International Human Resource Management: Expatriate Assignments


Significant growth has been observed in expatriate assignments, especially those moving in developing countries. Countries that record increased economic and industrial developments have realized entrants of mass expatriates taking over the newly created managerial positions. The year 2009 presented an upsurge in this because of increasing GDP-figures in those countries. Despite this increase, and the ever-rising demand for the expatriates, rates of failures have been interestingly high as well as costly (Mercer 1996, pp. 6).

Recent fiscal estimations on failed expatriate assignments have reached a massive 2.5 Billion. Other failures associated with it have been relating to personal effects such as ego, self-esteem, and reputation among others, which have posed threat to careers of many such expatriate, when they come back to their homes. In essence, expatriate assignments have had both positive and negative impacts on professionals as well as their respective companies. This paper will seek to address the causes of success or failure in expatriate assignments, as well as the ways by which they can achieve success (Van den Anker 2009, pp. 1-3)

Expatriate assignments

In discussing expatriate assignments, it is vital to understand what an expatriate is, according to most sources, an individual is considered an expatriate if he is a professional residing in another country, with a different culture. Multinational companies offer expatriate assignments to their employees, with a view to strengthening their global advantage. The term is commonly used to refer to those professionals sent abroad by their multinational firms on work assignments. In this usage, it does not account for those doing manual labor or the unskilled in other countries; these may be termed as immigrants. It is quite imperative to note however, that different people use this term according to their prejudices and preferences (Driskell 1978, pp. 385).

Expatriate assignments were notable in the U.S as early as in the 19th century, when they are believed to have numbered thousands, and were placed on assignments in Europe. Among the main activities during this period were art and paintings which drew expatriates in numbers especially for those who went to Paris and Munich. Examples of these, includes James, who was a well-known American expatriate writer in the 1870s.

Some expatriates get tax incentives depending on the country of placements, in such cases, their stay is always well defined, and they must return to their homeland after completion of their assignments. America has had various expatriates abroad as well as within. Notable examples include, Romanian sculptor, Brancusi and Birkin, a Singer from America, who has lived in the French Capital, Paris for more than 40 years (Driskell 1978, pp. 385).

The 20th Century saw most expatriates sent to foreign headquarters, created the expansion of multinational companies, which has increased the number of skilled professionals required in global market. Their effects have been massive, as income has generally been leveled for professionals, while the ratio for incomes of skilled to unskilled professionals has maintained (Driskell 1978, pp. 385). Employers are encouraged to source for professionals anywhere in the globe as the cost of traveling between continents have greatly reduced. Numerous global recruitments have been done in regards to this.

Another element that has been observed in new global market is the changing from traditionally known expatriate to a short term and commuter assignments. As opposed to the traditional expatriates, who previously associated with only the elite of their new countries, the modern expatriates share more of their experiences with a majority of locals and other expatriates, since they form the global middle class. This has allowed powerful cultural influences, even though it is not complete (Selmer 1995, pp. 37-97).

Countries like Dubai consist of mainly expatriates, with the citizens only making about 20% of the total population. This recent shift has been difficult to monitor as many people move to different countries, however, U.N estimates that by 2010, there will be over 200 million expatriates, inclusive of migrants due to economic reasons (Collings, Scullion & Morley 2007, pp. 198-213).

Current figures place Spain as having the highest expatriate influx, while UK records the highest expatriates in developed nations. Repatriation has been witnessed much in the U.K mainly due to recent 2008/2009 downturn in global economies. Expatriates have had different challenges to their career developments; these include cultural interaction, salaries and benefits, non-fiscal incentives as well as hardship allowances among others. Critical to their decision-making is stability of their respective families, which has been a major issue, with children forced to change schools, and spouses left back home.

Consequences associated with such kind of arrangements can be severe if not well handled, and that calls for proper inclusive coaching (Collings, Scullion & Morley 2007, pp. 198-213).

There are specific countries like Switzerland, where expatriates refer only to those with expat contracts in the country. These expatriates receive huge benefits ranging from housing to children’s education, which is covered by employers. Advancement in technology has been vital in helping expatriates communicate with their families from their countries of placement, thereby acting as a factor for it. Anxiety caused by separation is therefore reduced and people can work knowing they will speak to their loved ones whenever they want. There has however, been several reasons that still undermine it such as, the cost on the employers and negative impacts it causes on the expatriate’s career, in case of a failed mission, among others (Collings, Scullion & Morley 2007, pp. 198-213).


Expatriates face many challenges and these have causes, which in some cases can be avoided to achieve higher success rates. Listed below are reasons for success or failure as well as the way to enhance their performances.

Reasons for success

Among the causes for its success rate are closer control it offers for coordination of subsidiaries of the multinational firms; firms expanding to other continents or countries, need to monitor closely, the processes in their new branches to analyze their progress and need for further expansion. This is only possible when expatriates from the headquarters, who understand the management process and organizational culture of the firm, are given the assignments (Armstrong 2006, pp. 23).

