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Reviving mobility - what to expect

COLLEEN ROTH: And everyone's line today has been placed on mute to reduce the background noise. We'll be conducting some polling questions today during our session. So when the time comes to respond to a poll, you'll see the questions displayed on the right-hand panels of your screen beneath where you might see a tab that says Participants.

You may not see anything there right now. But once the poll opens, you'll see it appear on the right-hand side. You may need to expand your panels to see the question.

And also during our webinar, if you have any questions you'd like to ask our panelists, please submit them in the Q&A panel, also on the right-hand side of your screen. We'll have time to answer those questions at the end of our session. And then as I mentioned, following the session, we will be sending out a recording of this webinar, in addition to a summary of the discussion that we'll be putting together for you. And now I will go ahead and turn it over to our host, Christina Swank, to get us started. Christina?

CHRISTINA SWANK: Thanks, Colleen. Hi, everyone. I'm Christina Swank. I'm the regional sales manager for the Upper Midwest here at US Bank.

I want to thank you all for joining us today. For those of you who have attended our other sessions, welcome back. And for those who are joining for the first time, welcome.

As Colleen said, this is the third installment of our 2021 webinar series Reviving Mobility, What to Expect. At this time, I'm going to go ahead and take a moment to introduce our speakers for the day. First off, we have Jen Fontaine with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Jen currently works as an analyst on the Global Mobility team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and globally supports relocation and immigration services.

She has a passion for learning processes and working on operational solutions. Prior to her role in mobility, the majority of her HR career has been in recruiting support and global operations functions. Jen serves on the board for Puget Sound Relocation Council, and is active in volunteering with other boards and community organizations. Thanks, Jen, for joining us today.

Next, we have Russ Haynie, who is the director of global consulting services with Altair. Russ is responsible for the oversight and management of internationally-focused consulting initiatives. He is tasked with bringing industry information to the forefront, focusing on current industry trends, but also anticipating the future course of mobility.

Russ joined Altair in 2018, but has been in the relocation business since 1991. His relocation career has included roles as director consulting services, senior account executive, and onboarding specialist. He holds the CRP and senior global mobility specialist designations from the worldwide ERC. Thank you, Russ, for being here today.

And then we have Julia Onslow-Cole, who is a partner with Fragoman. Julia specializes in global government strategies and compliance, who divides her time between Fragoman in London and Dubai offices. Before joining Fragoman Julia was a partner, legal markets leader, and head of global immigration at PWC. She has advised several governments on major projects encompassing visa processing systems, residency legislation, communications, and citizenship by investment programs.

Julia worked with the UK government and business on Brexit. She has also represented business at the UK ministers' immigration stocktake meeting. She continues to participate in stakeholder engagement with the UK government, and works closely with the governments in the Middle East. Thank you, Julia, for joining us as well.

And now on to our moderator, John Sculley. John is highly respected within the relocation industry. He holds the certified and senior certified relocation professional designation from Worldwide ERC.

He has also been awarded the Meritorious Service Award, the Distinguished Service Award, and the President's Award for his work on the national task force on mobility procurement. Thank you, John, for leading us today. And with that I'll go ahead and hand it over to you.

JOHN SCULLEY: Thank you, Christina. It's indeed a pleasure to be helping to facilitate another in this continuing series from US Bank. And it's a privilege to, again, work with such an esteemed panel of colleagues on our discussion today. We're going to kick off our discussion, though, in a little unusual fashion by turning the tables on our audience, and asking at the outset a question of our audience about their expectations and experiences in all the disruptions that have taken place in the mobility realm.

So at the suggestion of Julia from Fragoman, our question for you to start today's session is, when do you anticipate business travel to return to its pre-pandemic levels? So if you'll take a second to respond to that, we'll take your pulse on this issue, and use that as our jumping off point for our own panel discussion. While you're doing that, I'm just going to speculate that we will see widely divergent answers here. At least in my own one-off conversations with people in the industry and in the corporate realm, I'm finding vastly different outcomes to this sort of question. So I'm interested in seeing what our audience has to say today.

COLLEEN ROTH: All right, looks like most of our responses are in. John, I'm going to go ahead and close the poll here and display the results. Can you see them there OK?

JOHN SCULLEY: I am not as yet.

COLLEEN ROTH: Oh, OK. Well, it looks like early 2020 is the big choice for domestic and mid-2020 for international.

JULIA ONSLOW-COLE: 2022.

COLLEEN ROTH: 2022. I'm sorry, yes.

JOHN SCULLEY: That seems a little more apropos. Excellent. Yes, sorry that didn't pop up there. But with that said, I think where we'd like to start with our panel today is to first look at how our environment has changed with all that's happened by way of COVID, looking at both global mobility and with business travel.

