Expatriation. A critical review of the literature on expatriates

Essay 2016 26 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Globalization, Political Economics


Table des matières

1. Traditional expatriation
1.1 The need for corporate expatriates
1.2 Selection process and adjustment

2. Self-initiated expatriation (SIE)

3. Comparative study of the two groups motivations to expatriate

4. Women expatriates
4.1 Traditional approach and myths
4.2 Specifities of female expatriates

5. Dual-career management

6. References

1. Traditional expatriation

1.1 The need for corporate expatriates

Expatriaion nowadays when studied calls for a distinction between two distinctive groups, corporate and self-initiated expatriates. The first category though is considered to be the traditional one and the most studied to date. That is why it will be presented first. It also created all the myths, preconceptions and prejudices regarding expatriation. It is usually associated with Western companies’ employees being sent abroad with their families for professional purposes.

Out of the two groups this study will focus on, corporate expatriates were the first category to be studied by academics. Corporate or organizational expatriates embody the traditional expatriation. This followed the emergence of MNCs and their growing need for international managers. Corporate expatriates are employees sent by their company on an international assignment for a fixed duration. At the roots of this type of expatriation are MNC’s objectives. Hence, the appearance of corporate expatriates answered firm’s needs and led to new HRM focus and issues like cross-cultural management. Corporate expatriation is perceived as a fine tool for a company to manage its activity globally. These assignments are designed as shortterm contracts with a specified job description and a selection process conducted by the expatriate’s company in his/her home country. Such experiences are then a part of an employee career development within a specific firm.

In Global talent management and global talent challenges, R.Schuler, S.Jacskon and I.Tarique presents how the significant raise in the world trade and general expansion of firms internationally led to a complete new way to approach HRM. An enhanced globalization, greater competitiveness between companies, changing demographics and then the growing need for talented employees underlined new global talent challenges and called for global talent management. With the following figure, the authors present the global talent context that influences greatly the challenges to manage talent globally.

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Figure 1 Framework for Global Talent Challenges and Global talent Management Initiatives

Source: Schuler, Jackson and Tarique,Global talent management and global talent challenges,http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/ j.jwb.2010.10.011

The main idea of their study was that firms’ expansion especially in emerging countries implied the need to manage locally the attraction and retention of skilled workers with the right competencies and motivation. However, the growing demand for talented employees led to a major talent shortage globally. Corporate expatriates were one answer to help firms accomodate when the new local market a company enters could not provide an adequate workforce needed to ensure fine management of operations. Such employees embody a trade-off when local workforce could not provide appropriate talents. The authors argued that effective HRM initiatives for global talent management can be the source of a long-term competitive adavantage for a firm. This requires allocating the right person at the right place at the right moment. From identifying talent shortage to allocating the appropriate worker to the task with a potential relocation for him/her is a complex process. This is a highly time-consuming approach, which is why the authors also identified several barriers to the implementation of efficient global talent management initiatives. The most numerous barriers are related to managers (senior, middle and front line) involvement in such strategies and competencies to implement them. They might be more interested in actually managing the business and not perceive the potential benefits of spending time on that specific type of recruitment, selection and mentoring needed to ensure successful talent positionning internationally. Another barrier would be the company’s human resources department’s capabilities. Such strategies to manage at the level of a large MNC, present internationally, implies strong global HRM policies and the willing cooperation of executives to actually implement them. The authors identified some firms that succesfully appraoched that question by having a fine commitment, leadership and involvement of the top management.

1.2 Selection process and adjustment

Those trends explained the growing need for organizational or corporate expatriates and why it was the first group to be identified and studied by the academics in the past thirthy years. At the core of that type of expatriation lays the need of a company to send workers with specific skills and capabilities to fill a void in one of its market. Thus, this expatriation is mainly initiated by the company and career-oriented. It supposes a certain number of conditions and expectations from the workers such as high compensation, organizational support and guaranteed position within the firm upon return in the home country as it implies significant investment on a professional and personal level for the employee. Those expectations are generally taken into account in full expatriate contract which represent significant financial investment on the firm part. Such expatriation poses the question of selection processes, adjustment to the host country and success of the assignment. Those topics have been also studied quite extensively by academics.

In Expatriate selection : good management or good luck ? Barbara A. Anderson analyses three types of selection processes for international assignment. She studied private, public and non-government organizations procedures of selection to identify their main aspects and relevance. The question of selection process for corporate expatriates is perceived as a key factor of success for the assignment. Choosing the right person for the job allocated to the right host country is supposed to have great impact on the chances for the expatriate to perform efficiently or not during the assignment. The capacity to adjust to a specific location and position is a core element to be identified prior to departure. Barbara A. Anderson hence states that most expatriations are considered as failures if they could not be carried out until the end of the predefined duration of stay. No matter the reason if one expatriate has to be repatriated early the experience is to be considered as a failure. Early repatriation is mostly due to an inability for one to adjust to a brand new environment which is influenced by a number of work and non-work related factors. Barbara A. Anderson points out how in a lot of organizations technical competencies are used as a primary element to select candidates for an international assignment. Furthermore, organizations also rely greatly on domestic based performance assement to evaluate such candidates. If those approaches are not invalid she underlined how little interpersonal skills are taken into account in the selection process. And yet many authors emphasized the importance of fine interpersonal skills to ensure the success of an expatriate assignment. Little also is the involvement of human resource managers in the actual selection process. HR managers interviewed for this article pointed out that most selections are done in hurry and most of the time handled by top management rather than the HR department. Moreover, it appears that except for non-government organizations the expatriate’s family is not involved in the selection process.

