As business becomes increasingly global, many companies turn toward relocating their own employees to new foreign offices rather than try to hire local workers. This could be for a variety of reasons, but the practice comes with both benefits and trade-offs.
In a recent article for Human Resources IQ, Martin Laird relied on his own experience to discuss both the pros and cons of utilizing expatriates to facilitate international growth. Some of the highlights:
Local workers simply are not familiar with your existing corporate culture and ways of work. The growing pains of a local worker learning the ropes can be mitigated with an expat employee from home.
A limited local talent pool, particularly in your industry, can make local hiring as expensive as relocating an employee. If the pool is shallow, good workers are naturally more expensive.
The local standards in your field might not be acceptable to the standards you employ at the home office. In that case, an expat brings those higher standards with them.
There are obviously some cons to using expats, but some of them can be mitigated through forethought and training.
Of course, there is considerable expense involved in using expat employees. Moving expenses, visa issues, tax considerations, and language/cultural training all bare costs that hiring a local worker would not.
Aside from the moving costs, the right preparation can make the other challenges cheaper. Training in particular can be offered through a blended learning environment that is more flexible and affordable than in-person training.
Expats are more likely to burn out. Laird says up to a quarter of foreign workers return home early. Early preparation can help reduce this rate, but the risk will probably always remain.
Compliance issues vary from country to country. Visa and regulatory issues can bring fines, suspensions of operations, or even prison time for the employee.
Exposure to these risks and benefits can vary based on your situation. Forethought and preparation are your biggest allies in making your expat program a success.