Alternative International Assignments Survey

The results of Mercer's Alternative International Assignments survey are now available.

In the last decade, the diversification of international moves and the segmentation of assignment types have accelerated. The 2020/2021 edition of the Alternative International Assignments (AIA) Survey continues our research into the use of international assignments other than long-term expatriate assignments: short-term assignmentspermanent moves / one-way transfers, and commuter assignments. The survey explores trends, management, and policies and practices that companies have put in place to move talent effectively and efficiently. Since we introduced the AIA in 2013, these "alternatives" to traditional long-term assignments have matured in their roles for meeting global staffing needs and become more prevalent in many organizations.

The 2020/2021 AIA survey reports gathered data from close to 200 companies who provided answers for at least one assignment type. The infographic below presents the proportion of AIA participants who indicated having the assignment type between 2018 and 2020.

The 2020/2021 Alternative International Assignments survey asked participations whether COVID-19 would affect their use of various assignment types. For those using permanent, one-way transfers, 51 percent said yes, 33 said no, and 16 percent were unsure. For short-term assignments, 62 percent said yes, 22 percent no, and 15 percent unsure. Among those using commuter assignments, 57 percent said yes, 24 percent no, and 19 percent unsure.

2020/2021 AIA survey reports are available now!

The 2020/2021 survey edition took place during a challenging time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most companies are still evaluating what the future will look like and remain very much focused on managing their mobility programs in the most sustainable and effective manner.

Nevertheless, the survey was an opportunity to take the pulse and gain insight on the latest trends in those assignment types. Many assignments were either cancelled, delayed or repatriated early, so in addition to our usual trend-numbers questions, we specifically asked participants whether the pandemic and its numerous economic and social consequences affected their expectations regarding the evolution of the surveyed assignment types. As expected, more than half — and even 60% for the short-term assignments — say it affected their trend expectations.

Among participants in the 2020/2021 edition of Mercer's Alternative International Assignments survey, 89 percent reported using permanent moves or one-way transfers, 87 percent said their companies use short-term assignments, and 58 percent use commuter assignments.

While there remain many uncertainties about the longer-term impact of the pandemic, expectations with regard to the evolution of alternative assignment types look contrasted between those who expect a decrease in certain assignment types to the benefit of more remote working and virtual assignments and those who, on the contrary, expect some of the “alternative” to long-term assignments to increase.

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Key report highlights

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Short-term assignments report

  • Compared to the previous edition of the survey, more companies reported having a formal short-term assignment policy (86% in 2020/21 vs. 79% in 2018).
  • Almost 1/3 indicated that they have accompanied (non-single) short-term assignment.
  • Close to 60% of companies allow family members to visit assignees in the assignment location in lieu of a home-leave trip.
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Permanent moves / one-way transfers report

  • Close to 80% have a formal policy to handle one-way transfers
  • Career opportunity for the employee is the most frequent reason for relocating employees permanently
  • Immigration issues now top the challenges list, rated as a big challenge (3 or 4 on a scale of 1: not a challenge to 4: big challenge) by six in ten companies, before salary and benefits package in the host location.
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Commuter assignments report

  • Close to 70% of companies track the number of days commuters spend outside their home countries, a noticeable increase from the 56% in the previous edition.
  • Fifty-seven percent of companies, a 22-percentage-point increase from the 2018 edition, have a formal commuting policy.
  • Global Mobility is more involved in commuters management than in the previous edition: (61% in 2020/2021 versus 55% in 2018). Likewise, a higher proportion of respondents in this edition (34% versus 19% in 2018) indicate that global mobility was the one qualified to offer the commuter policy or practice rather than other actors, such as home-country HR or business unit.

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