The recent news of Russia and Ukraine invites us all to remember that, sometimes, corporations send expatriates to hardship locations of all sorts under some form of threat. Between natural disasters, civil disturbances, government crackdowns, terrorism and war, the potential for a crisis is quite broad.
Managing an expatriate workforce in some of these areas means you need to be prepared for the emergency evacuation of your entire workforce, should the worst happen.
What can I do?
Talk to your RMC to find out about service companies that specialize in expatriate evacuation plans before an emergency scenario occurs to keep your workforce safe.
Foreign Embassies may not be enough.
Many people could be forgiven for relying on foreign embassies for their evacuation plans, and registering with one’s embassy or foreign ministry is wise. However, this is often not granular enough to handle your expatriates’ full needs.
The governmental sources provide reliable high-level information in a country and major cities. Still, the level of details might not be good enough for your duty of care requirements.
Duty of care is about taking all the possible steps to ensure the safety, health, and wellbeing of ex-pat personnel and their families. Duty of care is proving to be a moral issue and sometimes a legal one. Governmental sources have a different audience and purpose than what companies require. Companies need to have different objective sources to assess the quality of living off assignment locations.
Threats aren’t just in developing countries
The potential for evacuation is not limited to developing countries. No one would consider China a developing country, but a government crackdown or civil unrest can threaten the safety of an expatriate and their family.
As another example: many foreigners fled Japan following the March 2011 earthquake that damaged a nuclear power plant in Fukushima.
This could lead to situations where the company has to relocate employees to a third country that is not their home location or repatriate them to a home country that they left so long ago and don’t have accommodations, a local support network or family left. Do you have a plan in place?
Freedom of Choice versus Duty of Care
Should an expatriate be able to decide if they want to take a chance and stay if the situation is less than urgent but still serious?
Well, given the concept of duty of care, this is a hard line to walk. It is a bigger issue than the expatriate’s desires. As mentioned, this is a moral requirement but could also result in a reputation problem if timely evacuation is not heeded. Any news that the company is not looking after its expatriates during some form of threat could impact your reputation. Expat networks are many, and these forums discuss employer actions and responses well.
It is better to err on the side of caution. Certainly, listen to news out of local embassies, but also listen to your non-expatriates on the ground. Are they concerned? Have candid and frequent conversations with your expatriates, and be prepared to act.
Getting out: the work is not over
If there is an emergency, just being evacuated means the job has just begun. What are other countries’ immigration laws? Where can they go in a rush? How hard is it to get a temporary visa in a third country? Do you have to bring them home, or can they go to a third country?
What else will you have to deal with? Things such as:
- How to deal with temporary accommodation in the home country or a third country.
- How do you ensure continuity of work for the expatriate?
- Do you have to change pay and benefits?
- What are the tax consequences if they begin working in a third country?
- How do you help the children to continue schooling?
Have a plan, have a partner
There are emergency evacuation partners out there. There are also hardship location indexes that can be purchased from Mercer or AIRINC. Regardless, have a plan in place and the support system, and then you can rest knowing that your expatriates are covered in case of emergency. It is the basic principle of insurance: you probably won’t need it, but you can rest assured that you are well-prepared in case of an incident.