The overall fall in cost of continental transports have also helped surge success in expatriate assignments. Individual motivation to experience other cultures, has of late contributed to the success of expatriate as this play a big role in mitigating behavioral and emotional factors that may hinder the progress of an expatriate. Its sense of providing a wider global perspective for the expatriates as well as the company has also influenced its success throughout the globe. Other reasons for success include advancement in technology, which has reduced the world into a global village allowing families to communicate irrespective of where they are (Weber 2004, pp. 1).

Reasons for failure

As much as expatriates have experienced success and had reasons to continue with the process, several factors have hindered their growth. Among them include, the cost of transfers, which places economic sanctions on companies as they strategize to become more profitable, in fact, if not for their importance in creating global awareness and cultural interaction, the high costs are sending negative signals and have resulted in their decline, especially during the recent downturn in global economy.

Possibilities of meeting harsh local restrictions have also caused decline in global expatriates, especially in the said states, this makes it difficult for foreigners to adapt in a new environment and therefore causes laxity to committing expatriates in those regions. An example is Saudi Arabia, which has very many religious rules binding to everyone who sets foot on their boarder. Another example is Somalia, where Sharia law seeks to include everyone, with dire consequences for those who fail to comply.

Other reasons for failure include personal effects, like self-esteem, ego and individual reputation; this is very dangerous and can halt someone’s career. For instance, if an expatriate comes back from a failed mission (which may not necessarily be due to his inability to execute assignments as required), his self-esteem among peers is greatly undermined and some people may doubt his competency, including those in lower ranks than him, all these may weigh him down culminating into a failed career.

Adjustments into a new environment, taking into consideration, the family values are also reasons that have led to failure (Selmer 1995, pp. 37-97). As much as an expatriate can have time to speak to his/her family, it is still vital that they be close to solve emotional issues. Affection is required and this necessitates physical presence (Mead 2005, pp. 375-422).

How to achieve higher success rate

Achieving higher success is vital to ensure expansion in the expatriate process. This can be achieved by mitigating the controllable reasons for failure and strengthening reasons for success (Legge 2004, pp. 112). These include family matters, which should be given close attention while choosing an individual for the assignment. If the family members are against it, after exploring all possible avenues, taking into consideration spouse employment and children’s education, some one else should be chosen to avoid premature return.

These will most probably give a positive result, which would encourage more expatriates. In addition, Levels of adaptation, or adjustments to the new environment is essential, factors which have been seen to improve this are to be agreeable, expatriates who posses these skills are more likely to adjust into a new environment and this should therefore be used in considering those to be assigned (Longatan 2009, par. 7-9).

Cross-cultural training should also be fostered to help mitigate on various social identification groups, which have negated effective interaction and the strengthening of organizational culture (Mead 2005, pp. 375-422). Group interactions should therefore be encouraged to stem out expatriate’s beliefs that are ethnocentric. This is because the groups can fall into categorization and social identity, causing severe consequences to the development of a sold working team (Van den Anker 2009, pp. 1-3).


Expatriate assignments have formed a key component of globalization. This has allowed for cross-cultural interaction and sharing with an increasing number of global professionals venturing in many multinational subsidiaries throughout the global market. The prospects of the firms and individuals having a global perspective, among other reasons, have contributed to the success of expatriate assignments. However, costs associated with it, family matters as well as social and cross-cultural adjustments have derailed the process. To achieve higher success, these have to be mitigated with strong focus put on evaluation and cross-cultural training for potential expatriates (Mead 2005, pp. 375-422).

Reference List

  1. Armstrong, M. 2006. A Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice (10th Ed.). London: Kogan Page.
  2. Collings, D.G., Scullion, H. and Morley, M.J. 2007. Changing Patterns of Global Staffing in the Multinational Enterprise: Challenges to the Conventional Expatriate Assignment and Emerging Alternatives. Journal of World Business, 42:2, pp. 198-213.
  3. Driskell, C. D. 1978. Bibliographies in Afro-American Art. American Art Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp. 385.
  4. Legge, K. 2004. Human Resource Management: Rhetorics and Realities (Anniversary Ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  5. Longatan, N. 2009. Success and failure in Overseas Work Assignments: A Case Study in Expatriation, Global Staff Need Global Support. International Trade.
  6. Mead, R. 2005. International Management: Cross-cultural Dimensions. Malden. BlackwellPublishing. Web.
  7. Mercer, V.1996. Explorations in the City of Light. New York: The Studio Museum in Harlem.
  8. Selmer, J. 1995. Expatriate management: new ideas for international business. Westport. GreenwoodPublishingGroup. Web.
  9. Van den Anker, B. 2009. What makes an expatriate assignment work? Expatica Communications BV.
  10. Weber, T. 2004. What are the Critical Success Factors in Expatriate Assigments?. Grin Publishing GmbH. Web.

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