asian expat

‘No-Longer-Far’ East: Asians are Changing the Face of the Expat World

It’s common to see Asians in low- to mid-level positions in big companies in the Western world, but what seemed improbable in the past now seems to be gaining more headway everywhere, especially in the digital world. Many Asians, especially Indians, now hold high-ranking positions who make big decisions for their companies. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google Inc., is one example.

The opportunities have inspired more Asian men and women to lead expat lives these days. They come from China, Korea, India and Singapore. According to BBC  Singapore currently has the most “mobile workforce” with about 97 percent of their best brains willing to take on a global assignment. Also, Singapore’s passport was recently ranked the most powerful in the world by the Global Passport Power Rank.

For most mobile workforce, China follows Singapore with 96 percent, Hong Kong ranks third with 94 percent, and Malaysia’s own internationally inclined talent stands at 93 percent. Other Asian countries are also throwing their hat into the ring, as far as the export of their talent is concerned.

Global mobility managers should take note of this trend if they want to stay ahead of the recruitment curve. Assorted companies, ranging from their own homegrown enterprises to successful multinationals, are lining up to court them and sign them up. Some are young, others are in their mid-thirties to early forties educated either in their country of origin or Western universities.

That this new expatriate or assignee demographic is often mobile and tech-savvy should come as no surprise, as they do belong to the millennial group. But what makes them a prize in the eyes of prospective employers is a combination of qualities such as their fluency in several languages and their ability to adapt to various cultures. Their education in American and European universities make them familiar with the corporate culture in these two locations. At the same time, their Asian roots position them to take the lead in projects or ventures that will expand a company’s presence in Asia.

Let’s take, for example, an Indian national who has a business degree from a Northern California university and who spent their first five years helping to launch startups in San Jose. If they have  amassed enough accomplishments for their portfolio, doors open wide for them in Silicon Valley. At the same time, other American companies establishing their own offices in South Korea would see them as a suitable company manager. Their Asian counterparts would also court them for their Indian background. Finally, Indian conglomerates just might offer them higher compensation packages because they want to capitalize on their American exposure.

Two factors created this so-called explosion of the Asian expatriate or assignee.

The first is that the momentum was created by Asian companies themselves. As explained by Spire Research, a tightening economy made the owners of these firms rethink their usual strategy of hiring American expatriates. They did the math and came to the conclusion that attracting their own citizens who had studied in the West and had been immersed in their culture might be more practical and cost-efficient. Add to that the patriotism of these rising stars, many of whom wanted to share their new knowledge and experience with their countrymen back home as one way to help build their respective nations. As such, a growing Chinese IT company would rather seek out and bring back home Chinese nationals who had graduated from top-of-the-line universities in the West and had cut their business teeth in the U.S. or Europe.

But that movement didn’t stay there, but led to another development, which is the other trigger for the rise of the Asian expat. As these young traveling Asian execs started climbing up the ranks, they were soon assigned to the other international offices of their home company. Let’s go back to our Indian national. After two years in the Indian home office, he is assigned to put up a new branch in Beijing; and then after two years, he is assigned to grow the company’s business in San Francisco.

It was only a matter of time before other companies — and not just the Asian ones — noticed what these new stars could offer, and started courting them to hold office in their own kingdoms. After making a name as someone who can take businesses to the next high level, the Indian executive, now based in San Francisco would soon be receiving job offers to jump ship, from his many global competitors.

There are many examples of this Indian national, and hundreds of them now compose the new face of the expatriate of the 21st century. Global mobility specialists should take note that, come next recruitment campaign, the CEO just might ask for several experts from Singapore, Beijing, Seoul, Mumbai and other regions from the (no-longer-far) East.