And I think we might separate that discussion into two segments. Certainly, there are things that have happened that we might regard more as temporary or transitional conditions that we may hope to see some relief or modification as we go forward. So let me start by asking Fragoman if you could describe what you're seeing by way of the impacts of the pandemic on the assignee experience?

JULIA ONSLOW-COLE: Yeah, thank you, John. Yes, it's interesting. I think it was 41% of people today thought that by early 2022, we'd be back to pre-pandemic levels of business travel. But I think that what we're seeing is that people generally are very, very cautious about traveling. And this has a large part to do with the complexity of travel, but also with what happened during the pandemic.

So we were involved, as Fragoman, looking after a number of clients. But we were involved very much with people who were stuck during the pandemic. And I can think of a number of really difficult cases.

For example, we had an assignee who went to Japan to manage a factory just before the pandemic struck. And her husband and three young children were in another country, and she was there on her own for several months separated from her husband and her children. And then we also had clients who were arrested. I can think of some cases in China where they were in breach of the health and safety regulations. So they'd gone out for a jog in breach of the quarantine rules in Beijing.

And then it was quite well publicized, for example, in Singapore, cases of people that actually served prison sentences for breaching the strict health and safety rules. I think there was one gentleman who was told that he was being served with a stay-at-home notice. And instead of going home, he decided to stop off at the mall on the way and have his very favorite meal, and then rather foolishly posted himself on social media enjoying this last meal before he was going to obey the stay-at-home notice. And obviously, he breached the rules by having the meal.

But all of these things, I think, make people very wary about travel, and also the huge complexity with the quarantine requirements, which changed very quickly. And so with countries going on red and green, less with special travel arrangements between countries being taken out at a moment's notice. So all of this means that, I think, never before has it been so important to give your assignees very much full support during travel. And I think in many ways, the support that you have to give assignees in their experience is much higher than pre-pandemic levels, because they will expect that, and things are very much changed.

JOHN SCULLEY: That's very cautionary to be sure, and certainly some frightening experiences in there. Russ, with your work with Altair, looking across the range of corporate clients you interact with, how are you seeing temporary conditions or transitional conditions affecting their workforces?

RUSS HAYNIE: Definitely still impacts, and I would say some of the earliest concerns that emerged when we saw economic lockdowns and travel restrictions were related to delayed or deferred moves, and all the associated impacts-- that complexity that Julia has talked about. But in other words, how to interpret existing policies in light of those extraordinary circumstances, namely the intersection of extended move timeframes with tax and immigration compliance were of top concern. But we saw moves that were US domestic or US touching, inbound or outbound, to the degree that the IRS claims jurisdiction over those moves. There's really a silver lining of the 2018 tax reform, in that it will no longer really constrain from a time perspective with any tax impacts on those traditional excluded items that pre-2018 we should have been concerned with.

So I guess it's eternal optimist in me that it's a glass half full view of tax reform that, yes, now post-2018, pretty much anything is taxable. But we no longer have that constraint. So we had a lot of questions early on from clients concerned about those impacts that they needed to out of extraordinary circumstance, delay, or extend out move timelines. And in fact, we no longer need to be concerned with that, I guess we'll have to speculate whether the IRS would have allowed the pandemic to exist as an exigent circumstance and exempted those from taxation. But we no longer have to care about that, so that's good news.

Certainly--

Yeah, thank you, John.

JOHN SCULLEY: While you're at it, Russ, perhaps I could ask you to set up our next question for our audience poll, and see what we might learn from that as well.

RUSS HAYNIE: Oh, absolutely. I think our next question is going to ask how your companies today are managing employees that are currently in the relocation pipeline, whether you're still delaying those start dates or if all your current moves are proceeding, or if they're proceeding but only really at the employee's pace-- that you're allowing the employees some discretion in how they time their transition. And we're asking this question today because Altair actually had asked this question almost exactly a year ago of our top-volume clients. We did a poll survey at that time to gauge how companies were reacting to the pandemic. And I thought it would be interesting today to see what the comparison of results from a year ago look like.

COLLEEN ROTH: And Russ, it looks like we've got a few people filling in their responses. So we'll give it another few seconds and then display those responses.

RUSS HAYNIE: Excellent.

JULIA ONSLOW-COLE: People are asking, Russ, if you mean domestic or international.

RUSS HAYNIE: Oh, both, global. Yeah. Thank you, Julia.

COLLEEN ROTH: OK, it looks like we're winding down here. I'll go ahead and close the poll and share those results.

