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April 17, 2013
The top reason for international assignment programs is to provide specific technical skills not available locally.

For the last two years there has been an increase in the overall number of international assignments, according to a recent report on expatriate policies by Mercer.

“International assignments have become more diverse to meet evolving business and global workforce needs,” explained Anne Rossier-Renaud, principal in Mercer’s Global Mobility business.

“Relatively low pay increases in some regions and pressure to attract and retain talent have spurred many companies to embrace a wider range of global mobility strategies to incentivize their high performers. Mobility and HR directors now face great complexity in the number and type of international assignments that need managing.”

Over 70% of companies expect to increase short-term assignments in 2013, while 55% of companies expect to increase long-term assignments

The report found that the United States, Brazil, China, United Kingdom and Australia are the priority destinations in their respective regions for expatriates.

The top five reasons cited for international assignment programs are:

  • to provide specific technical skills not available locally (47%)
  • to provide career management/ leadership development (43%)
  • to ensure knowledge transfer (41%)
  • to fulfill specific project needs (39%)
  • to provide specific managerial skills not available locally (38%).

Close to half of North American (45%) and European (46%) companies indicate career management/leadership development as one of the main reasons they have international assignments. In the future, worldwide, 62% of participating companies anticipate an increase in the number of technical-related short-term assignments, 55% anticipate an increase in talent development assignments and half (50%) anticipate an increase in key strategic assignments.

According to the report, the duration of long-term assignments is trending down. The average duration of a long-term assignment is now slightly less than three years (2 years, 10 months). The average minimum duration is 1 year, 5 months, and the average maximum duration is 5 years, 4 months. The average age of long-term assignees is between 35 and 55 years. For short-term assignments, the minimum and maximum average durations worldwide, stand at respectively 4, 8 and 13 months. The average age of short-term assignees tends to be younger, with a similar proportion of companies in the below 35-years old bracket and in the 35-to-55-years old bracket.

The likelihood of expatriates being female has marginally increased with the average percentage of female assignees standing at 13%, just 3% higher than two years ago. Latin American and Asia Pacific companies show female average percentages lower than those of North American and European companies.

Multinational companies continue to source most (57%) of their international assignees from the country in which they are headquartered and assign them to foreign subsidiaries. However, there has been an increase in the percentage of subsidiary company transfers (51%) indicating that subsidiary-to-subsidiary transfers, as opposed to HQ-to-subsidiary transfers, have increased since 2010.  This evolution is most significant among European companies, with six in ten (61%) reporting an increase of this pattern of assignments, indicating the growing competencies of staff in other parts of the world. 

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