challenges when “non-traditional” family members wish to or must accompany the assignee. In these instances, all parties involved should clearly identify and understand the challenges that exist in a given location, as noted below, and adjust processes, provisions, and/or expectations accordingly.
The legal status of non-traditional partners or other family members can create roadblocks on many levels, such as when opening bank accounts, gaining access to records, and authorizing medical care. Inheritance laws can also become a problem if a country refuses to recognize a family relationship as valid. Further complicating matters is the lack of cultural acceptance some couples and/or families experience in certain countries.
There are also often immigration issues. Here, the challenges can be considerable, especially for unmarried and/or same sex partners who face barriers to entering and living in a host country. In some instances, employees have declined assignments due to these.
Immigration issues, as well as cultural and language barriers, can also prevent a spouse or partner from legally working in the host country. This not only means the loss of one income in a dual income family, but also social isolation and, perhaps, less of an ability to acclimate.
Additional problems can arise with regard to minor dependents. Although they’re usually included on the employee’s work visa, children of unmarried partners or adopted dependents may need additional documentation. Also, if a divorced parent is taking a child out of the home country, many jurisdictions such as the U.S. require written permission from the other parent before the child is allowed to leave.
The GEO Solution
While some of the above challenges may not be easily resolved, many can be. Companies can work with a Global Employment Organization (GEO) to mitigate these and help ensure assignment success.
For example, rather than navigating host country immigration rules and employment laws on its own, a company can enlist a GEO to act as local employer of record for the trailing spouse or partner, which can ease the process of obtaining visas and work permits. This could enable them to access local work opportunities and remove certain immigration barriers for non-traditional partners.
The GEO can also employ both partners to facilitate quick entry to the new country, and create a separate avenue of statutory benefits through a local payroll, handling all aspects of payroll, tax, and withholding under host country laws.
In addition to providing the appropriate level of benefits and compensation and working with a GEO, companies can further assist assignees and their families by providing ongoing support and guidance as well as flexible work arrangements and alternate assignment types, as applicable.
Last but not least, is the need for an effective repatriation process. As numerous studies have also shown, this can often determine whether an employee remains with the company or leaves. Companies wishing to retain key talent therefore cannot afford to overlook this step, for both the employee and his or her family.
For further detail, please review MSI’s recent White-Paper on this subject.