India’s growth story is fast becoming an international bestseller, which multinational giants across the world want to be a part of. International Monetary Fund described India as ‘the fastest growing trillion-dollar economy’ in its report dated October 2018 and poised it to be the ‘engine of growth’! With such accolades to its credit, it is not surprising that multinational corporations around the globe are entrusting their best talents with the task of establishing and strengthening their corporate footprints in India.
But, for the expatriate employees, relocating abroad is a decision that goes beyond the macro-economic growth prospects of the country they are moving to. This new country becomes not just their new workplace, but also a new home for their family, a new playground and a new school for their kids. They will have new neighbours, new set of friends and colleagues, who may be culturally or linguistically different from them.
The good thing is that the dichotomy of this decision is not lost on their employers. Over the past few years, the horizon of Global Mobility professionals has expanded to acknowledge that an empathetic understanding of expatriate sensibilities, is as important as ensuring that all compliances and logistical arrangements are in order for an expat’s Indian assignment. The fact that India ranks as the 3rd most preferred country by expats to relocate, along with their families (source: HSBC Survey), far ahead of developed nations like US, UK and Japan, is a testimony to the changing face of Global Mobility in India. Statistics convey that almost half of the expat professionals working in India bring their families along. Thus, it becomes all the more imperative that all aspects of an expats’ Indian assignment are accounted for, to ensure that they have a compliant, comfortable and memorable stay in India.
Mammoth task for Global Mobility!
But, Global Mobility team’s task of managing the entire spectrum is easier said than done. If one thought that managing the numerous compliances to ensure adherence with statues is what keeps them busy, then that is just a small part of the game. They invest a great deal of time and effort in coordinating and following up with multiple vendors for expats’ Indian compliances and their logistical arrangements. Another crucial task is to take due care that expats and their families feel settled in India. Managing each and every aspect of it becomes truly significant, both from a time as well as cost perspective.
Key aspects of a wholesome expat assistance mechanism
To ensure a well-rounded and fulfilling expat assignment, Global Mobility teams have to take into consideration the minutest of details pertaining to the expats and their families. Besides the requisite documentations and caveats, it is pertinent to package the right global mobility support with some key aspects of the ‘host country’, such as below:
India is a land of myriad cultures, languages and distinct regional idiosyncrasies. Nonetheless, acclimatising to these may be quite overwhelming for expats and may turn out to be a major reason for premature repatriation by expats. Thus, dedicated support to help them understand these subtle nuances will be instrumental in fostering a better adjustment in their daily lives. Exclusive events or various community inclusion activities, such as celebration of Indian and home country festivals, art and culture workshops, food and film festivals, community dinners or dedicated training sessions to apprise expats of facets of Indian culture or way of living, will definitely be an effort much appreciated by expats.
With as many as 22 major languages and over 700 dialects, it is no surprise that languages vary in varied states and expats as well as Indians themselves face difficulties when transitioning from one region of India to another. Eg. An English-speaker from the US will face different issues in communicating in different parts of India where English is not a native language. To combat this, local language classes and workshops for expats and their families will help them feel confident and inclusive in their communications with locals.
Schooling for expats’ kids
The primary concern for expats relocating with their families is the ease of adjustment for their children, more specifically for their education. Over the past few years, the Indian education system has embraced the need for international curriculum in India, resulting in many schools being suitable for expatriate children. However, identifying the right school may be a task for these parents, considering their unfamiliarity with the new land. Any assistance to them in this regard will be a support, which they would greatly appreciate. Generally, expats prefer a school where kids of the expatriate community study in general and which is in a safe locality in proximity to their residence.
Assistance to accompanying partners
Professional relocation abroad, in a new country, significantly impacts expats’ accompanying partners. They find themselves in a completely new environment, whose culture and dynamics they are unfamiliar with. Some of them might have quit their jobs to accompany their partners to India and might prefer to seek employment or some vocation, while in India. Companies should take special care to ensure that they feel settled. Visa norms do allow conversion of Dependent visa of such partners (X Visa Type) into Employment visa (E Visa Type), in case the accompanying partner prefers to work, but these are subject to conditions and approval by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Alternatively, workshops, vocational activities or voluntary community service activities could be organised to help them make productive utilisation of their time while in India and feel comfortable in this new place.
A key step towards ensuring that expats feel settled in India is by arranging a comfortable and reliable accommodation for them which meets their requirements. This is especially important, considering most of them arrive with their families. A home away from home in a safe, secure locality, generally preferred by other expat colleagues and in close proximity to all the amenities, like medical facilities, schools, departmental stores, food markets, restaurants and cafes, banks and ATMs, public transportation, etc. would go a long way in making them feel at home.
Safe and comfortable daily commute
Be it Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore, the metros of India are notorious for heavy traffic during the rush hours of the day. Unfortunately, expats are also aware and wary of this reality. A morning spent stuck in traffic as the start of the day, is not something these expat employees would appreciate. It is thus very important for companies to address these by anticipating traffic woes, facilitating accommodation near expats’ workplaces to minimise the same and in the long run, providing well-maintained cars, driven by professionally-trained chauffeurs for the duration of expats’ stay in India. To placate them of any safety concerns, it is always better to ensure these cars are equipped with key safety features like GPS monitoring, fire extinguisher, medical emergency kit, etc.
Compliances: Why you cannot afford to hit “Snooze” on these
Having emphasised enough on the much appreciated expansion of Global Mobility’s ambit to encompass the living comfort as an important parameter, it goes without saying that the domain’s role in assisting expats and companies with compliance adherence can never be undermined. And this begins right from the first step – robust secondment documentation to assisting the expats in navigating through the maze of compliances – taxes, social security and banking norms of a new country, documentation issues like appropriate visa types, home and host entity obligations, payroll arrangement, etc.
Over the past few years there have been significant changes to compliance and reporting structure for expats which they need to keep track of, to minimise any unwanted outflow on account of penalties, interests, fees and more importantly, questioning by tax authorities. Thus, despite being cumbersome, it is an area which cannot be neglected.
Mentoring and supporting them throughout the process with assistance at every step will go a long way in alleviating their concerns.
Summing it up
Increasingly Global Mobility’s task of ensuring a well-rounded expat assignment is assuming greater importance, and it is imperative that companies incorporate a 360 degree perspective. After all, in this changing era, the yardstick of success is no longer just the numbers on the balance sheet but the happiness and satisfaction quotient of employees as well. Employees who relocate to a new life altogether and their families who support them in these movements deserve to be taken care of, and assisted in every possible manner to ensure a harmonious continuity of life in a land far away from home. The right global mobility support helps them achieve just that.
This article is co-authored by Prateek Agarwal and Henna Vij, founders of Expat Orbit