The author then concludes that for some organizations luck as more to do with the selection than fine management. Technical competencies are the main criterion of selection for private and public sectors. However, non-government organizations seem to have a more comprehensive approach to selection as there is also an assessment of the candidate interpersonal skills, some psychological testing and partners and children are involved in the selection process.

In the end although corporate expatriation is the most traditional and oldest type of expatriation it appears that it is not yet an optimal process to initiate expatriation. Firms do need international managers but it is an unusual workforce quite difficult to apprehend, select, recruit, manage and retain. One of the greatest concerns of corporate expatriates is the return on investment of their international experience. If expatriation is perceived as a mean to access upper management position it also can the source of great disappointment upon return to the home country. Still, corporate expatriation shaped the majority of people mindset regarding expatriates. It is the most widely recognised representation or reference for expatriation.

2. Self-initiated expatriation (SIE)

On the other hand, if the emergence of corporate expatriation was clearly identified it was not the case for self-initiated expatriation. And yet, it appeared and called for new studies and approach of the phenomenon. A world that facilitates travels more everyday allowed mobile individuals to pursue expatriation without organizational support. The assumption was that such new group had different characteristics and motivations than their corporate counterparts.

Self-initiated expatriation (SIE) has been defined by contrast to corporate expatriation. The concept’s origin can be traced to an exposition of Inkson, Arthur, Pringle and Barry in 1997. They were looking at the differences between corporate expatriates on overseas assignments and New Zealanders choosing independently to leave New Zealand temporarily. In Self-initiated expatriation and self-initiated expatriates : Clarification of the research stream, the authors Noeleen Doherty, Julia Richardson and Kaye Thorn attempted to clarify the evolution of the concept and its definition. The term itself of SIE was actually defined in 2008 in articles from Doherty and Dickman and deriving from the first concept of self-initiated foreign experience. SIE is structured by three key aspects. It implies relocation, which means physically crossing a border, a mobility driven by the individual and a stay in the host country that is expected to be temporary.

On the contrary from corporate expatriation, SIE is initiated by the individual. Also, one other key element that defines SIE is the time frame of the stay. Corporate expatriates have a quite strictly defined duration of stay as it is designed by the assignment itself generally no more than 5 years. However, the time frame is much more unclear for SIE. They always approach expatriation at first as a temporary experience and yet there is substantial chance to consider permanent relocation. There is regurlarly a signicant gap between the expected duration of stay at first and the actual one in the end. That matter of time is key as it is the only way of assessing whether a person is still an expatriate or an immigrant. This could be linked to different expectations regarding repatriation and its potential benefits.

One particularity of SIE is that it encompasses a large diversity in the types of expatriates from skilled workers to senior managers with high responsibilities. This type of expatriates also put a greater focus on the cultural experience provided by expatriation. Career developement is not always a primary driver to leave their home country. Actually, the motivation to go abroad for SIE can be driven by different type of factors as career, cultural interest or personal reasons.

As much as corporate expatriates called for special HRM initiatives unfortunately it is rarely the case for SIE. There is a specific population that is mainly considered on the HR point of vue as mere employees and not approached as expatriates in need for potential support to better adjust to their host country environment. Liza Howe Walsh and Birgit Schyns in Selfinitiated expatriation : implications for HRM argued that little is done in terms of HRM policies to help self-initiated expatriates adjustment upon arrival in a new organization and environment. According to them more focus on such potential HR support could help those expatriates to reach their performance potential quicker. As it is initiated by the individual such expatriation requires one to be proactive when it comes to adjustment to the host country and job position taken within the organisation. The implication of Human Resource department towards this type of workforce is highly linked to how they are perceived within the firm they joined.

For example, an expatriate that would have lived in the host country before would usually be perceived the same way as a local woker. He/she would be expected to already have some experience of the country, having less difficulty to adjust and then not considered in need of organizational support. The authors designed a model that would facilitate this process (see below). Figure 2 shows the different type of support that could be provided to facilitate quicker and easier adjustment to the host country for expatriates.

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Figure 2 HR support initiatves for expatriates adjustment1

SIE is a complex reality as it regroups several types of mobile individuals with each their own motives and process to initiate expatriation. The most significant trait is the personal approach towards relocation. The individual is in charge of the move and in relation to his/her career seems to have a quite proactive approach of their professional path. Still, difficulties and adjustment might be greater than for corporate expatriates as SIE rely only on their capabilities to organize and complete successfully their relocation on all levels.


1 Liza Howe-Walsh and Birgit Schyns, Self-initiated expatriation: implications for HRM, The International Journal of Humane Resource Management


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Title: Expatriation. A critical review of the literature on expatriates