Permits Foundation celebrates 20th anniversary in support of international dual careers

Permits Foundation is the only organisation that advocates specifically to enable direct work access for spouses and partners of mobile employees around the world. The Foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and for the past two decades has helped to facilitate company talent mobility and improve the lives of dual career families internationally.

Permits Foundation Dual Careers Survey 2021
Autumn 2021 magazine cover
This article is taken from the latest issue of Think Global People, the new home of Relocate Magazine.
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How Permits Foundation came about

Twenty years ago, the concept of governments legislating to enable direct work access for partners of international assignees was in its early stages. Although there were bilateral arrangements between countries, for example in the diplomatic sector, policy makers were not consistently making the link between dependant work access, talent acquisition and country investment. Companies lamented the fact that international assignments were failing or being cut short due to the fact that the partner was unable to access work in the host country. Dual careers were on the increase and many accompanying partners (mainly women) were simply unwilling to lay their careers to waste.
Click here to access the Permits Foundation International Dual Careers Survey 2021 - Permits Foundation are extending the deadline to their partner survey until 28 Feb 2022.
The Foundation essentially came about following collaboration between a number of companies, whose representatives are well known in the global mobility community. Several members remain on the Board to this date. Siobhan Cummins, Julia Onslow-Cole, Gill Gordon and the founder and first Director Katy van der Wilk-Carlton – then manager of Shell International’s Spouse Employment Centre.
Foundation Chair Gill Gordon recalls, “We realised that we had a shared challenge. With an increasing number of dual career couples, work permit barriers for spouses could jeopardise a successful international assignment. Companies could all benefit if we worked together to improve the whole family’s experience in the host country. This would help employers to attract and retain talent and benefit employee diversity and integration. It started with around 20 of us but resonated with many in the public and private sectors and so sponsorship gathered pace from there.
Siobhan-Cummings-Permits-FoundationInitial sponsor companies in 2001 included Akzo Nobel, AstraZeneca, ECA International, Heineken, PwC, Schlumberger, Shell and Unilever. Permits Foundation is now supported by over 40 companies and other organisations, with several chief executives of major companies acting as patrons.Today, more than 30 countries worldwide have legislated to enable accompanying partners or spouses to access employment while in the host country. The Foundation recommends that where possible, same-sex partners, non-married partners and other family members be included in the definition of dependants that are eligible to access work. Country information is tracked via the Permits Foundation’s interactive world map of mobile spouse and partner work authorisation. This provides a global snapshot of good practice, details government legislation and the Foundation’s advocacy efforts per country.
For Permits Foundation Board member Dr Anne Cockwell, Head of Global Assignments at Volkswagen AG Germany, “Partner employment authorisation is an issue that continues to be so important for companies. With a more challenging mobility environment since the pandemic, we are now giving extra attention to the family unit of the mobile employee pre-move. This includes a stronger focus on partner employment expectations and greater awareness of mental health and well-being.”

2021 Permits Foundation Survey

This September, the Foundation will be launching a highly significant worldwide survey of both global mobility professionals and dependants of mobile employees, tracking the changes that have occurred since the pandemic and current expectations relating to dual careers in the global workplace.Foundation Co-ordinator Françoise van Roosmalen urges participation in this survey as it will help to effect change for the better and for families on assignment across the globe. “Though we have carried out country-specific research, our last survey at this scale was back in 2012. So much has changed since then, particularly since the pandemic. We have seen changes in the make up of the mobile family, increased reliance on dual incomes, a shift in the types of assignment including virtual and greater focus on inclusion (mental) health and well-being. For companies looking to improve their employee experience and for families on assignment or who are considering a move, please do take part and share the survey link within your network.”
The survey will run through October and will be made available on Permits Foundation’s website which is at First findings will be announced at the upcoming Permits Foundation Anniversary Conference in November. The full report will be online early 2022.

Interview with Permits Foundation Director, Helen Frew

One question is why not? Partner employment concern is a key contributor to a refused or failed assignment. We don’t know of any employers who would not want to further knowledge transfer, gender equality, inclusion or to improve employee experience, health and well-being on assignment. Support for the Foundation essentially shows your employees that you are proactively converting CSR policy into action. Companies can affect change collectively in a way they perhaps can’t individually. When we meet with government officials, we provide sound evidence from our network surveys and show our impressive list of sponsor logos. These two actions make all the difference. The greater the level of support, the greater the chance is that we can affect change in a country – and more quickly.

What have been significant milestones over the years?

We have seen so many significant moments dating right back to 2001 in the US when our advocacy helped spouses of intra-company employees, traders and investors gain work access. Since then, more countries have improved legislation. Our work helped directly to inform policy in the UK, India, Brazil and across Europe. The EU Intra-Company Transferee Directive was a personal highlight. Today, in almost all Member States, family members of ICTs [intra-company transferees] are able to access employment and self-employment upon recognition of their dependant status. Progress was possible because of our practical and evidence-based approach. But change requires perseverance. It took over four years to convince key stakeholders as well as representatives from the institutions to support amendment to the original proposal. Now we look upon the EU as an area of best practice and the revised Blue Card Directive – adopted this month – maintains direct work access for dependants. We hope for similar success in many other countries as we work behind the scenes We aim for further progress in the US, Ireland (which opts out of these EU Directives), India and South Africa. We also want to broaden our work in China and the APAC region.”

How can people get involved to support the Permits Foundation and why is this important as you approach your 20th Anniversary?

For company representatives, becoming a sponsor will help to bring about sustainable improvements to work permit legislation. This will support your HR strategy and underpin your policies on mobility and dual careers, DE&I and your image as an attractive, best practice, international employer. If you are a service provider, it will demonstrate to your clients how you are helping to improve global mobility. For mobile families, raising issues means service providers and HR managers are aware of what is important to you. We ask our sponsor organisations to donate a relatively small amount of money and time. Typically, we look for feedback on key countries and issues and we create opportunities to work together to raise the dual careers issue, providing timely intelligence on policy development. This is a chance to be a driving force behind change for the better. A brochure with further information is available on the sponsor page of the Permits Foundation website here.
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