Beware Emerging Markets Immigration Risks!


Emerging markets immigration is coming to the fore at a time when immigration rules across the globe are becoming increasingly protectionist.

As global businesses look to developing markets in the search for new sales and customers, from an immigration compliance perspective, this raises greater challenges such as enhanced risks, procedural uncertainty and higher overall project costs.

Some of the biggest challenges of emerging markets immigration relate to the most popular emerging mobility destinations:

  • Brazil has a particularly complex and protracted work permit application process, including an extensive list of requirements and documents which must be translated into Portuguese and certificated before being submitted to the Brazilian authorities for approval. The type of visa you apply for will depend on the type of work you intend to do.
  • India’s immigration rules have in recent years undergone considerable change, largely in response to illegal immigration and terrorist threats to national security. The rules apply narrow interpretations of permissible business activity. Authorities are strict in scrutinising applications, specifically the nature of the commercial activity for which permission is being sought, moreso than the duration of stay.
  • China presents some of the most difficult challenges for business immigration. Processes for gaining work visas differ from city to city, and mandatory requirements continue for the assignee after their arrival including, among others, a health check report and registration with the Public Security Bureau.

Emerging markets immigration compliance

Global mobility teams should aim to develop and hone their approach and handling of emerging markets immigration processes. You want to match the level of sophistication of your established mobility and compliance practices for developed countries in terms of knowledge, certainty and cost management. Ultimately, you need to develop an approach for emerging markets immigration that is compliant and meets local immigration needs, while supporting your assignees’ well-being and ensuring the commercial success of the assignment.

Local immigration rules 

Building an understanding of the local immigration rules and issues is paramount. Your organisation’s strategy should give insight into specific geographical regions of interest and importance which will help you to focus your efforts and resources.

In some cases, it can be difficult to ascertain the local immigration rules. Then they need to be interpreted and applied correctly. And what you read may not actually be what happens in practice.

If your organisation has people based locally – whether HR professionals or other – tapping into their local knowledge as part of your fact finding will help to enhance your insight. It’s also the best place to start for you to build your own network of local contacts.

The intelligence you build should be documented and shared internally to supplement your existing mobility policies to ensure relevance, efficiency and impact for emerging market assignments.

Assignee and dependants’ support

Employees moving to developing or culturally challenging countries should be supported through the additional complexities of emerging market assignments, across the lifecyle of the assignment; from the initial selection process and visa application through to relocation, the assignment itself and post-assignment.

This is moreso the case for assignees with ‘trailing spouses’ and other dependants. Emerging market assignments not only present some of the most acute cultural challenges for this cohort, they also raise more trying immigration complications, for example, securing concurrent visas for all individuals concerned. Here, the complexities of emerging markets mobility are compounded simply by nature of there being more people to process correctly, often leading to delays.

Higher compliance costs 

Typically you should expect budgets for emerging market mobility to be higher than for developed market assignments – at least initially. Consider it part and parcel of the required investment of moving into new and unfamiliar markets.

There will be ‘front loaded’ costs of the first waves into new markets, while your processes and policies, contacts and knowledge are developed and refined.

Providing additional levels of internal support for emerging market assignees as part of your mobility programme will also have cost implications. These should however reduce in time as internal knowledge and process efficiencies improve.

Changing local immigration rules

What will remain uncertain are the changing immigration requirements of different countries. Currently, we are seeing governments across the globe take increasingly strict stances towards business immigration to protect their domestic labour markets and tackle illegal migration.

Government fees change, specific local requirements change, such as sponor licence fees or stipulations of ratios of foreign to domestic workers. So you must ensure your polices and processes remain up to date and relevant to current local rules and interpretations, or you will face problems with securing permission to work locally.

It’s an area of constant change that you have to keep pace with to ensure local compliance and ultimately to facilitate the commercial success of your assignments.

If you have any questions about global mobility or immigration compliance, please contact us.


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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