Global mobility leaders: ‘Your country needs YOU’

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One of the best known images of the First World War is the commanding face of Lord Kitchener, his finger pointing authoritatively back to the reader and asserting, ‘Your country needs YOU’. Julia Onslow-Cole examines global mobility as we adapt to the new norm.

The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the immigration landscape, creating complex challenges never seen in our industry. Importantly, as businesses emerge from the lockdown resulting from this worldwide crisis, many of the workforce planning meetings we have will focus on immigration and mobility. These will need to be frank and earnest discussions in which the global mobility professionals play a critical role, as their involvement is paramount in the success of any company’s remobilisation strategy.

Forum for Expatriate Management: Upcoming events

Americas: Wednesday 6 May – Register
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FEM’s 2020 Online Americas Summit will now take place on the same two days as originally planned (June 10-11) and you will be able to participate in Case Study sessions, Mobility Masterclasses, Panel Discussions, polling and Q&As.

Historically, these talented and vital members of companies are often overlooked when implementing workforce moves – often with little or no consultation on important strategic factors, such as feasibility and timing, among others. In the case of this most recent crisis, it is only when global mobility leaders are placed at the heart of the recovery planning and through the close coordination with the C-suite, that businesses will return to a successful growth trajectory.

The Covid-19 crisis was unpredictable and proved to be an unprecedented driver of recession – a global health emergency that has caused governments around the world to shut down their economies and, in many cases, their own immigration departments. As we return to a new normal, three things are almost certain:

  • There will be severe backlogs around the world in processing times
  • Many premium services have been withdrawn and may not return in their previous forms
  • There will be a requirement for new documents such as health certificates.

Business is notoriously unforgiving about lead times, but global mobility leaders will have to spell out the implications of all these changes in order to set and manage business expectations. For instance, those governments that have largely paper-based systems, including the US, have not fared as well as countries that are online-based (the United Arab Emirates, for example), and processing times are likely to be longer.

In addition, during the crisis, there are several examples of how strict quarantine and other health measures have been enforced. We have seen assignees deported from China for jogging without a face mask and in breach of quarantine.

In Singapore, we have seen many people have their work passes withdrawn and placed under a lifetime ban from working in Singapore for breaching stay-at-home notices. In China everyone must use the Health App, which must show a green code (or healthy/safe code) by the user before he/she can enter most public places. Assignees in China have had difficulty uploading the Health App, and there has been some confusion about the quarantine rules and when one can serve out the quarantine at home, rather than at a government-appointed site. Advising on these many new regulations will also fall to global mobility leaders.

We have also witnessed a tightening of global immigration policies. President Trump announced by tweet he was signing an executive order suspending the entry of certain immigrants for 60 days from 23 April. Given the US travel ban and the fact that US consular posts are closed, except for exceptional cases, this is unlikely to have an immediate impact.

Business is notoriously unforgiving about lead times, but global mobility leaders will have to spell out the implications of all these changes in order to set and manage business expectations”

However, it is possible that there will be future restrictions on non-immigrant programs. In fact, there is a government study underway to look at the impact of temporary foreign workers on US workers.

Among other important developments:

  • China has introduced a new visa requirement for those returning on work visas These visas no longer allow re-entry and require a new additional visa
  • In South Africa, many work visas have been revoked
  • In addition to grappling with the Covid-19 crisis, UK global mobility leaders will be advising on the immigration impacts of Brexit and the new UK Immigration system post-2021.

There will be complex global compliance issues to sort out both from the crisis and as a result of new regulations. The likely increase in remote working brings with it the compliance issue of right-to-work checks and other non-immigration compliance issues such as tax. We have seen, particularly in the US, that the new landscape post-crisis is likely to involve stricter compliance, as there are likely to have been compliance breaches during the crisis itself.

For example, many people went from the workplace to work-from-home situations – sometimes without permission – and new guidelines on right-to-work checks may have been forgotten. In the US this could be an issue as some companies have forgotten immigration compliance impacts, such as the true place of work for an H-1B visa holder, when dealing with de-mobilisation matters.

In Europe, businesses must be mindful of the Posted Worker Notification obligations, as it will be necessary to ensure strong compliance. The entire of issue of Posted Worker Notification brings me to my final point.

There are excellent, proven strategic immigration solutions to minimise costs and obtain speed to market. These will vary from region to region, but taking Europe as an example, it is possible to use the Intracompany Transferee Directive to move people to one European business centre (e.g. Netherlands) and then move people from there to other EU countries on a short-term permit whilst a longer term permit for that second country is obtained.

It is also possible to employ a strategy of taking the benefit of European countries that are the first to mobilise and restore immigration processes, or using countries like the Netherlands (which have managed to keep processing applications), because of a system where pre-crisis much of the government had a working from home policy. In addition, by looking at wage levels, it is possible to move people to the EU in a way that avoids Posted Worker Notification and potentially enables lower salary levels.

In short there are myriad ways global mobility leaders can lead the way in remobilisation and workforce planning. Your business needs YOU!

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Julia Onslow-Cole

About Julia Onslow-Cole

Julia Onslow-Cole is a partner at the law firm Fragomen.
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