Oh, great.

You should be able to see those, and I'll dance to your comparison slide there.

RUSS HAYNIE: Oh, yeah. Thank you, Colleen. That's great. You can see that we've actually shifted a bit.

So a year later, we're now seeing current moves proceeding, but really only at the employee's pay. So still, there's a lot of deference to employees. Duty of care is really being exercised by companies still. And we're still, honestly, globally very uneven when we think about lifting of restriction, lifting of travel restrictions, availability in vaccines. So we're still not out of the woods yet, and I'm not surprised to see that there's still that deference being given to employee safety and concerns.

So John, I believe next, I was going to speak to, just very briefly, the slower move timeframes that we're seeing as a result of the pandemic and the lingering impacts of the pandemic. And I'm going to focus on a couple of areas. Interestingly, as we've emerged from the pandemic, we're still seeing residual impacts.

Here in the US, we're seeing a lot of real estate market imbalance-- a very strong seller's market, very competitive market for homeowners out there trying to make purchases. And I'll speak a bit more about those challenges later. But I really want to hone in on the summer and the challenges that we're seeing with scheduling and managing household goods shipments.

There is the potential for much slower move timeframes as a result of the challenges that that industry sector is seeing. This is a result of return-to-office initiatives currently underway. That's on top of the expected seasonal volume surges

There's driver and crew shortages, shipment container and lift van shortages, packing material shortages. And this is all coming together to really be a perfect storm when we think about the challenges of scheduling and booking those shipments. We're partnering with our suppliers to increase capacity to ensure that we're able to deliver a range of traditional and alternative shipment options-- anything from those traditional van line shipments, containerized shipments, self-moves, managed self-moves, everything in-between. We're also adjusting booking strategies to ensure that we meet the demands of our clients. But I strongly encourage all of our participants today to make sure that you and your relocating employees are booking their shipments as soon as possible this summer, and really being as flexible as possible with prioritizing your preferred shipment dates.

JOHN SCULLEY: Very good council, Russ. Certainly take heed of that. I wonder if we turn next to Jen and hear how the Gates Foundation has been experiencing the pandemic, and what issues and solutions have come to light for you so far.

JENNIFER FONTAINE: Yeah, thanks, John. I think both Russ and Julia I have shared much of what we have all been experiencing this past year. And I think the one thing that keeps coming to mind is I think how we all have had to be more agile, more flexible, a greater sense of patience with a lot of things, and knowing that many things are all out of our control.

And I think our role of, really, how do we continue to be consistent and transparent and supportive of employees, I think the foundation has really taken the mindset of both from a legal compliance risk financial and fiduciary obligations that we have, and empathy-- experiencing what candidates, new hires, employees are going through at this time, and layering on moves or relocations which are already stressful in a non-pandemic experience, and I think continuing to find ways to balance and communicate and support. We found that, similar to many other organizations at the start of the pandemic, business travel was halted, office closures. And I think now, as we are experiencing alongside many organizations looking at office reopening plans, and what does that mean, many individuals opted within countries to delay moves and delay relocations until the office is reopening.

And as Russ, experienced, now we're seeing with office reopening plans starting to come to fruition, people are starting to plan moves in an already historical time that is busy. I think globally also, ongoing immigration challenges that we have with timelines. Consulates-- some consulates are already open, and some aren't, and also recognizing and balancing the timelines that do exist in setting expectations with people in what is already an increasingly challenging and stressful personal experience, balancing just constant communication with both our leaders and employees and candidates has been one thing that we have continued to grow throughout this. And I think I'll either back to John or segue over to Julia, and talking about immigration, because that is a big hot topic I think that we live with.

JOHN SCULLEY: And that absolutely is, and I wish we could go around the world in 80 days on immigration. But it's probably closer to 80 seconds. Julia, could you give us a treetops look at what's happening in global regions with regard to immigration issues?

JULIA ONSLOW-COLE: Yeah, so I think what we're seeing across the world as a generalization is that obviously, that was the pandemic, and then there was a global economic recession caused by the pandemic. And there was a lot of discussion about the shape of the recovery and all of these letters. Would it be a V or a U or a saxophone shape.

And I think that the consensus is that really, it has been a V. It's been a very big plunge down, but that's largely because of the actions that were taken to lock up the economy. And now we're seeing a steep rise. But what that meant is that governments around the world are really quite concerned about resident labor. So we've seen a lot of tightening around the world, and a lot of concern about resident labor and protection for resident labor, which is making immigration policy harder.

