Post-9/11 challenges for relocation

Employers see greater resistance to foreign assignments
By Bev Belisle and Wade Cuthbertson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/10/2003

In the 18 months since the terrorist attacks on the United States, employers have faced new challenges to deploying employees to other countries. For some, the attacks were a wake-up call to how unprepared they were when it came to the safety and security of expatriates. For others, there have been changes in the logistics of managing assignments.

Sept. 11 provided a clear illustration of how “it can happen anywhere,” and demonstrated the value of advance planning and preparation. What happened on that day showed that no matter where someone is, basic communication, health, personal safety and security could all be compromised within minutes.

During the ensuing months some employers reviewed contingency planning and preparedness, putting formal policies and programs in place. Security planning has been reinforced or added to the list of advance preparation for relocation or assignment, particularly when the travel destination or residency is a location with higher risk factors.

Whether an employer is managing assignees and their families in a major North American metropolis, a desert oil field facility in the Middle East or a small manufacturing centre in Southeast Asia, the likelihood of risk or problems can be surprisingly similar.

International employee mobility has been affected in numerous ways. Some employers have experienced greater resistance to the acceptance of assignments, particularly into regions of high political or economic volatility. Following the attacks, some employees and families requested early termination of their assignments.

Visa and immigration processing times have been affected, and document-filing requirements may have changed depending on the assignment. All travellers have encountered new security procedures at airports, but for expatriates there have been increased delays and procedures in entry, visa, work permit and residency processing at border crossings and airports, as authorities are requiring stricter adherence to rules and regulations.

International household goods shipments are also experiencing delays at entry ports and border crossings. Increased scrutiny and searching of shipments entering countries can result in longer delivery times and unanticipated delays. Moving companies need to be suspicious of packed-by-owner items accepted for shipment.

One of the challenges many organizations face is determining who’s responsible for the safety and security of relocating families and expatriates. Which department should be responsible: corporate security, travel, human resources or relocation? Company policies should clearly identify the area of responsibility to ensure consistent and equitable application of the program.

And the challenges that are facing managing international assignments can apply to routine business travel for employers. Plans and programs in place within international relocation programs for matters such as communication, medical and health, personal and travel safety and security, evacuation, natural disaster recovery, anti-terrorism and kidnapping can equally apply to all routine business travellers.

Bev Belisle is an account manager with Royal LePage Relocation Services in Fort McMurray, Alta. She may be contacted at (780) 742-2330, or visit Wade Cuthbertson is a senior partner with Calgary-based relocation consulting firm Cuthbertson Macdonell & Associates. He may be contacted at (403) 228-1073, or visit

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