AXA Study on Global Mobility: Short-term Work Assignments Projected to Increase in US

COVID-19 has stirred up many questions among global mobility professionals and foreign talents, especially the future of international work, given the current realities and political climate everywhere. But AXA’s recent study, World of Work 2021 offers some positive news. 

About 67% of 543 HR respondents believe short-term work assignments will rise in seven countries, including the US. They are also confident that despite the COVID-19 crisis, there will be an increase in all assignment types in the next 5 years.

The study was conducted by Savanta, an independent market research agency, which also compared the trends in 2020 to a previous survey done in 2017.

Andy Edwards, global head of international healthcare at AXA Global Healthcare, said, “The need for international working has not gone away since our initial report in 2017. If anything, the appetite for it has grown. Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic, which began as this research was being undertaken, will bring a new perspective to international assignments.”

However, the nature of the assignments that might evolve will reportedly consist of shorter-term assignments, with focus on choosing the right person becoming even more prevalent. “We might even see this evolution unfold differently in individual sectors, depending on their ability to deploy skills and resources when needed,” Edwards said.

The pandemic and its disruption of traditional workplace practices has changed the way in which businesses plan their international assignments. It allowed HR and global mobility professionals ample time to craft remote work policies. The result: 4 in 5 international workers agree to the fact that their hiring company has so far responded well to the crisis, and prioritized their safety.

Route to career progression

To compare, 2017’s study was done based on companies’ priority to improve business operations. In 2020, it was simply carried out to meet the global way of working and approaching business. Three years netted a big difference in international work placements: From 23% in 2017 to 37% in 2020. 

Owing to the impact of Covid-19, though, the average cost of placing an employee abroad had increased from $50,000 in 2017 to $69,000 in 2020.

Still, the report revealed that more than half of HR and global mobility managers see international assignments as a route to career progression, with a posting often ending in a promotion for the employee (up to 53% from 42% in 2017). 

Edwards added, “International working has no doubt been hit hard by the pandemic, creating huge uncertainty for those on assignment and those managing the process.

“As we move forward into 2021, and a new normal is established, we expect more focus to be upon who takes assignments and an increase in specific support to maximize the likelihood of the placement’s success. 

Lifting of the immigration freeze

More good news is coming to light as President Biden has reversed the US immigrant freeze imposed by his predecessor, and will not extend the US work visa freeze. 

Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers will soon be able to apply for visas and green cards, including the H-1B temporary worker visa.

Licelle Cobrador, an immigration lawyer who works for both employers and talents hired by top tech companies, also welcomed the news that the USCIS will accept H-1B cap registrations for employment in fiscal year 2022 starting from March 9 until March 25.  USCIS will notify employers or their counsel concerning the lottery results by March 31. 

As for the current travel restrictions to bring them to the US, they are considered a temporary hold-up and that other work placements will continue, especially if they are filling a skills gap.

However, employees say that salary (54%) is the most important factor to influence their decision to accept or reject an international work placement, which should not be a problem for companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. They were among the companies to oppose the freeze and other restrictions imposed by the previous administration.

These talents also put a lot of weight on the opinion of their family and friends already in the placement country, highlighting the importance that personal relationships have on those already working in the US, for them to decide if they will do the same.