November 19, 2020

Top Things to Consider Regarding an Assignee’s Accompanying Dependents


Assessing the feasibility and practicality for dependents to accompany global assignees has always required answering several key questions, and the current environment is only adding more to the list. Factors such as the duration and location of the assignment, the age and relationship status of the dependents, the legal and cultural norms and attitudes within the destination location and the availability of work and educational options have long been among the essential things to consider.

Now, we must also evaluate heightened concerns about health, safety, medical facilities, and cross-border travel conditions as well.

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Here are some of the essential things to consider when weighing the options about bringing dependents along on assignment.

Healthcare, Medical Facilities and Travel

COVID-19 dramatically changed the duty of care landscape for employers. Decisions about global travel and movement now require a deeper awareness of the health care systems and options in both home and host country locations, and contingency plans, should travel be severely restricted, particularly around the risk of potential overstays of visas.

Confirmed case numbers, governmental responses to the virus and the strength of the host-country medical system must all be factored into assignment decisions, whether employees are looking to go alone or accompanied by family members.

As we’ve seen over the past eight months, travel restrictions, quarantine periods and testing requirements also ebb and flow. That uncertainty could continue to play out in two very different ways:

    1. More assignees or extended business travellers may opt to go unaccompanied, if their home location is one with either a solid handle on preventing the spread, a robust health care system, or both.
    2. Some assignees may ask for more extensive accompaniment support where possible, to move families out of more dangerous locations and ensure they are not separated as subsequent waves and lockdowns occur.

Demographics and Dependent Eligibility

The demographics of both assignees and their family members have shifted considerably in recent years, as has the nature and types of assignments. It is now much more common for assignees to be accompanied by unmarried partners, same-sex partners, and adopted or stepchildren. There has also been a significant increase in the number of female assignees, as well as single parents.

Some locations are fairly generous in their provisions regarding the ability for a wide range of dependents to qualify for entry. Others may not legally recognize unmarried or same-sex partners as dependents. Or if they do, they may enforce such strict sets of requirements that it is challenging for applicants to successfully meet them. Even if a dependent is eligible, there may be undesirable conditions of their stay, such as the inability to work or study.

Another point to be mindful of is that most governments only recognize a child as being dependent until the age of 18. Beyond this, they will potentially not qualify. For some households, this can be incredibly problematic.

The key takeaway from this is to encourage open conversation as early as possible with any potential assignees to understand what their family setup is and is expected to be for the duration of the assignment. Some immigration systems allow discretion or support alternative options, however many do not.

An early understanding of the full picture of assignee circumstances and any related limitations of the immigration system of the host location allows for adequate preparation.
It also enables the business to seek alternative solutions, should the employee be unwilling or unable to accept the assignment.

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The Nature of the Work

The role an assignee is required to undertake in the host location can cause issues in terms of immigration eligibility. Most immigration systems work along the same goals and priorities and a key one is to protect the local workforce. As such, visas are typically reserved for those roles that are highly skilled or specialized. In addition, the award of the visa is based on the applicant meeting a set of fairly strict criteria, such as possessing degree-level qualifications or certain sets of or unique levels of experiences.

For some roles, and indeed some assignees, the list of criteria is difficult to meet. Those that work within more creative roles can struggle to be eligible, as can those who are more junior in their career. Some immigration systems are developing to encompass such roles and assignees, but many still have a long way to go. Particularly in the current health, economic and geopolitical environment, many systems are becoming much more restrictive in awarding visas.

Dependents’ Right to Work

For many assignees, particularly dual-income couples who are both well along their professional career journeys, the ability for an accompanying dependent to work in the host location is a must-have. Some governments, such as the U.K.’s, award this right automatically; some countries award the right once a ‘formality’ process is completed, such as Singapore, Japan and in some categories, the U.S.; and still others like China and South Africa will not permit work unless dependents secure visas in their own rights. Those that restrict the right to work tend to do so in line with the overarching ethos of the system, again, with a goal of protecting the local workforce.

Many industry organizations, such as the Permit Foundation, are advocating for governments to enact immigration change that is more friendly to accompanying dependents. The bottom line is that an immigration system replicates the policies and ethos of the government at the time. While governments continue to grapple with the combined forces of the pandemic and the resulting economic and travel challenges, it is essential to know the current requirements and be mindful of the strong possibility that a dependant will not be able to undertake their chosen work activities in the host location.

 
Leanne Cottrell

Leanne Cottrell

As Head of Immigration with Sterling Lexicon, Leanne leads a team of specialists who are responsible for ensuring the entire immigration process is smooth and stress-free for clients, assignees and their accompanying family members. She brings over ten years of experience in strategic immigration management, planning and consultation to her role, and has cultivated invaluable knowledge and experience in processing countless global migration applications. As a trusted partner, she consults with clients on everything from policy considerations and cost or efficiency improvements, to the impact of opening offices in new locations. Leanne is a frequent presenter and author on global immigration topics and trends.

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