Navigating global relocation for the LGBTQ assignee

What do businesses need to consider when sending an LGBTQ assignee abroad? TheMIGroup explores some of the unique challenges of sending LGBTQ couples abroad and how might they be set up for success.

Ensuring success for LGBTQ overseas assignees
Particularly within the past decade, there has been a momentous push towards diversity initiatives within the workplace, as companies prioritise the importance of supporting employees regardless of skin colour, gender, or sexual orientation.Those companies who shout these inclusion pledges the loudest set the industry standard, and benefit from strengthened recruitment and retention initiatives. These statements or initiatives do not have to be complex; in fact the simplest messages have historically been the clearest and boldest, and can go a long way towards educating the masses, and celebrating differences.Interestingly, diversity patterns within mobility don’t exactly mirror these advances in corporate and business diversity initiatives. Particularly for the LGBTQ community, the world of mobility presents an array of challenges, unfortunately not all of which can be prevented through thorough pre-assignment planning or meticulous issue mitigation.Given the fact that homosexuality remains illegal in 72 countries and punishable by death in a further 13 countries, there are significant safety, security, and legal implications for the relocating couple and the organization.In a 2014 study on gay and lesbian expatriation conducted by Yvonne McNulty and Ruth McPhail, it was concluded that beyond the more obvious physiological concerns of safety and security, there exists a broad scope of other psychological and social fears for a relocating LGBTQ couple such as, “fear of discrimination, lack of job security, limited career progression, safety concerns in ‘coming out’ to their employer, fear of stereotyping, and constant scanning for signs of acceptance”.It is evident that the relocating LGBTQ couple has a different set of challenges to contend with in comparison to the traditional expatriate family model, but what can organizations do to try and set them up for the same level of success?

Legal Challenges

The most commonly cited concern for LGBTQ couples is navigating the legalities surrounding the visa and immigration process, particularly in regions where same-sex marriage is not recognised (or where homosexuality is prohibited by law).In these situations, a visa will not be issued to anyone identifying as a same-sex dependent, which can impact the likelihood of a candidate accepting a position. The good news is, these barriers are not insurmountable, thanks to the help of visa and immigration experts who are in some cases able to navigate ‘workaround’ scenarios that can allow the partner to accompany the assignee.These workaround scenarios may involve finding a sponsoring employer, sourcing a volunteer work assignment, short term visits under a tourist visa, or enrolment in an education institution or program, in order to benefit from a student visa. In any of these instances, an assignee or company should only attempt these approaches under the guidance of an immigration expert.Diligent research on behalf of the assignee and company can deepen the understanding of other regional regulations and country-specific requirements, but even more important is awareness of the social climate in the host country, which can impact not only the ease of the transition process, but the safety and security of the relocating assignee or family. For example, according to McNulty, “although India now has laws that make it illegal to discriminate against gays, many gay expats avoid the country.”The same is true in South Africa, which was the first African nation to pass legislation supporting LGBTQ rights, however aggression towards LGBTQ individuals is still widely reported. Singapore on the other hand, does not have pro-LGBTQ legislation in place, however many companies nationwide openly promote diversity and inclusion. Social norms are rarely a direct reflection of the legal system.Companies providing the benefit of cross-cultural training to relocating employees should ensure that their provider is up-to-date on the social climate and cultural nuances faced by an LGBTQ couple, within various countries and regions.This knowledge should be infused into the employee’s programs, and shared with those overseeing the relocation, to ensure that they are well aware of any special provisions or precautions that must be taken.
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Safety and Security