So I think that if you look at, for example, the APAC region, particularly in Singapore, employers are finding it very difficult to manage on the immigration requirements in Singapore. The Singapore government have really ratcheted up the fair consideration framework, putting a lot of preferences on hiring Singapore citizens. They've actually taken quite drastic cuts for dependents.

So assignees who have dependents who are working when their permission runs out, they'll find it difficult to renew, and new dependents coming into Singapore will not find it easy to get letters of consent. And even countries like Vietnam, which was a kind of country that people were looking at as of perhaps a preference because of the difficulties in Singapore, that too has actually ratcheted up its requirements. And a lot of banks in particular are moving people out of Hong Kong for various reasons, and their preferential destination is Singapore. So that's causing quite a lot of difficulty.

Also, Singapore it's gone back to the second phase of the lockdown. It was doing really well. But unfortunately, they had a few cases of COVID, mainly at the airport. And so they've locked down further, and there's strict travel restrictions.

Then I think if you look at Europe, what's generally going on there is, of course, the big news is Brexit. And what's happened is that there is this looming deadline, which is the 30th of June, by which EU citizens living in the UK who qualify should apply for the EU settlement scheme. Or if they don't apply, then the consequences are quite drastic for them. And what we're seeing is a lot of people who've actually left it to the last minute.

Last weekend, I was getting a lot of phone calls from people who were very anxious and couldn't get onto the system, which kept crashing. And one person who was ringing me all weekend managed to get on at 4:00 AM to register her Italian husband, but we're seeing a lot of concern. And then from a business perspective, we're seeing a lot of concern because EU citizens were doing a lot of jobs in the hospitality sector. And there is now a great shortage of people in the hospitality sector, and there's not the pool of talent anymore. So that's one of the things that we're seeing in Europe.

I think if we turn to the States, what we're seeing in America is that we're now seeing what the Biden administration going to do for business. Now, we've got over the hectic immediate transition between President Trump's administration and the Biden administration. We've seen a huge focus on the borders, and obviously border policy.

But what the big story is for business is the difficulty of actually getting people into the US. So there has been rumors that maybe there might be some relaxation of the travel ban if you have a double vaccination, but they're just rumors at the moment. There's nothing concrete. And even if those came to something, the difficulty is that there is a huge, huge backlog at all of the consulates.

And on the 2nd of June, there was a slight relaxation to actually make exceptional cases to which you could apply national interest waivers to bring someone exceptionally into the US. But the problem is getting appointments at the consulate. And also, we're not really sure exactly how the new policy is playing out because it's only been 14 days. And so the first cases are only just coming out. So I think if one looks at the round, I'd say it's a very complex situation, driven largely by protectionist new policies.

And also, I would say-- which is something I know Russ would be interested in, and I think agree with me, is that many governments have taken advantage of the pandemic to get better technology across the board. And they're much more joined up with the technology. And therefore, it's very important to have a joined-up tax and immigration strategic plan for all assignees. You cannot give one set of information to one government department, and one to another, because all of that information is being very neatly joined up. And it's a good outcome of having much improved technology, but also, I think compliance has never been more rigorous.

JOHN SCULLEY: One of my takeaways from your remarks is that there may be no such thing as a return to so-called normal or business as usual-- that, in fact, the ratchet has clicked into some changes that are likely to be permanent ones in how we travel and how we relocate people.

JULIA ONSLOW-COLE: Yes.

JOHN SCULLEY: And Russ, perhaps the one issue we are commonly hearing is the shift potentially ongoing toward work from home. Or is there, in fact, a substantial return to work movement? What are you seeing around work from home and return to work as an ongoing issue for business?

RUSS HAYNIE: Yeah, I think the real question is, once the pandemic slowly recedes, to what extent will work from home-- or really, work from anywhere as we should call it, how much will that be here to stay? I found an interesting result in a research paper that was published earlier this year by the National Bureau of Economic Research called "Why Working from Home Will Stick." And in that paper, the bureau estimated that 20% of school US workdays will be supplied from home after the pandemic ends. And that's compared with just 5% before. They cited five reasons for this-- better than expected work from home experiences during the pandemic, new investments in physical and human capital that enabled work from home, greatly diminished stigma associated with work from home, lingering concerns about crowds and contagion risks, and a pandemic-driven surge in technological innovations that support working from home. So I think all of that's coming together to really give us an emerging or clearer picture after the pandemic that, yes, this trend is here to stay.

And I'm not surprised that mobility teams are being called to step up and contribute to the discussions around work-from-home policies and what those should look like. If you think about all the disciplines that our mobility teams have around tracking the physical location of workers, managing compliance risk of geographically dispersed workers from an immigration and tax standpoint, all of those things come into play. So we're definitely going to see companies continue to be investing in the development of those work-from-home policies, and understanding how that intersects mobility policies. So more to come on that front, but I'm here to say that I think work from home is going to stick.

