Relocation risks

Written by
Chris Morris

10 May 2016

10 May 2016 • by Chris Morris

The issues surrounding immigration

As a global mobility manager, you will be responsible for ensuring that a client’s requirements are met while adhering to service level agreements and managing the relocation process. One key element in any international relocation is immigration. 

Immigration can be an issue for any company that moves employees around the world. Compliance with host country immigration regulations is crucial and the management of the process will usually fall to either the HR or mobility team or their outsourced global mobility provider. This area can be problematic for a global mobility facilitator as it presents significant challenges which require innovative solutions.

Most countries require work permits, work visas or other forms of employment authorisations.  Over recent years many countries have tightened their immigration requirements. This has been done partly in an effort to make sure that the local workforce is protected in a way to assist companies that are committed to training locals to eventually replace expatriates.

However, there will always be a need for mobility in the workforce. In today’s fast paced business world, there is a sense of urgency for managers to get the right employee to the right location at the right time. Unfortunately, as the World Wide Employee Relocation Council reports, “in an effort to reduce costs and time, businesses may engage in behaviors that are risky from a legal perspective”. One of the most exposed areas of risk regarding relocation is immigration. 

A short cut to nowhere

Although tempting, short cuts around requirements may not only be in violation of a company’s own HR policies but can be illegal and expose both the employee and the company to both compliance and reputational risk. Because immigration regulations can be complex, it can be difficult for managers to know the extent of the risks by neglecting requirements or predict the consequences that might result.

Keeping track of immigration requirements in a number of different countries is difficult. Immigration rules and procedures change frequently, often with very little to no notice. It is imperative to keep track of these changes and communicate them to the client when relevant. This is particularly important in countries (e.g., China, India and the UAE) where immigration law is not as codified as it is in the west and where much of the process is perhaps sometimes arbitrarily decided by local officials.

Some countries will look at non-compliance more harshly than others. Compliance with the immigration requirements of the host country can never be overstressed as ignorance does not equal innocence. Legal implications can be severe, including the following:

  • Damage to the reputation of the company
  • Revocation of visas
  • Threat of arrest and deportation for non-compliant employees
  • Sanctions including the ability to seek work permits for other employees
  • Significant financial penalties


Many companies will use an outsourced immigration services provider. If this happens, as the global mobility manager, you will need to work closely with them and be kept informed of the progress of an application. The alternative would be for the client to ask for your direct management of the immigration process.

If you are directly managing the immigration clearance for a client, it can present a number of challenges in relation to business need, regulations and compliance. Often there are competing elements within the client business that will insist that an operational need in a host location outweighs any risk. As the global mobility manager it will be your responsibility to advise on any non-compliance issues and highlight the risks to both the employee and the client. Although this should come up in briefing conversations, always make certain that the advice given is followed up in writing.

Business need

  • Does the client have an entity in the host location that can act as a sponsor? If not, is one planned?
  • Timing and process can vary for each country (ranging from several weeks to several months) and the business will need to be aware of this and plan accordingly.
  • Effective briefing for the mobility team and the employee will highlight their role in the provision of personal/company documentation and the need to do so in a timely manner.
  • The global mobility manager must also liaise closely with the client’s HR team in the host location to assist with the provision of company sponsorship documentation and their important role in the process. 


  • Is a work permit required or is a less complex type of visa available?
  • Does the company require pre-approval for expatriate positions in the host location before an application can be made?
  • Are there quota systems to be considered (i.e. the number of expatriates against local staff)?
  • Each country will have different criteria for a work permit (i.e. employed for a specific period of time, educational requirements).
  • Authorisation should be in place before the assignment commences. Ensure sufficient time is built into setting a realistic start date for the assignment.
  • Country combinations are a factor (free movement within the EU for EU nationals).  In some cases a work permit may not be required.
  • Cultural considerations (i.e. some countries will not accept unmarried partners or same sex relationships).


  • Understanding regularly changing requirements is extremely important.
  • Manage the transparency (or lack of) and flexibility of the local authorities in the host location.
  • The client must be briefed on and understand the risks of noncompliance.
  • Visas for unconventional family members (e.g. dependent children over 18, elderly dependent relatives, domestic helpers) are generally not available.
  • Non-compliance can affect employment law and the legality of employment contracts.
  • Adequate record keeping allows employees to be tracked and minimises risk.

How challenges are overcome

A basic understanding of the work permit criteria for the host country will assist you when advising your client on their candidate selection and setting a realistic assignment start date.

Work closely with your client and the immigration provider in the host country to ensure that the business needs are aligned with the work permit process. Time should be built into any process that involves the creation of a new entity. Mobility teams should be kept informed of the progress being made on the creation of new entities. A lack of communication within the client can result in delays of the submission of the work permit application.

Talk to the HR team in the host country to ensure that they understand your role in the immigration process and the reasons for the requests for local company documents. This will help improve efficiency and help you to obtain the documents you will need in a timely manner. Experience shows that if the host entity does not understand the reasons for the document request it can be ignored or overlooked leading to delays.

  • Ensure that relocating employees are advised from the start of the process that the assignment start date is dependent upon immigration clearance. Advise the employee and the client at an early stage if a problem or delay is anticipated, both with the application process itself or an issue with a non-qualifying dependent.
  • Effectively plan business travel to avoid an impact on the work permit process (i.e. availability of passports).
  • Hold regular reviews with the client to help maximise compliance.
  • Work with the client to ensure that the business has an effective visa tracking process in place to process renewals with sufficient time before expiration. 


Immigration clearance and compliance is a key element to a successful relocation. As the global mobility manager you will have an active role in achieving this and being well prepared and well informed is critical.  Managing the process allows you to develop close relationships with the home and host HR teams and the relocating employee. There are elements of the process over which you will have no control, for example, after the application is submitted to the authorities for consideration. This can be frustrating, but working closely with your client throughout each step will help avoid any surprises. Non-compliance can carry serious risks which cannot be over-emphasised and your role in ensuring that the client is aware and advised of these risks is imperative.  A successful visa/work permit application leading to a successful relocation can be feel very triumphant for all parties involved.