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Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Instruction 301-1, Overseas Employment
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Instruction 301-1, Overseas Employment, dated December 15, 2022.
HHS Instruction 301-1, Overseas Employment, dated February 28, 2014
HHS Instruction, 352-1, Reemployment Rights, dated May 24, 1996
Memorandum from Assistant Secretary for Administration, Update to HHS Instruction 301-1, Overseas Employment , dated July 9, 2020
Memorandum from Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Resources, Update to HHS Instruction 301-1, Overseas Employment , dated June 12, 2020
All previous policy, guidance, standard operating procedures, and memos on overseas employment within HHS are cancelled by the issuance of this policy.
This Instruction has been revised to update Department policy on overseas employment consistent with HHS and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) policy and guidance, and applicable laws and regulations. HHS Operating and Staff Divisions (OpDivs/StaffDivs) are responsible for ensuring all overseas assignments adhere to this policy. Employees should contact their servicing HR Center with any questions at https://intranet.hhs.gov/hr/contact-your-hr-center .
This policy is effective immediately and must be carried out by OpDiv/StaffDiv HR Centers in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, collective bargaining agreements, and Departmental policy.
/s/ W. Robert Leavitt Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Resources Chief Human Capital Officer
301-1-10 Purpose 301-1-20 Coverage and Exclusions 301-1-30 References 301-1-40 Definitions 301-1-50 Responsibilities 301-1-60 Foreign Country Clearance 301-1-70 Tour of Duty 301-1-80 Recruitment and Staffing 301-1-90 Pay, Leave, and Benefits 301-1-100 Travel, Service Agreement, and Other Requirements 301-1-110 Documentation, Reporting, and Accountability
This Instruction implements the Department of Health and Human Services (Department or HHS) policy, responsibilities, and procedures on overseas employment.
When provisions of this policy differ from changes in applicable law or regulation, the changes in law or regulation apply.
301-1-20 Coverage and Exclusions
- The provisions of this Instruction apply to the employment of all civilian employees in the Department of Health and Human Services (Department or HHS) Operating and Staff Divisions (OpDiv/StaffDiv) who work in overseas locations.
- This Instruction does not apply to officers of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Commissioned Corps or to federal contractors.
- The provisions of this Instruction pertaining to conditions of employment of bargaining unit employees are fully negotiable in accordance with 5 U.S.C. Chapter 71 , and such actions require notification to labor organizations when impacted employees are bargaining unit employees. When the provisions of this Instruction differ from the requirements contained in applicable collective bargaining agreement(s), the collective bargaining agreement takes precedence for bargaining unit employees.
- 5 United States Code (U.S.C.) §3343, Details to International Organizations
- 5 U.S.C. §§3581-3584, Reemployment After Service with An International Organization
- 5 U.S.C. Subchapter III (§§5921-5928), Overseas Differentials and Allowances
- 5 U.S.C. Chapter 63, Leave
- 22 U.S.C. §4081 et seq., Travel and related expenses (authorized for PHS by 42 U.S.C. § 242l(c))
- 22 U.S.C. §4083, Required Leave (authorized for PHS by 42 U.S.C. § 242l(c))
- 42 U.S.C. §242l(c), Benefits for Overseas Assignees
- 5 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 8, Appointments to Overseas Positions
- 5 CFR Part 301, Subpart B, Overseas Limited Appointment
- 5 CFR Part 301, Subpart C, Overseas (Local Hire) Employees Eligible for Noncompetitive Appointment Upon Return to the U.S.
- 5 CFR §315.608, Noncompetitive Appointment of Certain Former Overseas Employees
- 5 CFR 352, Subpart C, Detail and Transfer of Federal Employees to International Organizations
- 5 CFR Part 630, Absence and Leave
- HHS Instruction 300-3, Details and Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) Assignments
- HHS Instruction 590-1, Physician, Dentist, and Podiatrist Pay
- HHS Travel Policy
- Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR), overseas allowances and differentials under 5 U.S.C. §§5921-5925 and 5927
- Memo from HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Resources, Delegation of Human Resources Authorities , dated May 9, 2022.
- Days. Calendar days.
