Global Mobility Issues for the Sports Sector

sports global mobility issues


Sport is an increasingly global business requiring a multinational perspective and a concerted focus by HR to identify and tackle challenges in global mobility programmes.


Millennial expectations

The increasing willingness of the new generations to move abroad goes hand in hand with increased expectation in terms of lifestyle, career opportunities, and flexibility. The destinations favored by the millennials include global hubs and trendy cities such as London, Dubai, Singapore, or Shanghai but might not include the low-cost hardship destinations where companies need them. The focus of the negotiation will not be on the size of the compensation package but will include the experience, work-life balance, and career development perspectives. Companies might have to offer a more holistic approach than just cash or vague promises about career perspective. Millennials will not make mobility easier, they won’t necessarily make it harder, but they will make it different. Companies will need to adapt to their needs to avoid losing talent and developing synergies by aligning their mobility practices with the expectation of the new generations.


Job versus individual mobility 

The changing expectations of employees are leading companies to reassess the concept of mobility. Traditionally companies have been moving people to jobs but are now increasingly considering moving jobs to people. In other words, they are offering assignees a greater say in how and where they will be working. This implies flexible working conditions, an increase in commuter assignments, and making better use of frequent flyers and virtual assignments. Technology development makes this transition easier. Not all jobs are mobile but the stereotype of traditional expatriates coming from their home country to a destination to support the local operation is being replaced by highly mobile expatriate gig workers bringing their expertise when and where needed.


Extended business trips & commuters

Ten years ago, not all companies were able to track their short-term assignments accurately. As more companies have become better at it, the focus is moving to extended business trips, commuters, and frequent travelers. These types of moves present a host of challenges for companies from compliance, tax, emigration, and security perspective to cost issues. Coordination issues (across teams and geographies), technology limitations (no system available or lack of integration of the different systems) and siloed teams (tax, immigration, and HR) are limiting the efficiency of the tracking processes.

Should it be the responsibility of the mobility team to track these types of moves? Wherever the responsibility lies, the HR and mobility teams are often better equipped to do it than other departments, and it is in the interest of the company to facilitate smooth processes. In the new global mobility landscape, international assignment management should be seen as a continuum ranging from extended business trips to long-term and localization and should cover different types of moves that were not traditionally considered as part of global mobility.


Expat gig workers

The growing complexity of global mobility is not just about having more short-term assignments or commuters. Some of your future assignees might not even work for your company. This trend has existing for many years in the oil, gas, and engineering industries where contractors and freelancers are used on a regular basis. The trend is now reaching many more sectors and types of jobs. We are seeing an increasing number of highly skilled professionals willing to market themselves directly in the host location (“locally hired foreigners”) as opposed to be hired in their home location and relocated to the assignment location by the company. In some cases, these highly skilled professionals are hired as freelancers rather than as permanent employees. The rise of the gig workers who go from project to project for multiple employers is part of the future of work. The implications of this new way of working for global mobility and international assignment models could be profound.


Flexibility in mobility 

The preference of millennials for greater flexibility and the imperative of adapting host-based approaches (e.g. local plus) to specific country conditions are driving the need for increasing flexibility in policies. Some companies are considering having two parts in their global policies: one part covering global principles and a more flexible second part reflecting local conditions. More generally there is an increasing appetite for cafeteria style policies that mirror the flexible benefits provided to local employees.

The limit to this flexible approach is the duty of care that companies have: in hardship locations, companies might need to limit the flexibility given to assignees to limit risks. From a tax perspective, an absence of tax equalization doesn’t mean that a company can completely ignore assignee’s tax issues. Tax support and advice still need to be provided not only for compliance reasons but also to limit scenarios where assignees could make costly mistakes and turn against the company.

More generally the question of duty of care and minimum level of support can be expanded to encompass exchange rate issues, insurance questions, and pension decisions. More flexibility therefore implies that educating mobile employees on financial and benefits decisions will increasingly play an important role.


Future role of baby boomers

While millennials capture the headlines, the population and the workforce are aging fast, not only in developed countries but also in many emerging markets. This is putting pressure on pensions but also affecting the way people work. Aside from the aging of the general population, other factors are driving the increasing number of older assignees – employees in their 50s are potentially more mobile than younger employees with families and might be tempted to go on one more assignment before retiring.

They can also be tempted to offer their expertise internationally on a freelance basis. Certain industry sectors have been relying on older workers and even brought back employees from retirement. That was the case a few years ago in the oil and gas sector when companies had to bring back engineering from retirement to bridge talent gap and while investments in the oil sector have more recently dropped, the trend of bringing back or extending the career of highly skilled individuals with critical skills for the business is likely to continue.

The challenge is therefore not only to accommodate the needs of the millennials but foster an inclusive corporate culture that also use the expertise of older assignees, takes into account their priorities (e.g. saving for retirement) and their specific needs, such as caring for elderly parents.


Diversity & non-diverse destinations 

Fostering assignee diversity is allowing companies to tap into new pool of talent and is becoming a significant advantage in the global talent war. However, managing a diverse assignee talent pool when doing business in destinations where diversity might not be welcome is a challenge. From practical questions about sending non-married couples to destinations when non-married couples are not tolerated, to serious concerns linked to the ethnicity, nationality, gender or sexual preferences of the assignees, the risks and potential barriers to mobility are numerous. Employees might sometimes be willing “to take a chance” but companies have a duty of care and cannot allow this. Sometimes facilitation, cultural training and careful planning can help but in any case issues need to be openly discussed and anticipated.


Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris are established advisers to the sports sector. As employer solutions lawyers, we work with education providers and institutions to support with their full people requirements including global mobilityhuman resource consultancy and immigration & employment legal advice.

We understand the commercial and legal challenges facing employers in the sector, and work to support our clients in meeting their people management and planning needs while reducing legal risk exposure. Contact our sports sector specialists today.

Last updated: 2nd January 2020


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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