Navigating the New Normal in International Business Travel

The coronavirus pandemic has placed many restrictions on travel for both leisure and business. As parts begin to open up and lift certain regulations, organizations are now looking at travel for the business, and if those are possibilities once again. Read this blog post to learn more.


What can your company expect in terms of your employees' ability to travel internationally as parts of the world begin to come out of months of lockdown?

And what will the ongoing restrictions and changes in everyday life mean for your company's ability to transfer or hire new foreign national talent in key areas? Only time will tell exactly what will happen, but we are beginning to see patterns and hints of what is to come.

Some countries that have managed to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections are gradually easing restrictions on freedom of movement and commerce. This is typically being undertaken cautiously and in a multistep fashion. Other countries have been slower to ease travel restrictions. A broad travel ban remains in place in China, and countries in Latin America continue to extend travel limitations with a wary eye on the outbreak in Brazil.

International travel restrictions on freedom of movement are being eased, albeit more slowly than domestic restrictions. We expect that the easing of international travel restrictions will be incremental in nature as the easing of domestic restrictions has been. We also expect that quarantine requirements for arriving travelers are likely to be put into place in many locations, significantly hampering international business travel.

Arriving travelers are also likely to be questioned more closely than in the past regarding their recent travels, health, reasons for visiting and plans for satisfying quarantine requirements. Although the primary purpose of the vetting may be to limit the spread of COVID-19, an unintended consequence may be that the purpose of the visit and whether the traveler has the correct documentation is scrutinized more closely than in the past. If the traveler is attempting to enter to engage in productive or remunerated work—which often includes consulting, commissioning, installing, troubleshooting and, in some countries, even training or audit activities—without the proper work visa, they are likely to be identified and denied entry.

Governmental migration authorities around the world are beginning to either ramp back up where they were operating at limited capacity or to reopen where they were shut down completely. But although many facilities are ramping up and/or reopening, significant backlogs of applications exist. Many government offices and consulates are encouraging or requiring contactless submissions via post or even e-mail.

The New Normal: A Long-Term Perspective

Looking ahead, it is somewhat challenging to predict what will happen in the global immigration space given that we do not yet know how long the pandemic will drag on. The longer it continues, the more different our new global immigration normal is likely to be. What is already clear is that even if a vaccine or effective remedy for COVID-19 is developed, things are unlikely to go back to "normal" as we knew it before the pandemic. So, what will the new normal look like for your company?

Rise in Remote Work—Decrease in Global Mobility

Many companies have discovered the ability to conduct business remotely, including across borders. What used to require an international business trip (with the corresponding time, costs and visas) now takes place via conference call. Where you used to relocate key staff across borders to facilitate teams working together in person, you likely have now discovered that with everyone working remotely, it may not matter whether your newest team member is physically sitting in Canada, China or France.

New Challenges for Essential Travel

Despite the rise in remote work, technology can't replace all short- or long-term global movement of employees. Some work—installing or commissioning equipment, quality control on a production line, testing of systems and more—simply cannot be done via conference call. If your company has employees who must travel for business purposes, those employees will likely continue to encounter quarantine requirements until the pandemic has been resolved. This means your employees traveling for work will need to provide evidence that they will quarantine for 14 days following arrival, before attending their meetings and/or work duties.

In the past, citizens of privileged countries, such as the U.S., have often enjoyed a low level of scrutiny at ports of entry and have been able to avoid issues when traveling for work purposes without a visa. In fact, before the pandemic, your company's employees may have been previously accustomed to traveling to certain countries with just their passport and no visa. Under the new normal, we anticipate that all international travelers will be subjected to increased scrutiny on entry through the destination country's customs and immigration process. This means your employees are more likely to need to secure a visa in advance of any foreign travel. For this reason, it will be important for you to verify immigration requirements with the most recent information well in advance of your employee's planned travel date. After all, the last thing you want is for your employee to experience the unpleasant surprise of being denied entry or prevented from boarding a flight.

