Skip to content Skip to footer
Search

Loading Results

Unlocking mobility

Until now, the primary focus for global mobility functions has been crisis management and ensuring employees are safe.  As we see restrictions gradually ease, attention turns to how organisations can mobilise their global workforce once borders re-open and some sort of ‘business as usual’ resumes.

The global picture

In the absence of viable options, such as a vaccine or developing herd immunity, we may be in the current situation for some time;  COVID-19 could be something we need to learn to live with at least for the short to mid-term and inevitably this will affect how we cross borders.   

So, what might the future look like for global mobility?  

In the longer term, Global Mobility functions have a chance to play a more strategic role. Many organisations have been forced to adopt remote and virtual working arrangements not just for the immediate, but possibly longer term.  Those employers who embrace virtual working are likely to tap into a broader global talent pool, possibly at lower costs, with the ability to move work more fluidly across borders.   To navigate such a significant change successfully will require careful data-driven planning.  There are important factors to consider - organisational and cultural changes, business impacts, employment laws and policies, tax and payroll implications, immigration status, time-zones, and language skills. Global Mobility is likely to be the most experienced in-house function to manage this complexity.

For many organisations however, physical travel is a fundamental requirement to achieve growth and to address skills imbalances and labour market demands.  In our survey on the impact of COVID-19 on global mobility, 44% of 350 global organisations said that they will seek to return to ‘business as usual’ as soon as possible and will continue with the same number of international moves as before.  Of the respondents, 41% said that strategic global projects requiring mobile employees would remain a priority.  For those organisations, knowing how borders will be managed over the coming weeks and months is critical to be able to plan and execute moves.

Unlocking mobility

Government approaches to borders have changed, and it is likely that we will experience a tightening of border controls.  For example, individuals are already being required to demonstrate immunity or prove they are not carrying the virus prior to visiting Austria, China and Hong Kong.  In the short term, we are likely to see a continued and heavy reliance on track and trace technology - for example in Iceland, Italy, Norway, UK and South Korea.  The use of track and trace technology will no doubt be a challenge for business travellers to navigate, and inevitably leads to questions around data privacy.

The pandemic is at different stages globally.  However, for many locations, there is a pattern of moving away from the initial phase of crisis management to a phase where we begin to strategise - adopting a medium to long term view at a time when we are exiting the pandemic.  As government subsidy schemes start to draw to a close, organisations are beginning to focus on the return to work, bearing in mind health and safety risks and compliance with related employment laws.   

We will likely see a phased and controlled approach to unlocking borders.  Governments will be taking cautious steps and we may see the brakes applied where there is a risk of a second wave of infection.  The world is closely monitoring developments in China as it moves out of lockdown, and we anticipate that European and South East Asian countries will continue to lead the way on easing border restrictions through carefully planned reciprocal travel corridors, as they come out of their ‘peak’ of infection cases.  

Re-mobilising a global workforce will need careful planning bearing in mind regional trends:

Asia-Pac

With much of the region announcing its control over the transmission of the virus, Asia-Pac is set to continue to push forward with their easing of border restrictions through travel corridors and a strict application of track and trace technology to travellers and residents.   It is likely that Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand will lead the way on the reopening of borders.  China is implementing a controlled travel corridor with South Korea, and is also encouraging the return of work permit holders through foreign investment initiatives.   Singapore has announced a very cautious, three phased approach to reopening the economy with the resumption of cross-border travel ‘green lane’ arrangements with a handful of countries.

View more

Europe

Free movement across member states for EU nationals is expected to resume very shortly, with an easing of internal border checks and a focus on restarting the economy (in particular the tourism industry).  Italy announced it will ease travel restrictions and drop quarantine measures this month and Austria simultaneously announced it would re-open its borders with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.  Germany, which entered recession last week, announced it too would open its borders with Denmark, France, Austria and Switzerland.  Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have created a ‘Baltic bubble’ opening their borders to each other.

View more

Africa

As the true scale and impact of the pandemic across Africa has yet to be realised, with reports that infection figures are underreported, the easing of lockdown measures and travel restrictions across the continent are not expected to be announced any time soon. It will be crucial to understand how the pandemic will exacerbate risk and security issues, such as bribery, risk and corruption and the impact this will have on increased compliance measures for companies in the region, particularly in respect to hiring and sponsoring foreign talent.   We continue to see strict lockdown measures and entry bans in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Angola, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. 

View more

Americas

With the global epicentre of the virus now firmly in the USA and Brazil, border closures and entry bans across the region are expected to remain in place for some time yet. The US Presidential Election is likely to keep the focus on efforts to restart the economy and ensuring immigration bans remain in place until the virus is under control.  Following President Trump’s announcement to curb all immigration into the US (which was limited to Green Card applicants), the practical impact has been nominal, given that Immigration Consular Posts across the world had already suspended operations.  Central and South America may well be the last region to emerge from the pandemic with border closures continuing for now, although Chile has started to resume immigration services and we anticipate the Caribbean will relax travel restrictions and quarantine measures more quickly due to it’s heavy reliance on the tourism industry.

View more

Careful planning

As we emerge from lockdown, it’s crucial that employers have the border knowledge, travel information and employee data to make decisions.  This will all require careful but agile planning, and may result in further displacement before employees are relocated to where the business needs them to be (or where they personally need to be).  Workforce planning here will be crucial - Where do you need skills? Has that changed?  Where do those skills currently exist (as they may not be where you thought they were)? 

Using data and analytics to predict skills shortages, match the supply and demand of talent and skills (particularly where borders remain closed or restricted), and recommend candidates will be the key to unlocking mobility.  Without a digital approach, many hours could be spent reaching out to business stakeholders, compiling data and information to make resourcing decisions.

Ensuring compliance

Employers will also need to address the compliance risks of remobilsing. As a result of COVID-19, several tax authorities announced relaxations to tax and social security legislation.  For example, the UK issued guidance that meant that, in the short term, working in a country temporarily would not necessarily have an impact on an individual’s tax residence status and hence tax, social security and payroll requirements.

Going forward many authorities will not be extending the period these relaxations apply for. Therefore, although travel corridors may be available, quarantining in neighbouring countries before reaching a final destination, and touching multiple countries in a short space of time could add complexity.  For example, even a short temporary period in a holding location could generate a payroll requirement.    

Furthermore, EU member states will need to write the Posted Worker Directive into their legislation by 30 July. After this date, any travel into the EU will involve another layer of employer obligation; not only the Posted Worker registration, but also the retention of documentation and possibly the most difficult part - determination of whether the conditions (equal pay, minimum period of annual leave, working time regulation, health and safety regulations, non discrimination) have been met.   

For many organisations, filling critical roles from a global talent pool will be key to resuming ‘business as usual’, whether this is remotely or on-the-ground.  Managing mobilisation will require careful yet agile data-driven planning, together with knowledge of air bridges and travel corridors, and additional compliance requirements.  Inevitably, the role of global mobility in re-emerging from lockdown will be critical in navigating the additional complexities we face in the global landscape.

Contact us

Sharan Kundi

Sharan Kundi

Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Raj Mann

Raj Mann

Senior Manager, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7483 362032

Benjamin Oghene

Benjamin Oghene

Director, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7771 542581

Deborah Salmon

Deborah Salmon

Senior Manager, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7525 283175

Follow us