Repatriation After Contract Ends is One Thing, Going Home Because of COVID-19 is Another

California Corporate Housing hosts many guests from different countries and US cities who live like the locals and helps them adjust to the Silicon Valley way of life. Work may appear hectic inside offices but serene-like outdoors; nowadays that’s a blur. Ultimately, these guests leave after a job contract ends. It’s not always an easy transition.

Repatriation is hard, but the pandemic has made it even harder. It is an entirely different form of adjustment. For those going back to their home countries, the realization of being back home takes awhile to sink and for those looking to come back this year, here’s a piece of unfortunate news: work visas in the States have been suspended until the end of the year. The order applies to H-1B visas, H-2B visas, H-4 visas, L-1 visas and certain J-1 visas.

How disorienting is it to come back home? Debra Bruno wrote in a WSJ piece that American Naomi Hattaway could not have described any better when she moved to India then Singapore. 

In a post on her blog, Hattaway likened her life as a “triangle,” a person who might be from a “circle country” but moved to a “square society,”  and evolved into a triangle. For others,  repatriation is a reverse culture shock, even causing a “situational depression,” a depression caused by an inability to adjust to the transition of her new life.  

Still, it’s good to know from AIRINC’s recent COVID-19 Pulse Survey that the majority of companies are not repatriating assignees. Companies in general invest in expat employees, making them valuable assets both financially and developmentally. In the past, expats who were repatriated often left the company after six months, which proves costly. In the current crisis, expats are reportedly staying put because of uncertainty, if the companies are keeping them. 

Overall, companies need to know the following for their employees:

Consider safety of employees

In addition to any risk assessments in home and host locations, employers need to know the medical history of their assignees and any accompanying family members, which may indicate a need to return to the home country. Length and ability to travel safely, which may indicate a need to remain in the host location. Also consider access to quality medical facilities, a threat of political unrest, limited goods and services.

Business need and cost impact

A company might anticipate assignments as a function of an immediate business need to remain in the host location whenever possible, and those focusing on employee development to return to the home location. 

Both the return home and the option to remain in the host location bring the potential for additional costs to the assignment. For those remaining in the host location, some businesses are paying for “in-kind” benefits relating to the safety of their employees, or the ability to telecommute.

Employee and company satisfaction

A mutual agreement between companies and employees will improve satisfaction of the assignment as a whole for both parties. Some potential questions to ask before making this decision are: Will completing the assignment for the original duration, even if working from home, help the employee reach goals and ensure business targets are met? Is the original assignment end date in the near future, with related work organically coming to a close?

But one question remains, what if the expat doesn’t want to leave? See if they can leave and come back again to their host location as a tourist. That’s a roundabout way of doing it, but what they previously missed may turn out to be, well, just another city.