New Challenges for Long-Term Relocation and Local Hires

While it is true for some industries that it does not matter whether a new hire is sitting in Canada, China or France, for others, it absolutely matters. It is probably impossible for a manager to supervise a manufacturing facility via Zoom. Unfortunately, it is likely that companies seeking to transfer or hire foreign nationals will face increased hurdles, even beyond the immediate travel-related hurdles posed by COVID-19 travel restrictions. As unemployment numbers have soared, we have already seen a significant political backlash against immigrants in the U.S. Even putting aside any politically or economically motivated reduction of work visa numbers, the labor market reality of having millions of citizens out of work will make it extremely difficult to pursue work visas that require labor market testing. This would include Labour Market Impact Assessment work permits in Canada, Tier 2 General work visas in the U.K., and Subclass 482 work visas in Australia, among others.

Mitigating Negative Impacts: Preparation and Strategy

It is hard to imagine how any company, let alone a company with global operations and travel needs, could avoid the negative impact of the pandemic. Here are a few ways your company can mitigate (rather than eliminate) the negative impacts:

  • Raise awareness. Your company and your employees are likely to face many obstacles that you are not accustomed to, whether it is a requirement that employees add 14 days to a business trip to accommodate a mandatory quarantine period, the need to obtain visas in advance of travel where they previously could travel without one, or delaying many months before starting a new position while waiting for a work visa approval. It is crucial that all key stakeholders within your company are made aware that immigration is not business as usual. Stakeholders include not only HR and legal personnel but also company managers and recruiters. To the extent that employees can book international travel without managerial approval, it may be prudent to disseminate policies and information to all employees regardless of level. Requirements for travel, transfer and new hires alike must be checked before business commitments and plans are made or contracts with clients are signed. We recommend providing both written and video training to ensure that managers and other employees outside of legal and HR who may not be familiar with immigration concepts have both an opportunity to ask questions and reference materials to refer to in the future.
  • Conduct quarterly planning. In countries where international transfers or hiring of foreign nationals is not prevented by political and labor market challenges, it will be important for your company to plan well in advance for any transfer or new hire. It is likely that the process of obtaining the necessary work visa and/or permit will be slower for some time given the COVID-19-related backlogs. Even where the immigration process itself is not slower than usual, it may take significantly more time to procure the corporate and personal documents (such as birth certificates, marriage certificates and university diplomas) that often must be included in visa applications. It is also possible that there will be more requirements that must be satisfied to obtain the visa, such as medical exams and negative COVID-19 tests. Given this, we strongly recommend that your company plan as far in advance as possible. Although it is not always possible to anticipate all business needs, it is a best practice to work to identify upcoming assignments or new hires on a quarterly basis. We have seen that having a policy and schedule in place with the relevant managers and recruiters can go a long way to reducing last-minute immigration surprises. As part of this plan, before committing to a client contract or signing an employment contract, companies should confirm with their immigration counsel or another trusted source that the employee is able to qualify for the necessary visa and the timeline involved.
  • Implement a global mobility management system. While we have always recommended that companies with global mobility needs have an organized way to track and manage the global movement of their employees, the pandemic has greatly increased the need for such a system. Many companies were caught off guard by the fast-moving pandemic and did not know where their employees were in the world, when their visas were expiring or how they were going to get them home again. Having a centralized system will certainly not solve all your problems, but it will at least equip your company with the information and tools needed to make informed decisions. A "system" does not necessarily mean the very latest and most expensive software for managing global mobility, but rather, some sort of functional, organized method by which to vet and track travel, international transfers and new foreign national hires, along with a clear company global mobility policy.

SOURCE: Lustgarten, A. (08 July 2020) "Navigating the New Normal in International Business Travel" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/navigating-new-normal-international-business-travel.aspx


Coronavirus Impacts Business Travel

With the Coronavirus being a major discussion for all travelers, many businesses are canceling meetings and events that require traveling. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about how the Coronavirus is impacting business travel.


To go or not to go: As the coronavirus spreads, more and more companies are opting to cancel long-planned conferences and tours, ditching all but the most essential business travel, and even warning employees to rethink their vacation plans or be prepared for an at-home quarantine.

Nestle made news last week when it announced plans to halt all international travel and limit domestic trips, but it was one of many companies to do so. A survey of member companies by the Global Business Travel Association, released Feb. 27, found that 65 percent of the 401 respondents had already cancelled at least a few meetings or events. More than half had nixed international travel to places beyond China, including some European countries. To keep a handle on the rapidly evolving situation, 43 percent of respondents had instituted new trip approval procedures.

"I think the major takeaway is that safety is the main concern for all travelers," said association spokesperson Meghan Henning. "Once companies feel that the virus has been contained, we are confident that travelers will be back on the road."

