Expat professionals: employees sans frontiers

Updated: Jan 20 2007, 05:30am hrs
Dont be surprised to see a cubicle near you filled by an expatriate in the near future. Whether its joint ventures, logistics or handling globally renowned brands, hiring a foreigner is beginning to make sense to a growing number of Indian companies staking their turf at home or abroad.

According to a survey conducted by Mercer Human Resource Consulting last year, the ranks of female expatriates alone have swelled significantly (9% to 14% in the past five years) among companies based in Asia-Pacific.

The reason behind the surge is an increase in the number of Indian companies on a global drive, which makes them define their expatriate policies as critical, says Gangapriya Chakraverti, business leader, human capital product solutions, Mercer Human Resource Consulting, India.

Cisco India is one example of a company where expatriates are helping to drive growth. The reason, as suggested by Subash Rao, director HR, Cisco India, is their in-depth understanding of the parent companys culture and values, as also a network of relationships, knowledge of internal processes and best practices around the world.

Even homegrown companies like Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) and Infosys are swooping down on American and British universities for campus recruitment. For M&M executive vice-president- human resource and corporate services, Rajeev Dubey, the inclusion of expats goes beyond tackling the challenges in the globalised world. Hiring expatriates gets us a workforce that can yield out-of-the-box ideas. Moreover, expats later become our ambassadors to the world, he says.

Business development executive David Aranow has been working with M&M since June 2005. Picked up by the company from Harvard University, he feels privileged to be part of the organisation. The company not only made us comfortable in the office, but also helped us get accommodation. The only problem I faced was dealing with autorickshaw drivers, says Aranow, whose contract with the company ends in June.

Though companies like M&M may go out of their way to help these expats settle in, they dont differentiate between Indian and foreign executives in terms of salary. We also ensure that there is a conducive environment for every employee to work. We are open to suggestions and complaints, and so far everything has been going fine, says Dubey.

At Kingfisher Airlines, expatriates usually join the flight operations department as cockpit crew.

The government of India has relaxed the rules regarding employment of expatriates and hence the industry is witnessing an upward increase in the number of expatriates employed. Currently, we have over 47 expatriate pilots at Kingfisher Airlines and we are in the process of recruiting more in next few years, says HR head Rubi Arya.

She adds, The challenge before the hiring process is to source pilots who meet our criteria from various countries. Once we have shortlisted the candidates, proper verification of documents and background checks are conducted. If the candidates meet the same, the documents are sent to various regulatory authorities to get the clearance. This often takes more than two months. After they are recruited, the challenge is to get them to adjust to our way of life. Every expatriate is provided a welcome handbook to familiarise them with the working environment and operational information.

According to Mercer, mobility premiums (cash incentives to compensate individuals for the inconveniences of being transferred) continue to play an important role in encouraging employees, especially professionals, to take assignments. A growing number of companies provide these premiums systematically for long-term assignments (73%) rather than for short-term assignments (31%), says the report.

Companies also groom their expat recruits not only for their jobs, but also for the sector (especially competitors) and the country as a whole. Gareth Williams, a worldwide partner in Mercers Chicago office, says, Investment in language and cultural training, for example, can dramatically improve the chance that the international assignment will be a successful one.

Rohit Kumar, managing director, IKAN Relocations has been dealing with expats for the past ten years. The company advises foreign employees and their families on the Indian scenario professional, political, government and social. Right from housing to immigration and infrastructure, there are several issues to take care of. These are petty issues, but once taken care of, the stay here is more comfortable.

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of such outsourced services, expats like Tom Gleeson are more than happy with their stint in this country. The CEO of Wisden Group thinks that there isnt really much difference between working in India and abroad. We all operate in such a global environment now that there is very little room for local issues. The challenges faced in doing business in India such as bureaucracy, infrastructure development and wage inflation are all found, to varying degrees, in other parts of the world, he says.

Besides making us attuned to deliver to the needs of one of worlds fastest growing economies, on the personal front, India provides us with a very high quality of life. It also provides an extremely interesting life there are so many wonderful things to see and do in India, adds Gleeson one of the growing legion of foreigners hoping to cash in on the Great India Story.

With inputs by Banasree Purkayastha