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Problems and Solutions

Jo Parfitt is an expatriate partner, who has lived and worked overseas for almost 20 years, in five different countries. She makes her living from writing, speaking and teaching about what she has learned along the way. In her article Jo reports on the progress and hindrance a spouse faces when expatriating.
Problems and Solutions

This information could not have been compiled without the generous help and research of Susanne Albrecht, interning in the Human Resources Department of Bayer Corporation, Pittsburgh, PA.

Despite an increasingly global society the problem of the career of the expatriate spouse still remains unsolved. The majority of today's families comprise two working partners, both wanting to pursue a long-term career. The number one reason for foreign assignment failure remains spousal and familial discontent.

There is no doubt that 'on-the-economy' careers are the hardest to track down and hang onto.
Increasingly companies are realising that self-employment and portable careers are the most flexible and viable solution. According to Dr Elisabeth Marx, in her book 'Breaking Through Culture Shock'  75% of international managers are involved in a dual career scenario.

Most countries still pose the following problems to the spouse:

  • Lack of work permit
  • Language issues
  • Cultural issues
  • Lack of jobs available (local employees have priority)
  • Inevitable lack of spouse's long-term commitment
  • Incompatible certification/licensing
  • Spouse's lack of transferable skills

Here follows a breakdown of the various efforts made by a variety of international companies.

When work permit can be obtained

  • Look into the possibilities of a dual assignment, offering the spouse a position within employee organisation, even if previously not employed by them.
  • Discuss job opportunities in the foreign location with partner's current employer.
  • Discuss possibility of telecommuting contract with partner's current employer.
  • Provision of career counselling (CV development, interview techniques, identification of transferable skills) so spouses can spend time away on career and personal development.
  • Employment assistance when abroad and on repatriation.
  • Funding of spouse's job-seeking, development and career counselling.
  • Use of third party resources for pre-departure, in-country and repatriation advice, outplacement, search and coaching for development and implementation of career objectives.
  • Assistance acquiring visas and work permits.
  • Financial assistance with acquiring visas and work permits.
  • Provision of financial support and counselling regarding self-employment or freelance work.
  • Provision of books or other resources, such as A Career in Your Suitcase or Working Abroad titles.
  • Provision of counselling for partner with portable career, advice with recertification, qualifications (teachers, artists, writers, nurses).
  • Discussion of possibilities for working via Internet
  • Provision of free email account and Internet access, intranet, resources, together with installation, training and support.
  • Provision of job search and networking resources (International Directory of
    Employment Agencies and Recruiters, addresses of expatriate organisations)
  • Creation and maintenance of database of information and resources, setting up
    conference room and phone line for spouses, resource library with materials on local
    community, directory of expatriates.
  • Financial funding of retraining (usually to a ceiling of £2,000 per assignment).
  •  Financial funding to compensate for job loss to be used for any purpose.
  • Creation and support of local volunteer bases, training courses, resource
    libraries, job research positions.
  • Provision of employment within company's own local support centre.
  •  Connect spouse with people who can provide leads or networking opportunities
    (expatriate and business groups, Chamber of Commerce, professional organisations with spouse's field).
  • Collaboration with other global firms, creating a consortium of companies, pooling resources in a specific location or within an industry, creating a 'job bank.
  • Creation of a job hotline in which project-based jobs are available.
  • Provision of free telephone helpline or email support.
  • Provision of language training.
  • Facilitation of re-entry courses and career-focused courses on re-entry.
  • Access to employment opportunity magazines and newspapers.
  • Hiring a service provider to do preliminary interview and research with potential expatriating couple to ensure validity of posting
  • Service provider to work closely with spouses and company to write acceptable spouse policy.

If work permit cannot be obtained

  • Financial compensation.
  • Provision of support and acknowledgment that expatriate spouse employment is an important issue.
  • Connection of spouse with network of peers in foreign location, spouse's club, expatriate clubs, facilitation/funding/support or regular meetings, training and events.
  • Guaranteed re-employment on repatriation if they have worked with the same company prior to international assignment.
  • Support the partner's return home several times a year for professional conferences or workshops so that they may keep up to date in their field.
  • Help the partner to find ways to maintain contact with other professionals while abroad, counselling them about possibilities of leave of absence or return to work for specified periods during the assignment.
  • Funding of retraining and study.
  • Provision of educational counselling services.
  • Help, advice and giving value to finding voluntary work.
  • Provision of voluntary work within own company spouse support centre.
  • Funding membership of support groups or professional networks.
  • Assistance with finding internship.
  • Discussion of possibility of commuter assignment for employee or spouse.
  • Discussion of possibility of offering employee a rotational schedule so can split time between home country and foreign posting so spouse need not sacrifice career.
  • Offer support and provision for commuter marriages.
  • Pre-departure meeting with both partners and, indeed, all family members.

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