JOHN SCULLEY: And there may be some silver lining there, because as you talk about the capabilities of mobility serving other needs that the employer would have, I think there's a potential to elevate the mobility function toward more of a strategic partner role that we've long aspired to, but that door has not always been open. This might turn out to be one of those access keys for strategic partnering for the mobility program. I think, Jen, how your foundation has dealt with the ad hoc or case-by-case needs that we so often hear about throughout COVID, where you practically have to throw a policy out the window and find case-by-case solutions for the situations your employees and assignees show up in. Has that been your experience as well, a lot of ad hoc or case-by-case?

JENNIFER FONTAINE: Yes, slightly. I mean, I know we'll get into it later. But I think one of the things I know we often say is many things will come up. But how can we also be consistent about treating employees the same, even though every situation, does have its unique twist to it.

And I think really balancing the flexibility nature. And it was a great pressure test, a great exercise in looking at our policies. And all of the policy work that we have been doing historically does not hold up in scenarios like a pandemic and things that we didn't predict. And I think where we have been able to hold true to much of that, and really challenging ourselves of how do we take the best things of what we've learned through the pandemic and apply those going forward?

I think exactly as you were saying, John, much about this past year, year and a half, of what we've learned, it is not just about mobility. It has been such a cross-functional, both internal and external, dare I say, exercise in how we are functioning. I think data and compliance, although it, has been at the forefront of what we live and breathe in the mobility space previously, I think has been even exacerbated more across the organization and with things constantly changing. What we say one moment of the day could be outdated by the time an individual gets on a plane, and it could change. We have seen it change when they have been mid-flight in the middle of their move, and by the time they land, something has been different. And I think just exercising all of ourselves the flexibility and the grace to be able to support-- there has been some human side of it, knowing that the playing field is as level as I think perhaps could be in the sense that we are all going through things together.

And not having an answer to every situation on the fly has been OK. But where we have been able to do well is what can we get ahead of and how can we have that consistent transparency, and communicate that across, has been really, really helpful. And we've relied greatly on peer organizations, as well as our partners, of constantly challenging each other and learning from each other of what we can do better and to help support. Because ultimately, we all have the same goal. We all don't want to make it difficult for the sake of making it difficult, and we will all get through it.

JOHN SCULLEY: Well done, Jen. Challenging times for sure. Russ, when you look across a broader clientele, is this a common tale of operational challenge and exceptions management? Or how are you viewing it from your vantage point?

RUSS HAYNIE: Oh, completely, I could validate everything John just said. I think the reactions that we saw during the pandemic, and continue to see, are really mainly operational rather than a policy story. Most of our clients are really driven by the need to manage exceptions in the near term, and all of the unique needs of employees and their mobility stakeholders facing related to the delays and deferred news we've already talked about.

I'd say on balance, most companies have held the line on formalized policy changes that are reactive to the abnormal components of the pandemic, whether we return to a new normal-- and "normal" definitely in quotation marks, will come to us. But I think most companies are concerned with the avoidance of precedents sparked by reaction to extraordinary circumstances. And so we are emerging and may see that some of those changes may be worthy of permanent changes to policy. But at least so far, I would say on balance, it's been more of an operational story.

And with that, I think we're going to ask another polling question. As with the previous one, this one is a repeat of one of Altair's questions from last summer. And we're asking you to let us know, are your companies employees being encouraged to move or to do what makes them feel safe today?

It's a really an easy question, two choices. And yes, do you think about this globally. So respond thinking about worldwide movement of your employees.

COLLEEN ROTH: And looks like we'll give it another moment or so here while people get their responses in.

RUSS HAYNIE: Thank you.

COLLEEN ROTH: OK, it looks like we're wrapping up. And there you go. You should be able to see that now.

RUSS HAYNIE: Yeah, it's an interesting result, actually. We've had a slight shift back in the direction of really more forceful encouragement to move, to get things going a bit more. When we were asking this question a year ago, we only had 15% of companies really taking that tack.

But it's nice to see that most companies are still recognizing those lingering impacts, lingering hesitancy of employees to pack up and move with a full family in this environment. It's definitely a tough decision. It is happening with greater frequency, but good to see that we're exercising caution still.

JOHN SCULLEY: Russ, you mentioned earlier that some moves have been delayed, either by employee preference or by regulatory circumstance, over this process. But as moves have been delayed, how does that impact other program aspects or policy benefits or services that might be required as a result of those delays?