- Detail . A temporary assignment to a different position for a specified period. An employee who is on detail continues to occupy their official position of record while on detail and continues to receive pay and federal benefits associated with their permanent position. At the expiration of the detail, the employee returns to his or her official position of record. For complete information on details, see HHS Instruction 300-3, Details and IPA Assignments .
- Overseas Location. Unless otherwise specified in this policy, overseas locations include foreign countries and other areas outside the continental U.S., but does not include Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, the Isthmus of Panama, Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands (5 CFR §§8.1, 8.4, and 210.102(9)).
- A change of position by an employee from HHS to an international organization (5 U.S.C. §3581 and 5 CFR 352, Subpart C), or movement of an employee, without a break in service of one (1) full workday, from a position in one agency to a position in another agency (5 CFR §210.102(18)). See also OPM.gov/Details and Transfers .
- For overseas allowances and differentials in Section 301-1-90 , ‘transfer’ is defined by the Dept. of State as a change in an employee’s duty location within HHS via an appointment, reassignment or other staffing action listed in Section 301-1-80 (DSSR Chapters 040, 241 and 251). By DSSR definition, this excludes external transfers described in (D)(1) above and details since neither staffing action changes an employee’s duty location within HHS. However, except for employees who are otherwise excluded by this policy in Section 301-1-90 , the DSSR authorizes employees on a detail may be eligible for some overseas payments: post hardship differentials, danger pay, and compensatory time (DSSR Chapters 511, 651 and 811 respectively).
- Establishes Department-wide HR policy and guidance in accordance with HHS and OPM policy and guidance, and all applicable federal laws and regulations.
- Submit requests to OPM for approval of an exception to the time limit for an overseas limited appointment.
- Reviews and gives concurrence/non-concurrence to the HHS Office of Global Affairs on OpDiv/StaffDiv exemption requests to HHS’ six (6) year single country tour of duty limit in accordance with this policy.
- Periodically reviews OpDiv/StaffDiv internal HR guidance, procedures, forms, reports, etc. to assure conformance with HHS and OPM policy and guidance, and all applicable federal laws and regulations.
- Serves as HHS’ liaison with the Department of State on overseas employment, including the preparation and submission of reports requested by the Dept. of State.
- Approves/disapproves OpDiv/StaffDiv exemption requests to HHS’ six (6) year single country tour of duty limit after coordinating HR Center requests with ASA/OHR at [email protected] for concurrence.
- Reviews and gives concurrence/non-concurrence on detail requests from the OpDiv/StaffDiv Head or written designee to international organizations via 5 CFR Part 352.
- Requests concurrence from the HHS Secretary to request Secretary of State approval to extend a detail to an international organization beyond five (5) years, in cases where the extension is in the national interest. If the HHS Secretary concurs, submits request to the Dept. of State for approval.
- Requests Dept. of State approval for international organizations not currently on the Dept. of State’s approved organization list, at the request of the OpDiv/StaffDiv’s servicing HR Centers.
- Annually reviews the Dept. of State Difficult to Staff Posts designated list. Based on this review, notifies OpDivs/StaffDivs the posts eligible for annual Difficult to Staff Incentive Differential (DSID) by October of each year. Difficult to Staff Incentive is also referred to as a Service Need Differential (SND).
- Reviews OpDiv/StaffDiv bi-annual overseas hiring plans.
- Develops supplemental HHS-wide overseas employment guidance, if necessary, with signed approval by the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Resources/Chief Human Capital Officer (DASHR/CHCO) prior to release at [email protected] . Supplemental travel guidance is coordinated with the ASA/Program Support Center to ensure consistency with HHS travel policy.
- Comply with this Instruction, any applicable HHS, Dept. of State, and OPM policy and guidance, and all applicable federal laws and regulations.
- Ensure internal guidance or standard operating procedures on overseas employment adhere to HHS policy.
- Obtain foreign country clearance from the Dept. of State prior to employee travel.
- Ensure employees complete and sign a service agreement prior to authorized travel.
- Request OGA concurrence on details to international organizations via 5 CFR §352, Subpart C, prior to the effective date.
