Halt! Who goes there?
Ensure your expatriate workforce meets global immigration requirements
By Corallie Pringle
The requirements for expatriate work visas can vary dramatically from country to country. Professionals working in the international human resources (HR) arena need to avoid the pitfalls of bad planning that can result in expatriates being reduced to the status of illegal immigrants. CORALLIE PRINGLE, MD of Corporate Relocations, looks at ways in which companies can ensure they adhere to global immigration practices.
An expatriate who crosses an international border must be able to produce all the paperwork required to enter that country lawfully. A tourist visa does not permit a person to work in another country, neither does a business visa enable someone to enter a country and attend a year-long meeting.
South African companies operating in the global arena must ensure that their employees meet the requirements of work permit compliance when they travel on business for both short- and long-term assignments. Failing to comply with these requirements can scupper an overseas mission and also cost the company a lot of money.
One of the biggest problems facing HR practitioners is a lack of knowledge, procedural difficulties and the amount of time consumed by international moves.
The increasing globalisation of companies makes it imperative for HR practitioners to be able to manage a scattered workforce, and to ensure lawful compliance with the sovereign laws of all countries -- 197 of them in total.
It is important to bear in mind that every country has its own set of laws, rules and regulations, and South Africa is no exception. The process can be smoothed by adhering to some key requirements:
· Identify candidates for foreign assignments.
· Look at the profiles of potential employees and their families. Have they ever been out of South Africa? It's important to ask this question so you can establish whether they have a global mindset and whether they have any idea of what the world is like beyond the borders of their homeland.
· Is spousal employment an issue? More international assignments fail because of spousal discontent than for any other reason. If you have a two-career family and you are sending the spouse to a country that does not allow him/her to work, you already have a problem.
· Who are the dependants? These may not be limited to spouses and children, but could also include other family members. The work permit in this instance must allow for dependants other than spouses to accompany the employee.
· What if the spouse is a de facto partner but not actually married to the candidate? In this case, sending them to the Middle East would be problematic, as it would be in the case of a same-sex union.
· Since 9/11 birthplace - as opposed to nationality - has also become an issue. Bear this in mind when selecting candidates for assignment in the US.
· Do your candidates have police clearance? Foreign countries want to know who they are dealing with and frequently won't accept people with criminal records.
· Religion too, is an important issue. Sending a Jewish employee to Saudi Arabia, for example, is a no-no.
· Initiate internal processes which promote compliance with the sovereign laws of other countries.
· This is the tough part. First you have to decide who does what. The immigration process is administratively intensive - find out how it works. Who are the stakeholders?
· Look at different types of visas and see what they allow the carriers to do and not to do. Does a business visa in Singapore allow you to do what one in Australia does? Explain common terminology to all stakeholders as this can eliminate the time wasted on basic issues.
· Understand how the work permit process works and remember that it is the person's activity in the chosen country that will determine what is required. An entry visa gives you permission to enter a country, not to work there. A business visa is short-term and enables the holder to conduct business and attend seminars, conferences and meetings. For anyone who will be producing economic activity, a work permit is required. And it does not make any difference if you stay on the home office payroll; if you are generating economic activity, you need a work permit.
· Make provision for specialist consultants. If you take on the entire compliance function, you will have difficulties understanding all the small print, strictly adhering to the legal requirements, and knowing what you are actually being asked to provide. An expert will save you time and money and ensure a smooth process. Most important of all, a specialist consultant will save you the enormous costs that can arise form non-compliance and the inability to verify an employee's right to work.
Corallie Pringle, Corporate Relocations, 011 320 5850, firstname.lastname@example.org
Melanie Spencer, FHC Strategic Communications, 011 608 1228, Melanie@fhc.co.za
Some links for your own research