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Current Trends and Issues Impacting Global Mobility

More than a year into the pandemic, the state of international relocation remains fluid. Even now as cases drop across the United States, countries such as India and Brazil continue to see alarmingly high case rates. There is no blanket guidance for organizations with vested interests in multiple countries. Each country needs to be assessed individually – looking at their current immigration policies, vaccine availability and overall health and safety status.

With how varied circumstances can be for international companies, here is a look at some of the updates and trends impacting mobility and what they could mean for the global workforce in the years to come.

H-1B Visa Extension Status

As expected, with the administration change following the 2020 presidential election, many of the tightened H-1B visa regulations have been relaxed. In recent years, extensions were treated akin to new applications, requiring a more thorough degree of documentation and paperwork. This greatly increased processing times and the burden on sponsoring companies. Under the new guidance, immigration officers can rely on the original documentation when reviewing a visa extension request. It’s expected that relaxing this burden will make it easier for U.S.-based companies to consider skilled foreign workers as part of their talent acquisition plans.

Evolving Travels Bans and Warnings

It’s important for travelers and businesses to recognize that the pandemic continues to be an evolving situation across the globe. While many countries are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, others are facing their highest infection rates yet. Just because a person may be fully vaccinated and their home country isn’t facing high infection rates, that doesn’t mean they should consider it safe to travel anywhere and everywhere. In fact, in April 2021, the U.S. State Department warned against travel to 80% of countries across the globe. It’s difficult to say exactly when, but most experts agree that we are still at least several months away from international travel getting back to “normal.”

Remote Work as a Way to Rebound Economies

In many parts of the world, the global economy is still reeling from the effects of the pandemic. Countries that heavily depend on tourism saw those markets dry up once international travel was halted. With tourism travel still a ways out from returning to pre-pandemic levels, some countries have shifted their “travel pitch” to individuals across the globe, effectively saying, “Come here and work remotely!” Some of the countries offering these opportunities include Barbados, Bermuda and Estonia.

The programs vary from country to country, but most require workers to stay for at least six months and show proof of employment, and in some cases, provide an income declaration above a certain amount.

The Rise of Digital Nomads

These may seem like one-off efforts from countries looking to improve their GDP, but formal programs or not, there is a rise in a new era of ex-pats – largely stemming from the pandemic. These global workers are called “digital nomads,” who work remotely from the country of their choosing at any given time. While not always the case, what distinguishes these workers from traditional ex-pats is that they may relocate to different countries while working the same job. Traditional ex-pats usually will settle in one place and assimilate to that specific destination’s culture.

As this Fast Company article highlights, the digital nomad lifestyle isn’t a new concept. The term originated in 1997, but more as a prediction for what the future of work could entail as telecommunications evolved to a point where people could seamlessly work from anywhere in the world. If not evident before, the pandemic underscored just how much that idea is now a reality. Since last year, digital nomads in the United States alone have increased 50% to roughly 11 million people. Another 64 million people have some receptivity to becoming digital nomads in the future.

Countries Best Suited for Digital Nomads

Like any international assignment, every country is different. Some are better suited for remote work than others. The Digital Nomad Index ranks which countries are ideal for international remote workers. At the top of the list is Canada, followed by the United Kingdom, Romania, Sweden and Denmark. On the flip side, Nigeria, Myanmar, Ghana, Kenya and Sri Lanka rank as the worst. One of the attributes that this list weighs more heavily than other “top countries lists” is the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure, given how integral fast, reliable internet connections are for digital nomads’ work.

How Do Traditional Global Workers Differ from Digital Nomads?

For the purposes of this post, let’s distinguish traditional international transferees from digital nomads. Traditional international transferees are employees who have been selected by their employer to work in a foreign country to support a key business goal – either for a specific timeframe or on an indefinite basis. These assignments require extensive candidate vetting, training and other support services.

Digital nomads, on the other hand, leverage the flexibility of their position – whether it’s as a full-time or contract worker – to work in a location of their choosing. These individuals need far less support compared to traditional international transferees. Since a nomadic lifestyle is their choice, the cost burden for their relocation and support services lies with them.

That’s not to say that companies should see digital nomads as a cost-savings opportunity. Part of the upfront expense associated with traditional international transferees is to ensure they are adequately prepared for the assignment. As full-time employees, they generally are also more committed to your organization. Especially for major ventures or positions, organizations should still consider relying on traditional international transferees in many instances.

 

The pandemic has had an immeasurable impact on the global economy. Despite emerging signs of optimism in certain parts of the world, it’s difficult to forecast when there will be a global “all-clear.” Given this disparity, companies should evaluate their global initiatives on a country-by-country basis. Even after things subside, there may be a heightened availability of digital nomads to offset changes in the global workforce in the coming years.

If you need help reassessing your global workforce and recruitment efforts in light of the coronavirus pandemic, we can help. Hilldrup specializes in assisting organizations navigating the many nuances associated with international relocation.