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International Assignments


This year, typical assignment lengths of 1-3 years increase back to over 50%—a marked increase from last year (52% vs. 43%), though still lower than 2011-2014 (54%-61%). Until 2015, the majority of firms overall reported international assignments were typically 1-3 years in duration. The percentage of these assignments dropped from 59% in 2014 to 44% in 2015 and remained under 50% for the past five years. Assignments of less than a year (35%) remain roughly three times as likely than prior to 2015. Longer engagements of three years or more are far less utilized (14%) and are at the lowest levels historically.

  • In a departure from the last three years, firms across size see far more similar usage of short international assignments (42% small, 35% mid-size, and 30% large) compared to last year (48%, 45%, & 21%) and 2017-2018. Use of short assignments at small firms is now similar to more traditional lengths of 1-3 years (42% vs. 38%) rather than more frequent (48% vs. 30%: 2019). At large firms, short assignments as a “typical” assignment length returns to the high seen five years ago (30%), 2-3 times higher than historical norms. Overall, use of shorter assignment types by mid-size and small firms remains roughly double or more that of 6-7 years ago.
  • Standard assignment lengths of 1-3 years are reported by 56% of large firms and 54% of mid-size firms, far more than by small firms (38%).
  • Overall, firms estimated around four out of ten assignments were 1-3 years, more than one-fifth were short-term, and roughly one-fourth were longer in 2019. Very few belonged to another type of assignment (commuter, rotational, etc.).
  • Prior to the pandemic, 61% of mid-size and four out of ten small firms and large firms expected their use of short-term/temporary assignments to increase during 2020. Few mid-size or large firms anticipated decreasing usage of shorter assignments, but more than one-fifth of small firms anticipated doing less. Roughly half of large firms expected stability in frequency for this type of international assignment.
Question 42-c
What is the typical international relocation assignment duration for employees at your company?
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Question 42-d1
In 2019, what percentage of your international relocations were...
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Question 42-e
Do you expect the number of international short-term/temporary assignments in 2020 to...
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Despite stricter immigration enforcement and a challenging political climate, the United States was a top international destination again in 2019. The six most-frequented destinations for relocations between the U.S. and other countries/regions were: Canada (35%), United States (34%), Eastern Europe (28%), Asia (26%), Western Europe (24%) and the United Kingdom (23%). The United States was first in intraregional transfers of expatriates. Both immigration to the U.S. and movement of foreign nationals within the U.S. remain markedly higher for a sixth year (31%+ vs. 18% in 2013). Canada ranked second for intraregional transfers (28%), followed closely by Asia (23%), Eastern Europe (23%) and Western Europe (22%). The United States tied for the top destination for interregional transfers with Asia (32%), followed by Western Europe (28%), Eastern Europe (25%), United Kingdom (24%) and Canada (23%).

  • Across all types of international relocations, European destinations combined (U.K., Eastern & Western Europe) continue to eclipse most other regions, with roughly half of firms citing this geographic block as a most frequent destination—whether outbound from the U.S. (47%) or inbound from another country (52%). Only North America (U.S. and Canada combined) generates similar percentages for international origins and destinations (50% & 55%). The North America region saw similar intraregional activity last year to 2018 (53% vs. 56%), which was much greater than 2017 (40%). Around one-third of firms overall cite an Asian Continent/Australian/Pacific Rim destination for outbound moves from the U.S. or within another foreign country/region, and 44% report moves to the Asian Continent/Australian/Pacific Rim happened inter-regionally.
Question 10-b2
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Question 10-b3
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Question 10-b4
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Most firms, regardless of size, average two tiers within each international-policy type (overall, permanent transfer, localization and intraregional). For tiers in the overall policy, two of the top three criteria are job/grade level (47%) and position/job title (44%), similar to domestic policy (55% and 54%). Assignment length ties with position/job title in second place at large firms (42%) and ties for third place with homeowner/renter status (34%) at mid-size firms. Assignment length plays a far lesser role at small firms internationally (20%); these firms cite the position/job title as the top criterion (43%) roughly twice as often as any other factors.

  • For international policy, job/grade level outstrips all other factors at large firms (59%), essentially the same for domestic policy (61%).
  • New hire/current employee status carries far more weight internationally at large companies than smaller firms (39% v. 18%+).
  • For small firms, assignment length is equally important to all other factors except job/grade level which is the top factor (43%).
  • Job/grade level, assignment length, homeowner/renter status, assignment location/region and company vs. employee-initiated relocation each carry more weight in international policy for mid-size and large firms compared to small firms.

For the sixth year in a row, the vast majority of firms (and the highest percentages historically) report differences between domestic and international policies. Generally, the percentages of firms offering specific policy allowances fall roughly at last year’s levels, with many individual offerings remaining near historical lows. We note these exceptions:

  • More firms continue to offer additional leave time with a visit home than did two years ago (41% vs. 36%), closer to the previous seven-year historical mid-ranges (42%-48%) and 2019 (45%).
  • Financial services assistance remains similar to the past seven years (32% vs. 31%-39%) and above the low (18%: 2012).
  • Additional leave time is similar to that over the last five years (33% vs. 28%-35%) and above historical lows (16%-18%).
  • Extended per-diem charges fall in the mid-range (21% vs. 11%-28%) of the last 17 years.
  • The percentages of firms offering additional tax considerations also remains similar to the past five years, albeit far lower than six years ago (42% vs. 41%-46% (2015-2019) & 61% (2014)).
  • Additionally, a policy consideration we first surveyed four years ago—international transportation allowance (rental car, commuting costs, etc.)—finds one-third of firms offer it (33%), similar to the last three years (33%-36%).

For a second time, we asked if stronger data privacy protocols/protection rules for service providers were being incorporated into international policy compared to domestic—one out of six firms on average are doing so, similar to 2019 (16% vs. 20%).

Question 42-f
Companies with a formal policy for: International relocation types
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Question 42-g1
Does your company have different tiers within its international relo policy?
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Question 42-g2
Does your company have different tiers within its permanent transfers policy?
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Question 42-g3
Does your company have different tiers within its localization policy?
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Question 42-g4
Does your company have different tiers within its intra-regional assignments policy?
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Question 42-g5
Average number of tiers within the following international relocation types
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Question 42-h1
What are your different tiers based on?
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Question 42-h2
What are your different tiers based on?
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Question 42-i1
Comparing your international relocation policy to your domestic relocation policy, does your company’s international relocation policy offer
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Question 42-i2
Comparing your international relocation policy to your domestic relocation policy, does your company’s international relocation policy offer
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