International Hiring: Is the Expat Dead?

A Q&A with Andrew Lindquist, Partner, GoGlobal USA

When a business expands into a new market, it is faced with the important choice of hiring locally or deploying expatriate (expat) professionals from their home country. 

Once upon a time, it was almost inevitable that a multinational company (MNC) would deploy expats to manage offices abroad or take on international assignments. However, over the years, the hiring of expats has slowed down thanks to rising costs in relocation, housing, benefits, family support, language instruction and cultural training. More recently, the rise of remote work and pandemic-related restrictions have also disrupted the expat process.

To better understand these trends, we spoke with GoGlobal Partner Andrew Lindquist. Having spent much of his career as an expat, Andrew shared his insights on how MNCs are changing their approach to hiring internationally. 

Can you tell us more about your experience as an expat? 

I was lucky. Almost right out of university, I went to Hong Kong on a short-term assignment for my company. This almost immediately turned into a long-term expat assignment. A few years later, I was promoted to run our Japan operations. From there, I was offered a promotion to go to London to run the entire international sales team for the fastest growing and most profitable part of the business.  

My experience being an expat is really how I ended up in the business of helping companies expand and operate overseas.  

What is the traditional expat experience and how has it changed in recent years? Is the expat model ‘dead?’

It’s dead, or at least part of it is dead. Sending someone to another country for an extended period of time doesn’t make a lot of financial sense anymore – not when you can meet virtually, train online and send multiple resources that have a greater impact for shorter periods of time. Of course there are exceptions for specific skills or specific circumstances, but I think sending “the suit” for a senior position in another country won’t be widely adopted again.  

What role has the rise of remote work played in the expat world?

Remote work, and the technology behind it, are the game changers and the ultimate killers of the traditional expat role. Companies are now comfortable managing remote teams. They gain real time information across time zones and, through various applications, enjoy much closer interpersonal and group communication. Today, with the rise of remote work, data flow and communication are constant and instantaneous.  

What does the future look like for companies looking to complete international assignments? How will this impact expat trends?  

If the traditional expat is dead, long live the ninja expat and the nomad expat. I think you’ll see more project-based teams that land and finish objectives in weeks, as opposed to months or years. 

And while I do think most long-term expat assignments are a relic of the past, I think shorter assignments can be very impactful. Senior management, and really all levels of the organization, can benefit by working outside of HQ. They can see firsthand what is working and identify challenges, while also bringing new ideas to and from their international teams. 

Workers today often see destination travel for work as a perk. While there might not be a necessity to send a worker to a foreign destination to work, I think companies are going to be forced to accept and even provide the opportunity to work abroad in order to attract and retain talent in today’s competitive job market. 

The recent announcement from Airbnb that employees can work from anywhere is a good example of harnessing a competitive advantage through travel-friendly, remote work models. Close to a million people flocked to Airbnb’s career page following this landmark announcement – a considerable feat as the war for talent wages on. 

The press release, of course, was perhaps more of a public relations campaign for the very type of work their policy was encouraging: work from anywhere (with certain limitations). But the truth is the ‘workation’ is a new reality and there will be new industries built around this workplace model. What if you allowed high-flyers to work from a destination of their choice paid in part or entirely by the company? What if you sent your project teams to meet and work in a cool destination? 

But, most importantly of all, I think companies will continue to hire more locally rather than utilize expats. 

How can the EOR model support companies with international assignments? 

EOR is the obvious solution when you want to hire locally, especially if your organization does not have a legal entity in-country.   

In some cases, EOR providers can support global mobility with visas and work permits for expats or foreign workers. An EOR provider also ensures workers are paid compliantly at the local level, which is nuanced from market to market.

There is also another trend emerging in global mobility, which is repatriation. This involves workers that have been working for their organizations away from their own country. As organizations increasingly adopt work from home and remote work environments, many of these workers prefer to return to their home countries to continue their work. EOR is the perfect platform to hire them.

Find additional details on hiring internationally through an EOR, or contact us to talk with an international HR expert.