RUSS HAYNIE: Well, I'd say, John, a couple of things come to mind. One is the impact that it's had on temporary living arrangements. There's a squeeze that's happening for sure.

During the pandemic, it was related to the inability to efficiently make that transition from one location to another because of lockdowns and quarantine requirements and travel restrictions. As we're beginning to see that subside, though, it's interesting that we're still seeing a squeeze. And now it's really more related, at least here in the US, to that out-of-balance real estate market that I mentioned before, and the difficulties that homeowners are having quickly purchasing and moving into permanent destination housing. We've seen a lot of recent attention paid to the development of criteria for qualifying temporary living extensions based on confirming a good faith effort to purchase on the part of those homeowners. I encourage US program managers to really look for any opportunities also to advance equity or frontload any kind of cash allowances that may exist in domestic policies.

When you think about things like miscellaneous expense allowances or [INAUDIBLE] provisions, in this competitive market, cash and strong cash position is really key to thinking about how to get that cash in the hands of homeowners as quickly as possible so that they're qualified, they're competitive with their offers. That's really important. And then just really quickly, I want to comment on the impact that delayed moves have had on separation of families.

I know, Julia, you mentioned this earlier when you were talking as well. I'm guessing that, as the pandemic subsides, we're going to continue to see these challenges with uneven recovery that we're seeing globally. The good news is, for a lot of companies, I think there already are precedents for providing assistance for separated families. And really, historically, that was more related to school issues.

Obviously, a lot of employees were hesitant to pick students out of the middle of the school year and move them. And so a lot of companies had policies or provisions within policy to accommodate those kinds of delayed moves or separated moves. I think we have to lean on that now as the pandemic impacts still are with us, and look for opportunities to provide specialized assistance to those cases where we may need, for business purposes, to encourage employees to get to a new location.

But they may be reticent to have their family pack up and come along. And so we need to think about how can we provide support to those arrangements. And I'm going to make it a really simplified recommendation on how to do that. But if you don't have those kinds of provisions defined, look at your current policies and just begin to make decisions about the provisions that either need to be delayed or duplicated or eliminated in light of those separated arrangements.

And it's actually not as difficult as you think. It just requires some sitting down in deliberate time and really thinking through the scenario. But those are two things that definitely come to mind.

JOHN SCULLEY: Real good workarounds, I think, in both cases. And I wonder, Julia, are you finding any parallel kinds of workaround solutions to travel and immigration carriers? Are companies finding shortcuts or solutions on many of the roadblocks that we've been looking at for a while now?

JULIA ONSLOW-COLE: Well, I think one of the really interesting things of the pandemic is seeing the proliferation of remote working visas. So this can be a very good solution for companies, because we have seen a lot of people take a desire to go and work in another country. And then this way, they can regularize their stay there. And then the company can get very comfortable with the tax and other arrangements.

So some of the schemes that have been particularly popular is Dubai, that has a very good scheme. And certainly financial services sectors, we've seen a lot of people take up that. And in fact, employers support it. This week, Malta announced that it was having a remote working scheme, and then the Caribbean schemes have been extremely popular. But I think that's something that governments have very innovatively created.

Also, Dubai has created this concept of a Golden Visa, which is five or 10 years residency. And they've been reaching out to people to give them that kind of visa. And then we've seen in the UAE, for the very first time ever, government reaching out and, for those that are making a huge impact to the UAE, actually considering citizenship.

And I think this goes back to the point that Jen and Russ, and I had been making about the change in the need to really hold the hands of assignees. And this just shows that governments are recognizing that people really do want that comfort of actually going as far as citizenship, to know that they do have a safe place to stay for themselves and their families. So I think these are all sorts of different ways that we're seeing governments react, which can be very helpful for employers and assignees.

JOHN SCULLEY: Great points, and let me stay with you for a moment there, Julia, too. As we look forward to a new practices or different policy provisions, particularly with regard to business travelers, are their practical tips that employers should be considering going forward to deal with these new realities? Any new best practice or ideas that you're finding that might be exemplars for that?

JULIA ONSLOW-COLE: Yes, actually, I think again that were was-- actually, I'm just picking up a couple of questions there were, and excellent questions coming through. And one of the questions was saying, do you think because of the post-pandemic situation on economists that governments are actually actively looking at non-compliance and non-compliance in tax and immigration. And I think that the answer is, yes, that there's much, much more of a compliance risk. And therefore, the best practices have to go towards making sure that you are really, really compliant.

And one of the examples is that many countries have actually started to give some consideration to proper short-term business visas, where you can actually work-- do proper work. And this has always been one of those very non-compliant areas, where companies send people on a business trip, but they're not actually on a business trip. They're actually working.