- Request Dept. of State approval, via OGA, to approve international organizations who are not on Dept. of State’s approved organization list for details and transfers under 5 CFR §352, Subpart C.
- Submit requests to extend details to international organization beyond five consecutive (5) years to OGA for review and submission to the HHS Secretary for concurrence and the Secretary of State for approval.
- Submit bi-annual overseas hiring plans to OGA no later than October 1 of each year at [email protected] .
- Authorize and grant DSID/SND based on the Difficult to Staff Posts list provided by OGA annually under Section 301-1-50(B)(6) of this Instruction. Base SND/DSID decisions on written justification for employee nominations and recommend the positions, occupational specialties, and/or posts at which specific employees/positions may be eligible to receive the SND/DSID.
301-1-60 Foreign Country Clearance
- The Dept. of State must give permission for any U.S. government employee to be in a foreign country on official business. Dept. of State clearance is required before an employee works overseas regardless of timeframe or type of appointment (full-time, part-time, temporary, etc.). Clearance is required in advance of travel to an overseas duty location.
- OpDivs/StaffDivs submit clearance requests via Dept. of State’s electronic Country Clearance (eCC) system and provide a copy to the HHS Office of Global Affairs (OGA) at [email protected] . Cables may be used in cases where the request is classified, in accordance with the Dept. of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual, Chief of Mission Authority, Security Responsibility and Overseas Staffing, June 10, 2020 .
- OpDiv/StaffDiv requests for eCC access and questions on current Dept. of State clearance procedures may be sent to OGA at [email protected] .
- Clearance for HHS employees who are transferred to work for an international organization (via 5 CFR 352, Subpart C) are managed by the international organization, not HHS.
301-1-70 Tour of Duty
- Tour of duty is up to 24 or 36 months, at the discretion of the OpDiv/StaffDiv; however, time limits are dependent on the hiring authority used to fill the overseas position. For example, temporary appointments made under 5 CFR 316, Subpart D, are for periods not to exceed one (1) year, then may be extended up to a maximum of one (1) additional year (24 months total duration).
- Employees may serve up to a maximum of six (6) consecutive years in a single country. However, some hiring authorities have different time limits, e.g., Temporary and Term appointments (5 CFR Part 316); Overseas Limited appointments (5 CFR 301, Subpart B); and Details and Transfers to International Organizations (5 CFR §352.302), etc. See Section 301-1-80 .
- The tour of duty begins on the date of arrival at the overseas duty location (or the entrance on duty date when recruited overseas) and ends either at the expiration of appointment or on the day of departure (5 CFR §630.603).
- When computing overseas service, the following are included: 1) authorized leave with pay; 2) absence in a non-pay status up to a maximum of two (2) workweeks within each 12 months of service; 3) time spent in the U.S. Armed Forces; and 4) details (5 CFR §630.603).
- Tour of duty may be shortened by the employee or the employing OpDiv/StaffDiv (conditions are covered in the service agreement ; e.g., by mutual agreement, with 30 days advance notice, etc.) Details to international organizations (5 CFR Part 352) may be terminated, at the discretion of the loaning or gaining organization, prior to the documented NTE date.
- Tour of duty may be extended by the employing OpDiv/StaffDiv up to 120 days for administrative purposes, as long as the time limits of the hiring authority used to fill the overseas position are not exceeded.
- An exemption to the six (6) year single country limit requires prior approval by the Director, Office of Global Affairs (OGA), with concurrence by the HHS DASHR/CHCO. Requests are sent to OGA at [email protected] at least six (6) months prior to the last day of the current tour.
- Changes to the tour of duty are annotated on the service agreement and signed by all parties (employee, supervisor, loaning and gaining organizations for details). See also Section 301-1-100 .
301-1-80 Recruitment and Staffing
- Prior to filling overseas positions, the Career Transition Assistance Program (CTAP), Interagency Career Transition Assistance Program (ICTAP), the HHS Reemployment Priority List (RPL) and/or the HHS Priority Reemployment List (PRL) must be cleared unless the staffing action is one of the exceptions listed in the Appendices of HHS Instruction 330-2, Priority Placement Programs (5 CFR Part 302 and 5 CFR §§330.211, 330.609, 330.707).
