HR Urged to Establish Employee Relocation Procedures

By J.J. Smith Dec 4, 2008
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HR departments can speed the process of sending an employee on an international assignment by establishing procedures that provide enough lead time to deal with problems that arise, say employee relocation specialists.

There have been situations where HR departments have “unrealistic expectations” for getting employees settled into countries and available to work, said John Heisler, a relocation specialist with Move One Relocations, which provides employee relocation services to Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia. Such a scenario usually occurs when a company has identified a candidate for an overseas assignment in a country where the immigration process takes three months but the firm wants the employee processed immediately, he said.

In most of those situations, the HR department “is likely caught in a bind” created by upper management, said Richard Dyas, vice president of Asian Tiger Relocation Co., Ltd., which provides employee relocation services to the Far East. A company’s leader likely approaches the HR department with a candidate for a foreign assignment and instructions to have the employee at the overseas location within a few weeks, but such expectations are impossible, he said. “The HR department gets blindsided” by company executives who are not familiar with the immigration laws of the location country, he added. HR departments that implement proper relocation or expatriate employee procedures that are shared with management will help avoid such situations, he said.

Dyas’s and Heisler’s companies offer employee relocation services such as processing location country forms, finding housing, shipping of household goods and providing lists of schools. By relocation companies providing such services, “the burden surrounding employee relocation is lifted from HR departments,” Heisler said.

Top Relocation Problems

While relocation specialists deal with the many problems and challenges associated with getting a multinational corporation’s employee settled, there are problems that appear in move after move, the specialists say.

Not giving proper instruction to employees being sent on a foreign assignment is a constant problem, Dyas said. However, the massive bureaucracies that exist in many location countries create some of the biggest, recurring problems that expat employees should be prepared for, Heisler said. “The bureaucracies can be overwhelming,” and travelers should be patient, he added.

In addition, every client has different needs, Dyas said. Some clients want full services, while others want only information concerning an aspect of employee relocation, including immigration, orientation, housing and the physical move, he said.

Immigration law is among the most important obstacles that have to be dealt with when it comes to sending an employee on an overseas assignment; therefore it is important for relocation services to stay on top of immigration laws and procedures, the specialists say.

When it comes to immigration, Asia is a mature market, so even though there are changes in immigration laws from time to time, they mostly remain stable, Dyas said. In addition, there are groups that are lobbying for easier immigration laws in Asian countries, he said.

Immigration laws in Eastern Europe, Russia and the former Soviet Union are still evolving, and the regular immigration process that governments have been following for decades no longer exists, Heisler said. The laws are dynamic and can change at a moment’s notice, so it is extremely important to stay on top of the laws and maintain regular contact with immigration authorities in those countries, he said.

J.J. Smith is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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