But now countries like, for example, Saudi Arabia have just started to open up with a new category for people who want to work on a short-term business visit. Then these temporary work categories are really something that all employers should really look at. And that's really best practice, to make sure that you go back on compliance.

And just very quickly, there was just one more question as well, which was asking, is there an increase of people coming to the UK for EU citizens who are turned away at the borders. And the answer to that yes, because that's to do with, obviously, Brexit. So that's another good example of how tough it is, and then how necessary it is to be sure your compliant.

JOHN SCULLEY: Very good. Thank you. And Jen, at the Gates Foundation, when you look at travel and immigration practices, are there any ideas that have emerged for you that will shape your approaches differently going forward?

JENNIFER FONTAINE: Yeah, think it's the continued [INAUDIBLE] to build on and things [AUDIO OUT] for both a fuller perspective of travel requirements as we see continued evolutions, I think we are by no means done of requirements and things kind of things set. I think we've seen many countries and things starting to introduce vaccine requirements. We have been living with testing and quarantine requirements for the last year. And I think that is starting to shift. And I think just being flexible, trying to be ahead of things as much as possible.

I think same in immigration. It's being comfortable with the policies that we do have, and being able to pressure test that out. Going to an earlier comment, I think it is really, in both of these scenarios, getting back to that strategic seat at the table and making strategic decisions, I think, looking at travel potentially differently in the future, especially as some organizations start to think about sustainability or environmental impact that travel has on an organization and the world at large. I think just keeping all of those things and how integrated they are, I think it is no longer-- it wasn't before just an isolated one team issue. But I really think this is just exacerbating the integrated complexity that all of these things have, and will continue, too, going forward.

JOHN SCULLEY: Great. Thank you for that. And Russ, maybe you could be our cleanup hitter here and speak to other client innovations you're seeing in the travel and immigration realm.

RUSS HAYNIE: I would say with travel-- and this really preceded the pandemic, but we continue to see widespread interest in flexible accommodation of travel preferences. We see that through the use of lump sum payments and approaches built around flexible allowances or spending budgets that encompass travel among other expenses. Home leave provisions in particular have begun a migration toward allowance approaches in place of strictly managed reimbursement type provisions. I think the pandemic reinforces the value of that kind of flexibility, and I expect that we're going to see those types of approaches remain popular. They're a good complement to the flexibility goals, which are front and center for so many companies today.

On the immigration front, it's definitely been an area of concern, but with few policy changes. I've seen more focus on the practical and operational shifts in light of all of that ever-increasing complexity there Julia has so happily shared with us today. But I'd say my advice, and what I'm encouraging clients to really do, is dust off any stakeholder educational material that they may have, the initiative they've taken in the past to really reinforce the importance of compliance and understanding of the timing, and all of those constraints that come into play when we really need to properly engage immigration partners in a diligent way to understand feasibility and timing and all of that good stuff. So I'll leave that as a takeaway which is really look internally to educating those stakeholders about what is happening today, how complex these situations are, and how can we address them.

JOHN SCULLEY: Music to my ears, and all three of you have given us so many tangible and pragmatic answers to deal with some of the new challenges we're facing in this entire travel immigration mobility realm. There is a new frontier out there, and you've given us many ideas on how to tackle that. I'd like to, with our time remaining, though, and try to accommodate as much as we can, questions that have been submitted by our audience to be asked of the panel. And let me go to Colleen to tee those up for us, if you might, Colleen.

COLLEEN ROTH: Yeah, absolutely, and Julia had already addressed a couple that have come in here. So we have a few other questions. One is, do you anticipate that mobility will shrink significantly, especially globally, as a result of the pandemic and expansion of remote work?

JULIA ONSLOW-COLE: Do you want me to answer that one?

JOHN SCULLEY: Glad to have it. Thank you, Julia.

JULIA ONSLOW-COLE: So I think that the drivers of global mobility are still there. I think the principal driver is that you want people to gain experience in other countries. You need to look at new markets. And a lot of what people are doing really needs to be done on a face-to-face basis.

I think that, for example, if you look at the UK with Brexit, there's an enormous appetite of business to actually go out and seek new markets and move people. And I think that personally, global mobility will reach the levels of pre-pandemic by middle to end of next year. I think the things that are slowing down global mobility, well, obviously, there are instances where now, it's proven that you can do things in a remote way that maybe it wouldn't be necessary.

There's these wonderful new lots of words that are coming out of the pandemic like leisure travel or vanity trips, which I suddenly realized when I heard the words that I rather naughtily admit that I have had lots of pleasure travel. There's a way you've decided to go to Paris for a meeting at 5:00, and then stay on for the weekend. I think those are going to be much less.

