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International Assignments

Duration

Until 2015, the majority of firms overall reported the typical duration for international assignments was 1-3 years. After dropping from 59% in 2014 to 44% in 2015, it remains lower for the fourth straight year at 47%. The rest of firms are now split equally between assignments of less than a year (27%) and three years or longer (27%).

  • Trending similarly to the last two years, small and mid-size firms appear to favor shorter durations far more often than large firms do (48% and 40% vs. 11%). Use of short assignments continues to overtake standard lengths at small firms for another year (48% vs. 23%). At large firms, short assignments are far less common than they were three years ago (11% vs. 30%) and within historical norms. Overall, use of shorter assignment types by mid-size and small firms remains roughly double or more that of 3-4 years ago.
  • Standard assignment lengths of 1-3 years are reported by 57% of large firms and 44% of mid-size firms, far more than reported by small firms (23%).
  • Usage levels of far longer durations as “typical” among mid-size firms remain roughly half of previous levels in 2014 for a third year (16% vs. 29%) after increasing slightly in 2016 (22%), and they remain near historical lows for a fourth straight year. Also, for the third straight year, around a third of large firms report longer durations as typical, rebounding from 2015 (23%) to near typical averages of the previous three years and roughly double the incidence of mid-size firms (32% vs. 16%). Small firms saw a change, however: usage of longer durations doubles compared to last year and 2015 (30% vs. 16% & 15%), returning to levels similar to 2016 (25%) and closer to 2014 (39%).
  • Overall, firms estimate around five out of ten assignments were 1-3 years, one seventh were short-term, and roughly a fourth were permanent. Almost one out of ten belonged to another type of assignment (commuter, rotational, etc.). While more than a third of mid-size and large firms expect their use of short-term/temporary assignments to increase during 2018, 25% of small firms anticipate decreased usage. Across firm size, half expect stability in the frequency of this type of assignment.
 
Question 46c
What is the typical international relocation assignment duration for employees at your company?
Chart Q46c
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Question 46d-1
In 2017, what percentage of your international relocations were...
Chart Q46d-1
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Question 46d-2
In 2017, what percentage of your international relocations were...
Chart Q46d-2
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Question 46e
Do you expect the number of international short-term/temporary assignments in 2018 to...
Chart Q46e
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Destination

The United States was again one of the top international destinations in 2017. Relocations between the United States and other countries/regions went to many locales, with Western Europe (27%), Asia (25%), United Kingdom (25%) and Canada (22%) rounding out the top five which also included the U.S. (27%) as an inbound destination from other countries. The United States was again the top region for intraregional transfers of expatriates; both immigration to the U.S. and movement of foreign nationals within the U.S. remain markedly higher for a fourth year (33%+ vs. 18% in 2013). Western Europe ranked second for intraregional transfers (21%), followed closely by the United Kingdom (18%) and Asia (18%). The United States and Western Europe were top destinations for interregional transfers (35% and 35%), followed closely by Asia (31%).

  • Across all types of international relocations, if European destinations were combined (U.K., Eastern & Western Europe) they would continue to eclipse most other regions, with roughly half of firms citing this geographic block as a most frequent destination outbound from the U.S. (52%) or inbound from another country (50%). Only North American destinations (U.S. or Canada) generate nearly equal percentages for intraregional relocations to Europe (40% vs. 43%). Around four out of ten firms cite North American destinations as the most frequent destination type for international relocations either originating or ending in the U.S. across types. Around a third of firms overall cite having an Asian Continent/Australian/Pacific Rim destination for outbound moves from the U.S. or from another foreign country, and 26% indicate moves within the Asian Continent/Australian/Pacific Rim happened inter-regionally.
 
