How Has COVID-19 Impacted International Assignments for U.S. Organizations?

The pandemic’s impact has been felt all across the world, and the global mobility industry is no exception. While many unknowns remain, businesses everywhere have successfully adapted their operations, such as updating their safety procedures and telecommuting policies. In fact, Microsoft Teams and Zoom have seen massive user growth (894% and 677%, respectively) since late February.

Just as companies are re-evaluating office space needs for staff who may work remotely well into next year, those with global operations are also reassessing their international assignment needs, and if they still merit an employee on site.

Some positions may go remote, but overall, international assignments aren’t going anywhere – their importance to businesses growth is too fundamental to forego entirely. But from travel restrictions to changing views from employees on prospective assignments, the landscape has changed, and businesses will need to adapt their candidate selection and training processes to ensure successful assignments in the future.

Careful candidate selection

The health, well-being and safety of candidates is more top of mind than ever before. With so much uncertainty surrounding global health and the global economy, the mindset of prospective assignees is shifting as they potentially have new questions and concerns to weigh as part of their decision.

As a result, what already was a lengthy process in selecting the right candidate, is now taking longer – and that’s okay. Studieshave shown that assignment failure can cost an employer as much as $400,000, especially when you factor in all the direct and indirect expenses. HR and mobility professionals need to ensure they are choosing the right candidate when thinking about an international assignment. Give potential candidates and your team the necessary time to reflect on the assignment in light of global events and to decide if they are the best individual to take on the assignment.

Have your duty of care plan ready to go

As we’ve highlighted in the past, a duty of care plan is how an organization will provide adequate care for employees in all aspects of the business. And for organizations that relocate staff with any sort of regularity, it’s essential for the plan to account for the move process and destination considerations, especially in the current climate.

Even before the international assignment begins, being able to show a prospective assignee what protocols and procedures are in place to keep them safe is an effective way to quell some of the stressors that might be leading candidates to question whether an international assignment is the right decision.

These plans need to account for the most up-to-date resources available once on the ground in the country (e.g., quarantine requirements, testing availability, health insurance and medical options, etc.). Employees need to feel protected and have answers to the inevitable “what if” questions ahead of an international assignment, and a strong duty of care plan can help with this tremendously.

Travel restrictions

Back in March, the U.S. State Department issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory – the highest advisory against travel – telling citizens not to travel overseas. And while that advisory was lifted as of early August, many parts of the country are seeing cases increase or hold steady at dangerous levels.

As a result of this, many countries around the world have levied severe travel restrictions on both American tourists and business travelers. The E.U., for example, has taken a hard stance on its limitations on U.S. travelers – restricting all travel from nonessential American travelers. Subsequently, organizations may need to put a six-month freeze on assignments to certain countries with similar travel restrictions.

Lasting impacts

Once the pandemic’s effects fully wane and restrictions are lifted, the future of international assignments will look different than it did pre-COVID. Of course, organizations operating on a global scale still will have a need for international assignments, but the process by which they select candidates and the resources they provide to ensure their safety will need additional considerations.

No matter what the future of the international assignment holds, demonstrating to employees candidates that your organization is well-prepared to handle their concerns will translate into a more positive experience for all parties involved.

If you need help reassessing your company’s international relocation plans in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can help. Hilldrup specializes in assisting organizations navigating the many nuances associated with international relocation.


We are open for business as usual while we prioritize the health of our customers and employees above all else. We also offer virtual surveys for all of our customers so you can receive a quote while staying at home and practicing social distancing.Read more about our COVID-19 safety precautions and a word from our President and CEO on our return-to-work strategy.
+