I think companies are used to the travel money that they've saved during the pandemic. That's gone to the bottom line. And I think that therefore, they'd be sad to miss that money.

And also, I think climate change is another fetter on travel. But I think the short answer, in my view, is that it will get back to those pre-pandemic levels. And I think people do really miss face-to-face meetings and social interaction.

JOHN SCULLEY: Thank you for that. Do we have time for another question? And you have one for us, Colleen?

COLLEEN ROTH: Yeah, sure. A question here-- what would you say is likely to be the biggest legacy of the pandemic on mobility policies?

RUSS HAYNIE: Well, if I may take that one, I would say the one thing that stands out to me is the focus on flexibility. Companies were certainly focused on that part of the pandemic, and with strong interest in flexible policy structures and lump-sum and core flex has really proliferated our industry as structural approaches. We found that companies that invested in those strategies prior to COVID were able, to some degree, sit back and watch those programs and work as they were designed to, perhaps with just a tweak here or there. But for those who had not, the pandemic was a good healthy nudge off the fence, I think.

So the lesson was a recognized need to be prepared with program structures that are nimble and responsive to quick shifts in priorities among stakeholders. So we had some companies that were prepared and some that weren't so prepared. But as a consultant to those companies, I'm happy to report that the pandemic made complacency a pretty scarce resource.

I think there is a saying that's along the lines of there is no better time for change than during a crisis. And I think that we saw that play out during the pandemic. A lot of companies that sat on older policies, they were caught a little bit off guard.

And I think the lesson learned was, no matter what the weather, it's always a good time to really be looking at your policy and thinking about how it can be improved. So I'm glad to see that that's happening. And I think that's going to be a strong legacy.

JOHN SCULLEY: Thanks for that comment. And Colleen, do we have another?

COLLEEN ROTH: Yeah, there's a question here. I'm interested to hear what other companies are doing with their intern programs-- housing lump sum is top of mind, as travel starts and offices are opening?

JOHN SCULLEY: Jen, do you have [INAUDIBLE] that you can speak to?

JENNIFER FONTAINE: Yeah, that's a great question. And I think it's one that's going to be, I think, interestingly evolved. We have historically had an intern program. And we really, as an organization, have taken a pause to that to really get back to the root of what is the intent and what is the purpose. And so we are taking this moment as a great opportune moment to do that, and to take a step back and look at the purpose.

And I think tying the other two questions together, I think that is really what I see global mobility, the function, doing. I don't necessarily think there's going to be a substantial change. There is still going to be transactions that happen.

But I really think it is about being that strategic value and strategic lever of the organization, and really having these moments to take looks at, whether it be policies, whether it be, how the function operates, how we look at talent. And I think that integrating factor is so important. And so I think we're taking that moment specifically on interns to take a look at that, and ask ourselves all of those questions.

JOHN SCULLEY: A little bit of a silver lining, then, I guess.

JULIA ONSLOW-COLE: Yeah.

JOHN SCULLEY: We've about consumed our allotted hour today. But I would, again, like to express my great appreciation to Jen, to Julia, and to Russ for all their preparation and expertise that they brought to our audience and to us today, and also to US Bank for its continued sponsorship of this very enlightening series of programs. Much appreciated, and thank you for the opportunity.

JULIA ONSLOW-COLE: Thank you. That was very enjoyable to take part, and thank you for the audience.

Thank you, everybody.

COLLEEN ROTH: Thanks to our speakers, again. Yeah, thanks guys. What a great panel to discuss with everyone today. So thank you all for attending. It was great to share this with you.

And please be on the lookout for a recap of today's recording. That will be coming to you from your contact here at US Bank Thanks and have a great week.

JENNIFER FONTAINE: Thanks so much.

COLLEEN ROTH: Thanks, everybody. This session has ended you may now disconnect. Thank you. 

 

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Reviving mobility, what to expect

Tags: COVID-19, Best practices
Published: July 08, 2021

The U.S. Bank Corporate Programs team continued its series of virtual advisory forums with an expert panelist session on June 17, 2021. The session focused on how organizations are responding to constant changes in the mobility landscape as the pandemic recovery continues, provided an immigration update with practical tips for relocating employees and business travelers, and offered recommendations for how organizations can enhance and fine-tune their mobility policies.

 

The session featured the following expert panel of presenters:

  • Jennifer Fontaine
    Mobility Analyst, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

  • Julia Onslow-Cole
    Partner, Fragomen

  • Russ Haynie
    Director, Global Consulting Services, Altair Global

Read a full summary of the session.

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