So far, though, the virus is not contained, and employers are scrambling to keep up. On Feb. 4, National Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Gary Ginstling announced the cancellation of performances in China for an upcoming Asia tour, but he said he was confident the Japan leg would be unaffected. "We'll be there for eight or nine days," he assured the public and NSO musicians. However, only a couple weeks later, on Feb. 28, the Japan tour was eliminated as well.

Should They Stay or Go?

The difference between a reasonable response and overreaction seems to change hourly. How can employers ensure they are making responsible decisions? Management specialists recommend the following:

  • Frequently check travel advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Update internal travel approval procedures to make sure managers know where all employees are traveling.
  • Communicate clearly with employees about travel decisions and listen to any concerns they might have.
  • Be prepared to be flexible.

Employers are obligated under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to provide a workplace free of known safety and health hazards, and workers have a right to refuse work that they consider to be dangerous under certain circumstances. That could include travel to destinations at risk for the coronavirus.

Beyond that, companies would do well to err on the side of caution, said David Michaels, a professor of public health at George Washington University and assistant secretary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for seven years during the Obama administration.

"Every employer has to consider whether or not the risk [of travel] is warranted—not just the destination but the plane trip itself," Michaels said. "It's a moving target right now. If you can avoid [having employees travel] as much as possible, you're going to be better off because when you minimize employee exposure, you improve your ability to function in the long run."

Courtney Harrison, chief human resources officer for San Francisco-based tech company OneLogin, said employee travel decisions are being made there individually, after consulting the CDC and WHO websites. "We are not mandating any restrictions at this point," she said. "We will work on a case-by-case basis with each employee to assess the safest path for that person."

Harrison said one challenge is ensuring the safety of colleagues and customers when an employee returns from a virus-prone area, whether for work or vacation. "[Our policy requires that], when an employee returns from an at-risk geography, they self-quarantine themselves for at least 14 days and they stay in close contact with HR," Harrison said. She noted that the company, which is in the business of providing secure login platforms, is well-positioned for remote work. "It might be the right time to reframe this challenge and use it as an opportunity to learn and practice a new way of working."

When Travel Is Part of the Job

For some, of course, travel is an integral and unavoidable part of the job. Take, for example, flight attendants, who not only travel globally but also interact with passengers along the way. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union that represents attendants at 20 airlines, has been posting the latest CDC alerts to its website and pushing airlines to provide greater protections and even curtail some flights. "AFA leaders at each airline are working directly with airline management through our contracts and other means to mitigate the impact," the union announced on its website.

The Allied Pilots Association also has been actively monitoring the coronavirus response. In late January, the union filed suit against American Airlines to stop all flights to China and encouraged pilots to refuse to fly there. The following day, American, which had already curtailed some flights to China, announced that all were canceled.

As employers scramble to get ahead of the fast-changing travel landscape, they must also consider when travel bans should end. At this point, that's one of many unanswered questions. The WHO website cautions against indefinite travel bans, saying they "may only be justified at the beginning of an outbreak, as they may allow countries to gain time, even if only a few days, to rapidly implement effective preparedness measures. Such restrictions must be based on a careful risk assessment, be proportionate to the public health risk, be short in duration, and be reconsidered regularly as the situation evolves."

Until then, monitoring public information sites and communicating with employees are key. "Our industry's first priority is the health and safety of the business traveler," said Scott Solombrino, executive director of the Global Business Travel Association, "and our members are being appropriately cautious and proactive in their approach to the situation."

SOURCE: Cleeland, N. (03 March 2020) "Coronavirus Impacts Business Travel" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Coronavirus-Grounds-Business-Travel.aspx


Travel is millennials’ work incentive

Do you know what millennials are looking for in the workplace? Travel and flexibility are among the top 2 as mentioned in the article below by Marlenen Y. Satter.

Original Article Posted on BenefitsPro.com

Posted: October 7, 2016

Millennials have itchy feet.

In fact, their desire to see faraway places is their main reason to work — after, of course, paying basic necessities. According to FlexJobs survey, a hefty 70 percent of millennials say their “overwhelming desire to travel” is their main motivation on the job — that’s just a tad less than the 88 percent who cite that basic motivator: necessities.

