'Partnering for Progress' Permits Foundation 2024 Conference

The Permits Foundation Conference brought together an engaged audience keen to press ahead and build on progress made over 22 years to establish a partner’s right to work in as many countries as possible around the world. Fiona Murchie was there to find out more and the implications for global mobility.


This article is taken from the Summer 2024 issue of

Think Global People magazine

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Keeping up the pressure: A win-win for global mobility

Baroness Helena Kennedy, conference keynote speaker, set the tone  for the day held at EY’s offices in Canary Wharf, London. Baroness Kennedy talked about the right  to family life as an important aspect of our humanity and respected in international law. She also argued nations develop by bringing in knowledge from another part of the  world, and that partners have that knowledge and expertise too.One person in a family should not be deprived of the opportunity to work, or even to volunteer, in a country. She explained how we don’t want to see people discriminated against in the world of work because of race, religion or gender, and to deny those rights is an affront to human rights. Sometimes this is forgotten in the heated immigration debate and views around asylum, particularly at election time.Baroness Kennedy is known for successfully evacuating women judges and their families from Afghanistan in 2021. Her huge fundraising efforts included chartering a plane to get them out.  She explained how the situation for some husbands was still pretty wretched because of the permission to work needed in various countries, despite skills shortages.Her rallying call to the audience was to persuade our governments and argue the case about why people coming to a country with their talents should be something we are valuing. It is about skills and opportunities.

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Working rights for dependents

Siobhan Cummins, Permits Foundation board member, led a discussion on working rights for dependents as a key success factor in the transformation of global mobility. Permits Foundation’s work aligns with the wider talent strategy in organisations. Finding  talent and moving talent is business-critical, particularly where there are skills shortages. Christelle Labbe, head of HR at SLB UK, highlighted the clear changes in ‘trailing spouses’, male and female, with unmarried partners much more common. The 2022 Permits Foundation Survey revealed 88% of partners were highly skilled master-degree or PhD holders. Over half (56%) of respondents said not working in a country impacted their mental health.The point was made that companies have both a responsibility and an active role to play in allowing partners to flourish with the rest of their family. Loss of identity and not being able to contribute to their own career when partners move internationally does  have an impact on wellbeing. A powerful video backed up these points.

Geopolitical infulences

The ‘Geopolitical Landscape in 2024’ panel was moderated by Julia Onslow-Cole and explored how this big election year is affecting Permits Foundation advocacy. She highlighted the polarisation of views and the decline in trust in governments. was also picking up on a move away from globalisation with countries becoming more fragmented, with a drive on tariffs, de-risking and emphasis on onshoring. She covered the US, especially as clients are wanting to know how to mitigate a potential Trump presidency. When Donald Trump was president, he saw immigration as a threat to US workers and the economy, and government’s role to control it. The Indian and European Parliament elections were also throwing out surprises.The erudite panel included Marisa Jacobs, managing director of Xpatweb, who commented on the speeding up of the backlog of visa processing in South Africa. She highlighted the new ‘Trusted Employer Scheme’ introduced on 1 March, with 68 employers approved offering much-reduced processing times. South Africa is focus country for Permits Foundation activity.Permits Foundation’s Canada spokesperson, Julia Gurr Lacasse, migration programme manager at the High Commission of Canada in London, was welcomed as a breath of fresh air representing a country that wanted to grow their labour force to increase economic growth. She confirmed a strong consensus for immigration across the political parties and highlighted Canada had launched a tech talent strategy in 2023, where spouses, partners and accompanying children of highly skilled workers could join them in Canada.

Dual careers

A lively panel discussion moderated by Gill Gordon, Permits Foundation chair, with representatives from Unilever, Deloitte, NetExpat and The Coca-Cola Company, explored how to enhance inclusive global mobility  programmes. Plenty of the topic threads will be explored in our future coverage. Roundtable discussions drew out the day’s learnings and there was a strong feeling in the room that progress was indeed being made, but there is a way to go yet. Partnership and collaboration are the way forward to enhance change and open up job opportunities around the world for partners.

Read about award-winning global mobility, leadership and education in the upcoming Summer issue of Think Global People magazine, with the teams and organisations being celebrated in the Relocate Think Global People Awards 2024. Secure your copy here.


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