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8 Important Practices for U.S. Inbound Relocations and Assignments

As we emerge from pandemic-induced stagnation, moving foreign professionals to the United States has increased considerably. Without a doubt, there is a global hunt for talent across many industries, including technology, green energy, engineering, and more. There is much to consider when preparing a candidate for a U.S. inbound relocation, but the process is generally focused on visa and immigration compliance and timing.

For an in-depth review of current relocation challenges, we encourage readers to visit the learning academy at Worldwide ERC. There, you will find myriad articles and webinars on visa and immigration programs for multinational companies.

For today’s post, we are going to step outside the visa and immigration discussion to consider the relocation experience that occurs once all compliance matters are settled. Since XONEX Relocation supports many inbound moves a year and the category is still growing at a considerable rate, we feel now would be a good time to share some best practices for moving families to the U.S.

1. Don’t delay initiation.

We understand that there is a lot of work to be done in advance of the physical relocation step of any assignment. When it comes to visa and immigration, specifically, global mobility will often tap into different departments and outside resources to ensure compliance and expedite the paperwork. If you do not currently engage your relocation partner in the immigration process, we advise that you make every effort to initiate the assignment with your RMC as far in advance as possible so that counseling may begin and important benefits arranged in good time.

One of our most successful clients in this process consistently initiates when they are at the tail end of the visa process, just waiting on approval. This gives XONEX enough time to discuss benefits and arrange a home-finding trip in advance, instead of trying to cram everything into the final move. We find a home finding trip gives assignees a chance to not only find a home, but also give assignees a chance to visualize their new environment (and life) absent the pressure of it being the “final event.”

2. Manage expectations ahead of time.

One of the most important things to remember when it comes to moving assignees to the U.S. is that you must properly align expectations to reality, especially when it comes to housing. The U.S. has a reputation for being big – big homes, big cars, big offices – and, as a result, assignees often have the idea that all of America is made up of mega-homes and large cars. But, those of us who live here know that this isn’t necessarily true. Some companies may provide a set housing allowance that is based on more modest living arrangements, depending on family size and the level of the assignee. Thus, if the assignee is expecting to see a 4500 square foot, four-bedroom home, and the allowance only covers a two-bedroom apartment, there’s going to be major disappointment right away.

Another area to discuss ahead of time is domestic services. In some countries, domestic services are relatively inexpensive and are a cultural norm. As such, there may be an expectation that services, including a nanny, gardener or housekeeper, would be included in the relocation policy. But, this is not a cultural norm in the U.S. and these services are generally not included in most relocation policies. Thus, it’s really important to be upfront with assignees that the rates for these services are not covered by the policy and will require them to pay out of pocket.

3. Make sure someone is available.

This really goes for any international relocation, but we always want to reiterate the importance of being available to people who are not at all familiar with their surroundings. All U.S. Inbounds should have a contact’s phone number for when they first arrive so that they have someone to call if there is a problem. We have seen issues where an assignee will arrive at their residence, only to find that utilities have not been turned on or their rental furniture has not arrived, etc. Since they are traveling great distances, it is not unusual for them to show up over the weekend, late in the evening or very early in the morning.

If there are no DSP services where someone is available via phone or in-person at the airport/new home, the inpat may not have anyone readily available and that is a scary thing. Even if the problem cannot be fixed at the time of the call, at least there is a friendly voice assuring them and advising them on what they can do.

4. A car can be a challenge.

The U.S. is car country. Our public transportation systems are not as accessible in the suburbs as they are in other countries. Unless you are moving your assignee to an urban center, he or she will most likely need a car. But, without having established credit, it can be really hard for someone to buy (or even lease) a car on their own. Make sure your relocation partner has good service partnerships that can help your assignee with finding, negotiating, and obtaining a car.

5. The English language is not as universal as you think.

People in the U.S. tend to take English for granted. It has been often assumed that everyone, in every country, knows at least a little bit of English. But, this just isn’t true. More often than not, you may be transferring a family that does not speak English at all.

We have found that most inbound assignees speak English well enough to be able to understand their surroundings. This is most likely because they work in a multi-national office where English is used. It’s very likely, however, that spouses and children will need English training. We strongly encourage you to include language lessons for the whole family in your policy.

6. Settling-in services are still important, especially since every state is different.

One of the things that makes the U.S. different from many other countries is that we have states, all of which have different rules and processes. This is very confusing for assignees that are coming from countries with more consistent regulations. Take, for example, driver’s licenses. Your assignee will need to get a license, but the requirements vary by state. Be sure to include settling-in services as part of your policy. Those services can, and should, include school finding, utility arrangements, setting up a bank account, applying for a driver’s license and social security. These things are time sensitive and, without help, can become really overwhelming for a transferee.

7. Consider cultural training.

We encourage clients to offer some kind of cultural training for any assignment, inbound to the U.S. or otherwise. If your mobility team is sitting in the U.S., it may be difficult to fully empathize with inbounds because it’s human nature to take your home environment for granted.

At a recent lunch with PC Housing, we were surprised to learn that the UK was one of the countries that presented the most cultural challenges for U.S. expats. Why is this? It’s because we take the similarities between the UK and the U.S. for granted, which leads us to make the wrong assumption that the cultures are close enough to not warrant further support.

Likewise, because American pop culture and media is so prevalent around the world, it might be easy to assume that everyone understands the American experience. This is a terrible assumption to make.

While in-depth cultural training is a great resource for assignees, we understand that it is expensive. Fortunately, there is another option. Aperian’s GlobeSmart digital tool provides in-depth information on 99 cultures, exploring topics such as giving feedback, management styles, negotiation strategies, local diversity and inclusion factors, and much more. Individuals learn about their unique work-style and how they compare with colleagues and cultures on their new assignment.

We strongly encourage companies to experience GlobeSmart – if you reach out to XONEX, we will be happy to give you a demo.

8. Develop a repatriation strategy.

Repatriation has become a real challenge for U.S. companies that have sent employees abroad and are bringing them back home. These same challenges exist for employees on assignment in the U.S. who plan to return to their home country.

Just because they are native, it does not mean that they will ease back into their way of life without angst. For one, many have grown used to different customs in the U.S. and may experience reverse culture shock upon returning home. Sure, they will know the lay of the land, but adjustment will take some time.

Assignees who return home report that they have a hard time finding people who have lived abroad that they can relate to – no matter how much they love their friends and family, they want to be able to share their unique experience with people who care and understand. It would be wise to connect your returning employees with others in the organization who they can swap stories with.

Last, but certainly not least, employers focused on finding the best candidate for the international transfer on the front end, may still fall short of helping expats make a successful transition to a rewarding new position upon return. All assignees will want a position that capitalizes on their global experience when they come home. At times, returning employees have had to accept positions with a lower job grade than the one they held in the U.S.

The companies that have the most successful relocation programs plan ahead for repatriation so that the talent they invested in has a sound career when they come home. It makes sense. Why invest a ton of money into an assignment and talent development, only to have it go to waste 1-3 years later? Think ahead.


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