Eight Major Barriers to Expat Spouse Employment

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We thought we should pull together the main reasons according to our experience that hinder Expat Spouse employment  in the host country. This is a non-scientific analysis based on opinions and experience. There are a number of studies (Permits Foundation, 2012; Silberbauer, 2015) dedicated to the topic though. Main 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 Expat Spouse employment. Why is it so difficult for Expat Spouses to find work 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. Even if most top host locations allow Expat Spouses to work on the partner’s dependent work permit (NetExpat & EY, 2018), other countries present significant restrictions to Expat Spouse employment. In fact, while some of them do not issue work permits to any Expat Spouses at all, others may present subtleties linked to marital status or they might not recognize same sex-marriages.

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. It’s important that you don’t underestimate this aspect and that you start learning the local language as soon as possible, ideally before relocating. The good news is that almost two thirds of employers already provide this as the main form of assistance (Permits Foundation, 2012). If there is a business need, companies generally pay for a 60 hour-course.

Additionally, in countries where expats are numero there are specific job search engines that filter for English speaking roles. If you are looking to find employment in the Swiss job market, you can look up www.englishforum.ch.

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”.

In the best case scenario, you will need to go through a considerable amount of bureaucracy to get your degree converted, and this may cost you a good amount of money. In the worst case scenario, however, if you want to keep practicing your profession, you will have to get complementary certificates in the host country.

Lack of Transferable Knowledge

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”.

In the best case scenario, you will need to go through a considerable amount of bureaucracy to get your degree converted, and this may cost you a good amount of money. In the worst case scenario, however, if you want to keep practicing your profession, you will have to get complementary certificates in the host country.

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.

Building your professional network in your host country will require time and trust. You will have to start from scratch and dedicate a considerable amount of time to this activity if you want to see good results. You will also need to understand that matters of trust and relationships are culturally different, so it’s important that you act in a culturally appropriate manner when attempting to expand your professional network.

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 it’s crucial that Global Mobility Leaders  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 resumes 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.

Companies should provide training on Inclusion and Diversity in the attempt to eliminate unconscious biases and ensure all worthy candidates are being considered for global mobility. This practice is not yet spread. According to KPMG, 39% of employees surveyed aren’t aware of inclusive leadership training within their organizations.

Unconscious Bias of Sending Home Sponsors

PwC issued a study in 2016 on female expatriation where it appears very obvious that a lot more women would be interested in an international assignment than the ones that are actually sent. As a matter of fact, some types of assignments (like short-term, very short-term, and fly-in and out commuter assignments) are notably more popular among women than among men.

If women make up 20% only (PwC, 2016) of the internationally mobile population across all sectors, it’s 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.

If you want to guarantee that the selection of women and other underrepresented groups is fair and objective, you need to measure the relative inclusiveness of mobility assignments and ensure policies on equal access are working. If you find out they are not working, intervene as soon as possible.

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. For most companies (NetExpat & EY, 2018; Atlas World Group, 2019) the presence of dual-career couples negatively affects the decision to relocate. There’s more: the spouse’s unwillingness to move because of his or her career is the first reason for turning down relocation. After all, it’s 2020, and the increasing number of households relying on two salaries should not surprise us. While in the past, small firms were relatively less affected by spouse/partner’s employment than medium and big firms, in more recent times, the impact has been similar across company size. 

There is evidently still a lot to do in order to integrate the needs of dual-career couples  in the expatriation process. If you want to keep pace with reality and stand out with a far-reaching Global Mobility policy, please keep this issue top priority. 

On the receiving end, I can report that more and more expat spouses are male. There is hope.

If you want to see how all this works in practice and would like to receive a proposal from us, please drop a line to Angie Weinberger (angela@globalpeopletransitions.com). I am happy to support you!

Further Readings: 

https://www.sirva.com/learning-center/blog/2019/12/20/supporting-accompanying-spouses-partners-during-relocation

Why building professional relationships is harder for Expats and their spouses in Zurich

The Modern Professional’s Guide to Avoiding Career Stagnation

My favourite Productivity Hacks – Seven Tips to claim back your Diary

Global Recruiting – Helping Global Talents succeed in Switzerland

Offline and Online Presence is the Way Forward for Modern Professionals

References:

Atlas World Group. (2019). 52nd Annual Atlas Corporate Relocation Survey. https://www.atlasvanlines.com/AtlasVanLines/media/Corporate-Relo-Survey/PDFs/2019survey.pdf

KPMG. (2018). Inclusion and Diversity: How Global Mobility can help move the Needle. KPMG International. https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle-FINAL.pd

NetExpat & EY. (2018). Relocating Partner Survey Report. https://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report/$File/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report.pdf

Permits Foundation. (2012). International Mobility and Dual-Career Survey of International Employers. https://www.permitsfoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Permits+Global+Survey+2012nw.pdf 

PwC. (2016). Women of the world: Aligning gender diversity and international mobility in financial services. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf

Riedel, Tim (2015): “Internationale Personalauswahl”, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Gottingen.

Silberbauer, K. (2015). Benefits of dual-career support for expat spouses, International Journal of Business and Management, vol 3, no. 2. DOI: 10.20472/BM.2015.3.2.005

Weinberger, A. (2019). “The Global Mobility Workbook”, Global People Transitions, Zurich.

Weinberger, A. (2016). “The Global Career Workbook”, Global People Transitions, Zurich.



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