- Competitive examining, merit promotion, direct hire authority, temporary or term employment, or excepted service recruitment (5 CFR §8.1), following the rules of the applicable hiring authority. Actions are processed according to the type of appointment, see OPM Guide to Processing Personnel Actions (GPPA) , Chapter 9, Career and Career-Conditional Appts; Chapter 11, Excepted Service Appts; or Chapter 10, Non-status Appts in the Competitive Service (temporary/term, etc.).
- Title 42 hiring authority (i.e., 42 U.S.C. §§209 (f) or (g); 42 U.S.C. 237; or an OpDiv/StaffDiv-specific Title 42 hiring authority, following HHS Instructions 42-1, 42-2, or 42-3 as applicable). Before using an OpDiv/StaffDiv-specific Title 42 authority to fill an overseas position, HR Centers should review the language of their Division’s Title 42 hiring authority and/or consult their legal counsel to ensure such use is legally supportable. Use Nature of Action Code ZLM and cite the applicable Title 42 legal authority when processing actions (see OPM GPPA, Chapter 11, Excepted Service Appts).
- Promote, reassign, demote, transfer, reinstate, or detail an employee to an overseas position that has no greater promotion potential than the employee holds or previously held on a permanent basis in the competitive service;
- Temporarily promote or detail an employee to higher graded position or a position with a higher promotion potential for 120 days or less; etc.
- OpDivs/StaffDivs must give an employee advance written notice of the conditions of the time-limited promotion, including: 1) the time limit; 2) reason for time limit; 3) the requirement for competition for promotion beyond 120 days if applicable (see (b) immediately below); 4) the employee may be returned to the position from which temporarily promoted (or to a position of equivalent grade and pay) at any time; and 5) the return is not subject to reduction in force (RIF), performance or adverse action or grievance procedures (5 CFR §335.102(f)(1)).
- the time-limited promotion is made under competitive procedures and the job opportunity announcement stated the temporary promotion may be made permanent (5 CFR §335.103(c)(1)(i)); or
- the employee previously held the proposed grade level on a permanent basis in the competitive service (5 CFR §335.103(c)(3)(iv) or (v)).
- An overseas limited appointment may be given to a U.S. citizen previously recruited overseas for a position overseas if a competitive examining job announcement open to applicants in the local overseas area results in a shortage of eligible applicants (defined by 5 CFR §337.202(b)). OR
- An overseas limited appointment may be given to a U.S. citizen recruited outside an overseas area when an HR Center determines that unusual or emergency conditions exist that make it not possible or impracticable to appoint from a register (5 CFR §§8.2 and 301.202).
- OpDiv/StaffDivs can limit overseas term appointments to five (5) years maximum, as part of a documented overseas rotation program for career/career-conditional employees, or
- OpDiv/StaffDivs can make overseas limited appointments for one (1) year or less (which may be extended for up to a maximum of one (1) additional year, or 24 months total duration) to meet administrative needs.
- OPM may approve an exception to the time limits in (c)(i) and (ii) based on an HHS HQ-level request (HR Centers send requests to ASA/OHR at [email protected] ).
- Overseas limited appointments of an indefinite duration are exempt by regulation (5 CFR 301.203) from the HHS tour of duty limits in Section 301-1-70 (A-B).
- Candidates must meet OPM’s qualification requirements for the position;
- Time in grade applies to overseas limited appointments;
- Employees are eligible for within-grade increases;
- Employees are not eligible for federal retirement, unless eligible through continuity of service or length of appointment;
- Overseas limited employees must serve a one (1) year trial period and may be terminated at any time during their trial period after the advance notice requirements described in 5 CFR 315.804 and 805 are met. Prior service may be creditable towards completion of a trial period, in accordance with HHS Instruction 315-1, Probationary and Trial Periods .
- Employees do not acquire competitive status based on their overseas limited appointment; however, an employee who has competitive status on the basis of a previous non-temporary competitive service appointment, retains status and may continue to compete for positions open to ‘status’ candidates. (Such employees should be advised to provide a SF-50 showing they previously held a non-temporary competitive service position when applying to jobs.)
