When it comes to immigration mishaps we have seen it all. Immigration procedures cause more headaches for employers, assignees, and relocation managers than most other parts of the international assignment process. There are a lot of reasons why immigration is challenging, especially since the pandemic, but many challenges can be avoided by allowing for plenty of time and paying attention to the details. Nine times out of ten, immigration fails because of inadequate preparation, complicated relationships, a refusal to follow the rules, and/or an unrealistic timeframe for processing. Here are the four most common reasons why assignees are denied the proper paperwork:
The assignee fails to establish partnership.
Assignees who want their partner to join them on the assignment must officially establish the partnership (based on the host countries requirements) prior to immigration regardless of their own personal preference, religious beliefs, family constraints, etc.
In most cases, establishing partnership requires being married but some countries only need proof of joint bank accounts or co-habitation. Still, it amazes me how many times assignees refuse to acknowledge and/or is made aware of this mandate until the very last minute, if at all. We often joke that we have a minister on call to handle last minute marriages.
We once had a situation where a female assignee wanted her boyfriend to move with her to the Netherlands. She did not want to get married and they did not live together prior to the assignment, so she was not able to prove that he was her partner. Despite the fact that these are the requirements as mandated by Dutch law, she refused to procure the appropriate paperwork and felt she was entitled to an exception. Needless to say, the assignment failed, the HR manager was embarrassed and the woman lost a lot of credibility with her company.
Excluding same sex couples, immigration rules around partnership are usually reasonable and easy to follow for most people. However, assignees should be made aware of the partnership rule before accepting the project as this is a very personal issue.
The assignee cannot take children away from the other parent.
Assignees that have children from a previous marriage or partnership need to know that they will need written permission from the other parent to take their child abroad. This rule is often unclear for assignees that have custody because they do not realize that they still need consent in this case. Of course, assignees that do have custody are unlikely to want to leave their children behind so, if consent is not given, the assignment will not move forward. These rules are requirements from specific host country(ies).
Because this issue is such a deal breaker, it is critical that HR managers discuss it with employees before time, energy and money is wasted trying to move the assignment forward.
The assignee fails to close the loop in their home country.
It’s important that assignees tie up any legal loose ends prior to going on assignment. Some considerations may include custody suits, child support issues, lawsuits, and divorce. While this seems like an obvious rule, sometimes people accept international assignments because they see it as a way to run from problems or even leave behind a life that does not make them happy.
Years ago, we worked with an assignee who lived in Scandinavia and was offered a position in Switzerland. He met a girl in Thailand and wanted to bring her with him on this next assignment. When we started the immigration process, it came out that he had a wife in Scandinavia. He had not yet divorced his wife and so he could not establish partnership for the Swiss government with the new girlfriend with whom he wanted to live when he went to Switzerland. In most cases, a divorce needs to be final prior to establishing a new partnership, so this caused a considerable amount of angst and the assignment did not take place.
The assignee is not given enough time to follow the rules.
If you want assignees to do the right thing, then you have to give them time to prepare the right documentation and get the appropriate permissions. This is especially important in light of COVID restrictions. Every country has a different time frame and sometimes timeframes vary between assignee, spouse, and child. On average, you should start the process 4-6 months in advance but always check with an immigration expert as soon as you know you will be sending people abroad so that you know exactly what the time parameters are for your situation.
There are a lot of to-do’s when managing international assignments, but immigration considerations should never be put on the back burner. Get informed, start the process early, and be prepared to troubleshoot along the way.