Relocating To The U.S. Is A Pain in the Neck

June 18, 2004 ( - Heightened terrorism awareness in this country has made relocating employees into the United States a human resource nightmare.

Chief among the complaints about assignments in the United States were delays in obtaining social security numbers and visas, immigration restrictions, and dissatisfaction with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Most of these complaints are the result of new security measures that have been instituted in response to the threat of terrorism, according to the 10th annual Global Relocation Trends Survey report conducted and issued jointly by GMAC Global Relocation Services, the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The United States ranked third on the list of countries that pose the greatest challenges to relocating employees in terms of language, cultural and other obstacles. Ahead of the U.S. was perennially roadblock nations China and Japan.

“This year’s survey captures some of the business repercussions involving mobility to the U.S. in an environment of increased security,” said Brian Glade, vice president of international programs for SHRM. “Much of this burden appears to be falling to HR professionals to balance the new security policies with the needs of their business.”

The relocation difficulties are accented even further when measured against those nations labeled “active” destinations, a list the U.S. is joined on by the United Kingdom, China, Singapore and Germany.

Assignment Reductions

The United Kingdom, United States and France experienced the greatest reduction in expatriate activity. Not surprising, given the shift away from expatriating workers, 64% of respondents indicated that their companies were attempting to reduce international assignment expenses in response to current economic conditions.

Current economic conditions were not the only reason for the shift away from global relocations; in fact nearly seven out of 10 survey respondents rated their “Return on Investment” as good or excellent. Also driving the trend were employees that were rejecting assignments. Taken as a whole, the top reasons for assignment refusal were family concerns (47%), career aspirations (14%), compensation (13%), and spouse’s career (10%).

Spouse’s career has become more and more important as the number of two-income households has increased. Half of spouses were employed before an assignment, and 16% were employed during an assignment. Even with these concerns, though, spouses accompanied 86% of married expatriates, the historical average for the survey.

And when employees are relocating, they are doing it sans family. Only slightly more than half (51%) of relocating employees last year had children in tow, the lowest percentage ever in the history of the survey. Backing this up, the survey also found companies may be selecting employees for assignments who do not require the efforts and costs inherent to locating and paying for “host country” education. Overall, the study found 60% of expatriates were married, 37% were single, and 3% with with significant other, but the percentage of married men (55%) was the lowest in the history of the survey.

A copy of The Global Relocation Trends survey is available at .