Lack of partner employment adversely affects talent mobility

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Expatica HR Top 5 Industry Survey Awards’ winner highlights how a few focused improvements on the part of employers and governments can make a triple win for families, employers and the countries in which they work.

The  Expatica Top 5 industry Survey Awards’ top ranking study, the Permits Foundation: International Survey of Expatriate Spouses and Partners, scored highly as a unqie and novel investigation, impressing reviewers by the extent to which it provided data of value to HR professionals.

Dr. Noeleen Doherty, Senior Research Fellow at Cranfield University, School of Management (UK) called the study ‘A very useful exploration of the issues pertinent to spouse and partners, given their essential role in the assignment decision process and subsequent assignment experience.’
She also emphasized that ‘this piece of work highlights the very real need to provide support for spouse and partners and in particular not to ignore their career concerns but to proactively support them.’
The survey, sponsored by Industrial Relations Counsellors (IRC) with ORC Worldwide providing web hosting tools and analysis of data, examined the views of 3300 expatriate spouses and partners of 122 nationalities, currently accompanying international employees working in 117 host countries for over 200 employers in both the private and public sector.  It provides evidence that a lack of spouse or partner employment opportunities adversely affects global mobility of highly skilled international employees.

Among the key findings for employers was the fact that the spouses and partners of internationally assigned staff are a highly educated and under-utilised talent pool: almost 90 percent of spouses and partners were employed before expatriation and yet this figure fell to 35 percent during expatriation.  Moreover, three quarters of those who are not working want to work. This is particularly so among the younger age groups, men, graduates and unmarried partners.

Over three-quarters of respondents indicated they would welcome help with finding employment and certainty of getting a work permit.  Less than one fifth felt they had received adequate support in these areas.

Of the spouses surveyed who are working, 25 percent are in a different field or profession and 40 percent state that their job is at a lower level than back home.  Combining the numbers of those who currently work with those would like to work gives an indication of the overall aspirations in this talent pool. In total 84 percent would like to work, which is only slightly less than before expatriation.

Noteworthy is that up to 18 percent of spouses and partners would like to be self-employed in the host country, by comparison with 10 percent before expatriation. Both governments and employers should take account of this in work permit and employment policies.

The survey also examined the impact of being employed in the host country on adjustment, wellbeing and family relationships and found the following:

  • Not all spouses want to work and some are very happy to take a career break, for example to raise children. However, there appears to be a clear link between working and positive feelings about the assignment.
  • Spouses who are working are more likely to report a positive impact on adjustment to the location, family relationships, and overall health and well-being than spouses who not working.
Other points worth noting include:
  • Spouses who are working are more likely to report a positive impact on their willingness to complete and even extend the current assignment than spouses who are not working.
  • Spouses who are working are more likely to report a positive impact on their willingness to go on a new assignment than those who are not working.

 Of significance to governments, the survey found that countries that enable spouses and partners to work are attractive destinations for 96 percent of respondents.  Almost 60 percent of respondents said that in future they would be unlikely to relocate to a country where it is difficult for a spouse or partner to get a work permit.  This is an important signal to governments that want to attract top international talent to enhance inward investment.

To this end, the Permits Foundation recently submitted their data to the UK Migration Advisory Committee, an independent think tank advising the government on the introduction of immigration quota in the UK, seeking to ensure that the UK government does not take away the right of partners to accompany and to work in the UK.

By questioning spouses directly, the survey complemented and extended the findings of earlier dual career surveys which tended to question HR managers.  It is one of the largest surveys to date to question a diverse group of spouses specifically on the impact of their employment aspirations/experience on international mobility.

The findings with respect to work permit difficulties have remained and perhaps become even more relevant this last year as a number of countries have kept immigration and (spouse) work permits under intense scrutiny at a time of prolonged economic downturn.

Expatica/ Erin Russell Thiessen

Click here to download the full report.
For more information on the Expatica HR Top 5 Industry Survey Awards 2009/ 2010, click here.

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