In terms of the safety and well-being of LBGT couples and their families, the situation abroad can be a precarious one, sometimes met with hostility, or as in some countries, imprisonment or execution.Select countries and governments are well-known for brutal rallying against homosexuality, as detailed by InterNations: “Recently, Russia passed a law banning the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships, which mostly targets homosexuals and transgendered people. The new law is enforced aggressively and those who break it face a hefty fine. On top of that, foreigners are punished with 15 days of prison and deportation. Other countries are planning to pass similar laws and some are well-known for their brutality when dealing with LGBTQ people”.While LGBTQ travellers typically avoid these risky locations, it should never be assumed that the candidate is not suitable for the position. Managers who make assumptions about a candidate’s willingness to relocate may disregard an ideal fit for the position; the diversity of a global talent pool should be both celebrated and leveraged.If a company is willing to be flexible enough, barriers can be broken. For example, when dealing with an assignment in a particularly risky region, some LGBTQ couples would benefit from the remodelling of an assignment into a split-family situation in which all dependents remain in the home country while the assignee makes frequent return trips.Or in certain cases, a long-term assignment can be segmented into a series of short-term assignments resembling a rotational assignment. In both cases the exposure to risk is decreased as the assignee is partially protected by a perceived single status within the host country.This being said, the safety and security concerns of an LGBTQ expatriate are not segregated to international assignees; in fact within the United States there are several communities where same-sex couples are not welcomed, typically characterised by their distance from a major urban centre.It is of utmost importance that the company’s service provider is aware of these “pockets of intolerance” prior to engaging in the home finding process in the destination location, whether nationally, or across borders.For any assignee, whether a national transfer or an international relocation, a comprehensive understanding of the unfamiliar social climate and culture of the host region prior to arrival can help manage expectations through understanding what behaviour and mannerisms would be acceptable within this social context, ultimately contributing to a higher level of safety and security.

Benefits and Program Structure

On a positive note, many companies are recognising the importance of easing legal requirements for defining the status of an accompanying dependent, and are now extending benefits to unmarried domestic partners of employees. This flexibility allows same-sex partners access to the same support services, regardless of marital status.LGBTQ couples have the same set of needs and requirements as a conventional relocating family, and most companies are now providing identical benefits packages regardless of the status of the family.Spousal support, home finding and real estate services, school search services, cultural adjustment assistance, and language training are common themes for all relocating families, regardless of whether the structure of the family is conventional or atypical.The problem lies in the services or support mechanisms themselves, which many lesbian or gay expatriates perceive to “focus on the needs of mainstream traditional expatriates. This then exacerbates the discomfort LGBTQ workers and their partners and/or children face due to their non-typical status”, explains McPhail and McNulty. Many LGBTQ families can benefit from a heightened level of support, to help address the additional hurdles, which may not be experienced by conventional couples.In an op-ed by Jenna Cyprus, she discussed her own experience as a travelling same-sex spouse, “Our first relocation counsellor simply didn’t know what to do with me, and seemed instead to be following a prewritten script. Meanwhile, same-sex partners are crammed into a model that may or may not actually be appropriate. It is awkward and uncomfortable.”Organisations should ensure that any internal or external Relocation Managers, as well as any relocation-related service providers, are well-trained about the nuances and unique challenges that can accompany different family structures, and should know which resources can best help LGBTQ couples to minimise stress, and ease the transition process as much as possible.The bottom line, agrees Cyprus, is that a “comfortable relocation experience results in higher productivity for the company”.Find out more about TheMIGroupThis updated article was first published in the summer of 2017.SourcesLGBT Expats and Their Partners – InterNationsLesbian and Gay Expatriation: Is there a Glass Border, Jessie Goldie, Deloitte, August 30, 2016Lesbian and Gay Expatriation: Opportunities, barriers, and challenges for global mobility, Ruth McPhail, Yvonne McNulty, Sept. 15th 2014Op-Ed: The challenges of relocating for same-sex couples, Jenna Cyprus. June 19th 2014When the Closet Travels with You: For Gay Expats, Life Abroad Brings Challenges, Debra Bruno, October 11th, 2015Assisting the Globally Mobile LGBT Professional –Laura Levenson, June 14th 20165 Things Every LGBT Traveler Must Know Before Going Overseas, US News, Liz Weiss, Sept. 22nd 2015Mercer Webcast Globalisation Series – From Barriers to Borders: Developing Diverse Global Talent, Michael Grover, Dec. 8th 2015Global Mobility Talks Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Challenges in Relocation, Bournes Relocation Solutions, May 11th 2016Panel Highlights- Global Working: Supporting LGBT staff on international assignment, Bournes Relocation Solutions.Managing the safety, health and security of mobile workers: an occupational safety and health practitioner’s guide – IOHSModernizing your Relocation Policies to Include LGBT Expatriates- Mobility Magazine, Jan 2017, Jason L. Rogers, Soohyung, Gurtcheff-SmitHomosexuality is punishable by death in these countries, even as Taiwan rules to legalise gay marriage- International Business Times, June 21 2017Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all of the international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory

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