Gen X respondents are fond of travel too, but not as much as millennials; 60 percent ranked it as the fourth most important reason for working. And boomers are apparently settling down; just 47 percent ranked travel as fifth in importance.

Not only are millennials wanderers, they want flexibility — up to a point. Freelance work seems to be going farther than they’d like (particularly since at least some of that “flexibility” is really out of a freelancer’s control and in the hands of clients).

Although millennials tend to be more associated with freelance work than other generations, only 42 percent of millennials are open to freelancing as a flexible work arrangement.

Gen Xers actually view freelance work more favorably than millennials, with 47 percent willing to consider it. Forty-four percent of boomers also expressed interest in freelancing.

Flexibility, on the other hand, is important enough to millennials that 82 percent say it’s a factor in evaluating a potential job, and 34 percent have actually left a job because it did not have work flexibility. In addition, 82 percent say they’d be more loyal to an employer if they had flexible work options.

Yet, although they’re the ones most interested in flexibility, millennials are also the generation most required to be at the office to work than older generations: 34 percent, compared with Gen Xers at 26 percent and boomers at 19 percent. Their work schedule — part of that flexibility — is also important to more millennials (65 percent) than it is to Gen Xers (57 percent) or to boomers (62 percent).

Interestingly, though, none of the generations regard the office during traditional working hours as their location of choice for optimum productivity.

See the Original Article Here.

Source:

Satter, M.Y. (2016, October 7) Travel is millennials' work incentive [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.benefitspro.com/2016/10/07/travel-is-millennials-work-incentive?ref=hp-top-stories


The Cheapest Days To Fly For Christmas

 

Source: Business Insider

If you're traveling for Christmas this year, you've probably already started researching flights for you and your family.

This process can leave you feeling a bit like you're on a mining expedition, sifting through mountains of junk in the hopes of finding that rare gem of a deal.

Our number crunchers here at CheapAir have simplified what can be an overwhelming process in order to clearly identify which dates of travel offer the best overall value.

Here's what we've unearthed*:

Cheapest departure days: Thursday December 18th, Wednesday December 24th, Christmas Day

Cheapest return days: Wednesday, December 31st, Tuesday, January 6

Cheapest overall itinerary: Thursday, December 18th to Christmas Day

Cheapest "practical" itinerary: Wednesday, December 24th to Wednesday, December 31st

Average savings flying on the cheapest departure days: $101

Average savings flying on the cheapest return days: $142

(*average savings compared to most expensive travel days)

As you calculate the overall monetary cost of your flight, don't forget to factor in intangibles like convenience and weather when choosing an air itinerary this holiday season.

Sometimes the lowest ticket price is not always the best overall value if you look at things a bit more with the big picture in mind.

 


IRS tackles paperless employer transportation assistance plans

 

Originally posted November 25, 2014 by Dan Cook on BenefitsPro.com

Human resources managers will want to study several new IRS rulings on non-cash benefits to commuting employees. The IRS has delved deeply into various systems for assisting workers withcommuting costs with the intention of determining whether these forms of assistance should be included in the employees' gross income.

In essence, the IRS is examining a transition from paper transit vouchers to virtual vouchers. The conundrum here has to do with the media itself. The paper transit vouchers of old were handed out (or paid for) by employers, and employees could only use them for mass transit purposes. While some were perhaps using them for personal travel as well, the system itself was a simple one.

With the advent of smartcards and debit cards as transit pass replacements for the paper tickets, the system became more complex. In a new notice, the IRS lays out which transactions it will include in employee gross income, and which will be excluded. Key factors include how strict the rules are for limiting the smart/debit card purchases to transit only.

As the IRS points out, some employers have developed arrangements that permit employees to use their company cards for purchases other than bus and train tickets. These the IRS frowns upon. Better are the arrangements where the employer:

  • Issues a card connected to a provider that only sells transit tickers;
  • Requires employees to make some sort of verification or certification that they are using the card for work-related transportation only;
  • Reimburses employees for card use rather than pays them ahead of use;
  • Restricts reimbursement to the IRS's monthly ceiling levels.

In its missive, the IRS offered eight examples of different employer-employee transit assistance arrangements. In two of the eight cases, the IRS ruled the “income” will not be excluded from employees' gross income for tax purposes. The full content of the advisory and ruling is worth reading for those HR managers trusted with implementing a reimbursement plan for commuting employees.