We thought we should pull together the main reasons according to our experience that hinder expat spouses from finding a job in the host country. This is a non-scientific analysis based on opinion and experience. There a number of studies dedicated to the topic though. Mainly Global Mobility providers research how family impacts expat failure. In my view this is not enough. We should investigate how we can bring down the barriers to host employment. Let me know if you think I forgot an important topic.
Why is it so difficult for expat spouses to find a job in the host country? Here is a short analysis of the issues.
Work Permit Restrictions
Finding a job is not as straightforward for many of my clients as it is in their home countries. Work permit restrictions are a significant barrier to expat spouse employment. Not every country issues a work permit to the married spouse. Let alone the diversity of life partners mentioned earlier.
Lack of Host Language Skills
Even though the expat might work for a global company most jobs in the host country will require host language skills. Unless you move from the UK to the USA, you often will not have the language skills required to work in the host country.
Lack of Recognition of University Degrees in Regulated Fields
While within the EU we can assume that university degrees will be recognized due to the common job market, a Brazilian doctor cannot work in a hospital in Switzerland. We call this a “regulated profession”.
Lack of Transferable Knowledge
Lawyers, tax consultants, and even HR Professionals are often experts in their country, but the knowledge is often limited to the country and not transferrable. Even moving from Canada to Australia can be tricky if you are a lawyer.
Lack of Professional Networks
Another issue is the lack of a professional network, which gives access to the untapped and informal labor market in the host country. Often you can only join professional associations when you are in a corporate role or when you have graduated in the country.
Lack of Support in the Global Mobility Policy
Only very forward thinking global mobility and global recruiting policies address the need for support for “trailing” dual career partner. While ten years ago dual-career issues on international assignments were solved by sticking to a classical Western nuclear “family” models, we now want to adhere to the needs of dual careers, patchwork families, Eastern “family” models, same-sex partners and unmarried de- facto relationships.
Visionary Global Mobility policies address various support models ranging from providing a lump sum to spousal career coaching. As an intercultural career advisor, I also work with clients who decide to start a global, transferable business so that they can follow their life partner to other locations and become location-independent. Thanks to technology I can support clients in NYC as well as in Mumbai. We also support candidates to improve their personal branding in the host market, learn to network effectively, improve their interview skills and online presentations but GM Leaders need to update their policies
We also support candidates to improve their personal branding in the host market, learn to network effectively, improve their interview skills and online presentations. Global Mobility Leaders should update their policies and promote spouse support services rather than pay lump sums.
Intercultural bias of our Recruiters
Our recruiters often do not understand intercultural differences. Recruiters often don’t understand résumés from another country and outsourcing of talent specialists into HR shared service centers has not improved the chances of “foreign” candidates in the recruitment process.
Most selection methods and assessments are culturally biased. For example, in Switzerland, psychometric testing and other assessments of candidates are used to assess candidates next to interviews. Riedel (2015) shows examples where highly skilled candidates from China fell through the assessment roster in a German company because of their indirect communication style.
Unconscious bias of Sending Home Sponsors
PwC issued a study in 2016 on female expatriation where it becomes very obvious that a lot more women would be interested in an international assignment than the ones that are actually sent.
This is probably due to the unconscious bias of the sending home sponsors who assume a female manager is not mobile even though she might have mentioned it several times. I speak from experience.
Lack of Research to Measure Impact of Dual Career Programs
In 2012 ETH Zurich conducted extensive research with several European universities on barriers to dual careers within the EU and EFTA countries. While this research probably focused on scientists it is hardly known. We assume that companies working with support programs for their dual career population seem to have higher retention rates but we lack scientific evidence. I am highly encouraging students and lecturers to address this issue.
To sum it up there is still a lot to do in order to integrate the needs of dual career couples in the expatriation process.
On the receiving end, I can report that more and more expat spouses are male. There is hope.
Riedel, Tim (2015): “Internationale Personalauswahl”
Weinberger, A. (2016): “The Global Mobility Workbook”, Global People Transitions, Zurich.
Weinberger, A. (2015): „Interkulturell denken bringt Vorteile“ Persorama Summer 2015.