Who are the new expatriates?

Multinational companies are sending more and more employees abroad: in the interests of international development of course, but also to prepare their managers for positions of responsibility.
The effects of September 11th on international mobility were short-lived. The caution exercised by the big multinationals in the wave of extreme security-consciousness that followed has gradually eased and international missions are once again going ahead. The latest bi-annual review on the subject by ECA International, an organisation dedicated to expatriation professionals, confirms this. More than 70% of the companies questioned had “initiated more long-term postings abroad over the last two years and more than two thirds of them plan increases in the years to come,” according to the study. This boom can obviously be explained by the globalisation of business and by the increase in relocation. But if mobility is on the up, the forms it takes are changing. “With the opening up of the Chinese, Indian, Russian, Eastern Europe and South-east Asian markets, the big European and American companies have been encouraged to open a large number of sales offices, branches, subsidiaries and production units abroad,” says Frédéric Franchi, the organisation’s spokesman. It is a trend that is changing the nature of expatriation. “Ten years ago, companies cited skills and technical knowledge transfers as the main reason their employees were posted abroad. Today, on account of the new direction their development is taking, it is the need to control local operations that predominates,” explains Frédéric Franchi.Expatriation is no longer the preserve of western companies. Many Asian or Middle Eastern companies are also stepping onto the international stage. ECA’s study states, moreover, that “the boom in expatriation is mainly expected in Asia, which now rivals Europe and the United States as the main region to expatriate employees and also to receive expatriate employees”. It is no longer the preserve of western employees either. Most of the human resources Departments of the multinationals are now managing expatriates of different nationalities.“Companies have opened up so completely to the world that it is not rare for them to have expatriates of 20 to 25 different nationalities,” says Frédéric Franchi.
More women on the moveInternational mobility also involves an increasing number of women. Although women represented only 6% of expatriates in 1996, 20% of them now undertake missions abroad. Over and above increased general awareness of the need to give women a more important role in society, various factors may also explain this significant trend. Firstly, the opening up of expatriation to new business sectors. Although it traditionally concerned mainly industry, services are no longer left on the sidelines. And in addition, engineering schools, which provide a high proportion of expatriate staff, now also have a higher percentage of women. Lastly, expatriation is now considered in most of the big companies to be an indispensable stage in the development of a career. “More and more companies insist their executives experience expatriation,” says Frédéric Franchi. If they wish to offer certain women the chance to occupy posts of responsibility they must also be prepared to expatriate them.Be that as it may, curbs on the expatriation of women remain, mainly because of their role within the family. It is, moreover, partly to solve this problem that companies are increasingly developing “international commuting,” an attenuated form of expatriation. On the other hand, the ECA study also reveals the weaknesses of companies in the expatriation process. 75% of them do not assess non-technical criteria such as the ability to learn a foreign language, for example, in their recruitment process, and only 10% of them take account of the spouse. Yet as ECA reminds us, problems family problems figure amongst the principal factors mentioned when expatriation fails.

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