Question 12b-1
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2017: within the U.S
Chart Q12b
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Question 12b-2
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2017: between U.S. and another country
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Question 12b-3
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2017: between U.S. and another country
Chart Q12b3
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Question 12b-4
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2017: within a single foreign country
Chart Q12b4
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Question 12b-5
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2017: within a single foreign country
Chart Q12b5
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Question 12b-6
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2017: between two foreign countries
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Question 12b-7
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2017: between two foreign countries
Chart Q12b7
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Policy

The majority of firms, regardless of company size, have an average of two tiers within each of their international policies (overall, permanent transfer, localization, and intraregional). For those with tiers in the overall policy, two of the top three criteria are job/grade level (54%) and position/job title (43%), similar to their inclusion in domestic policy (57% and 49%). Assignment length is nearly equal in weight to position/job title internationally (38%), far more so than domestically (23%). These three (position/job title, job/grade level, assignment length) are the top considerations at nearly equal weights for both small and mid-size firms, while job/grade level outstrips all other factors at large firms. For small firms, assignment location/region is equal in importance to the top two factors (47%), carrying more weight than at mid-size (27%) or large (18%) firms. However, while new hire/current employee status is considered nearly equally by around a fourth of organizations across size domestically, it carries more weight at mid-size and large firms compared to small firms for international assignments (32% & 29% vs. 7%). Assignment objectives also carry much more weight internationally (26%) than domestically (14%) overall and across size, while other factors are, generally, of similar importance, regardless of international or domestic policy.

For the fourth year in a row, the vast majority of firms, near the highest percentages historically, report differences between domestic and international policies. However, from 2015-2017, far more small firms allowed for policy differentiation (83%+), likely due to increased relocation activity internationally during this timeframe among small firms; for 2018, it retreats to levels similar to 2014 (60% vs. 56%) and historical lows. Generally, the percentages of firms offering specific policy allowances fall roughly at or below last year’s levels, with most individual offerings falling to historic lows. We note these exceptions: financial services assistance is near historical highs (31% vs. 39%) and above lows (18%: 2012); additional leave time is similar to the last three years (30% vs. 28%-33%) and above lows (16%-18%); and extended per diem charges falls in the historical mid-range (18% vs. 11%-28%) of the last 15 years. The percentages of firms offering certain benefits also remain similar to the past three years, albeit far lower than four years ago: i.e., additional tax considerations (41% vs. 42%-46% & 61%) and allowances for children to attend certain schools (35% vs. 39%-42% & 54%). Additionally, a policy consideration we first surveyed two years ago—international transportation allowance (i.e. rental car, commuting costs, etc.)—finds a third of firms offer it (33%), similar to last year (36%).

  • The pullback in relocation activity, especially internationally, yields notable changes for small firms. As far fewer are offering policy considerations for internationally relocating employees, it’s perhaps unsurprising to discover that the percentages of small firms offering specific policy considerations drop dramatically—to or near the lowest levels historically for most items. However, while falling far lower than in 2017, additional leave time maintains gains compared to historic lows after the Great Recession (23% vs. 8%-17%: 2010-2014) as does higher relocation allowances (23% vs. 14%: 2014), even if in the historical, lower mid-range. Compared to last year’s historic highs, however, the frequencies of offerings fall to levels 2-4 times lower across most policy considerations.
  • At mid-size firms, roughly nine out of ten continue to offer policy considerations internationally, with nearly every specific consideration offered at essentially the same frequency as last year, with two exceptions: allowances for children to attend certain schools (21% vs. 30%) and increased permanent storage (19% vs. 28%). While nearly all categories fall near or below the lowest levels measured historically, a few fall in historical mid-ranges: additional leave time (37%), financial services assistance (32%), extended per diem charges (24%), and security support (19%).
  • Compared to last year, the picture of policy considerations at large firms is mixed; roughly half remain essentially the same, while the other half see decreases, most notably intercultural and language training (48% vs. 58%) and higher relocation allowances (35% vs. 43%). While roughly half or more offer the majority of policy considerations listed in the survey, the following offerings are at or near historical lows: additional tax considerations (55%), intercultural and language training (48%), additional leave time with a visit home (47%), allowances for children to attend certain schools (52%), additional leave time (29%), increased permanent storage allowances (27%), and security support programs (25%). All the other items essentially fall at historically normative levels.
 
Question 46i-1
Does your company's international relocation policy offer...
Chart Q46i1
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Question 46i-2
Does your company's international relocation policy offer...
Chart Q46i2
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