- Detail . OpDiv/StaffDiv Heads or written designee may authorize the detail of eligible employees (defined in (6)(d) below) only to international organizations approved by the Dept. of State (5 CFR §352.304), with the concurrence of OGA, prior to the effective date of the detail. Requests are submitted to OGA by the servicing HR Center at [email protected] .
- Transfer . Upon the written request by an international organization for an employee’s services, an OpDiv/StaffDiv Head or written designee may authorize the transfer of eligible employees (defined in (6)(d) below) to international organizations approved by the Dept. of State (5 CFR §§352.304 and 308), with the concurrence of the OGA prior to the effective date. Requests are submitted to OGA by the servicing HR Center at [email protected] . A letter of consent with the effective date mutually agreed by the international organization and the employing OpDiv/StaffDiv is provided to the organization with a copy to the employee (5 CFR §352.308(b-c)).
- Eligible international organizations approved by Dept. of State for details and transfers under 5 CFR Part 352, Subpart C, are at https://iocareers.state.gov/Main/Content/Page/approved-international-organizations . Requests to obtain Dept. of State approval for organizations not on approved list, should be sent to OGA at [email protected] .
- Eligible Employees . All employees are eligible except the employees listed under 5 CFR §§352.305 and 307, i.e., a person serving on a temporary appointment; a seasonal, intermittent, or part-time appointment; a non-career, limited emergency, or limited term appointment in the Senior Executive Service (SES); a Presidential appointment; or a Schedule C appointment.
- Employees who are detailed or transferred to international organizations may serve on those assignments for up to five (5) consecutive years.
- The Secretary of State, upon the recommendation of the Secretary of HHS, may approve an extension up to three (3) additional years if the extension is in the national interest. Extension requests are submitted by the HR Center to OGA at [email protected] , no later than three (3) months before the expiration of the current detail, and must include a justification why the extension request is needed; the extension request from the international organization; and the finance agreement between the OpDiv/StaffDiv and the international organization (see HHS Instruction, 300-3, Details and IPA Assignments, Reimbursable and Non-reimbursable Agreements).
- Employees cannot serve longer than a total of eight (8) years on details or transfers to international organizations (or a combination of details and transfers) during their entire federal career.
- HHS employees remain in their official HHS position of record while on a detail to international organization and return to their official position of record at the expiration of the detail. See Section 301-1-40 for definition.
- HHS employees who are transferred to an international organization are entitled to retain coverage to their federal employee health benefits, retirement, and life insurance plans, and can elect to retain credit for accumulated leave at the time of transfer, in accordance with 5 U.S.C. §3582(a) and (c). Agency retirement and insurance contributions continue while the employee is transferred, as long as employee contributions continue (5 U.S.C. §3582(d)). Employee and agency contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) stop after separation, but make-up contributions are allowed in certain circumstances, see (C)(5) below.
- Details are documented in accordance with HHS Instruction 300-3, Details and IPA Assignments, Section 300-3-90 .
- A letter of consent with an effective date mutually agreed by the international organization and the employing OpDiv/StaffDiv is provided to the organization with a copy to the employee;
- A leave statement showing the employee’s annual and sick leave balances at the time of transfer is provided to the employee;
- The notice of personnel action effecting the separation action must identify the international organization which the employee is transferring to; the period which the employee has reemployment rights (see (C)(5) in this Section below); and instructions for reemployment.
- Details to international organizations may be reimbursable or non-reimbursable, in accordance with 5 U.S.C. §3343(d-e). Financial agreements must adhere to the legal and regulatory requirements described in HHS Instruction 300-3, Details and IPA Assignments .
- Transfers to international organizations are non-reimbursable, except agency retirement and insurance contributions outlined above.
- Employees may submit an appeal to the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) alleging an OpDiv/StaffDiv’s failure to comply with any of the provisions of 5 U.S.C. §§3343, 3581-3584 or of 5 CFR Part 352.
- Recruitment of Non-U.S. Citizens via 5 CFR § 8.3 . Non-U.S. citizens may be recruited overseas for a Title 5 excepted service position overseas. The citizenship requirement for federal employment (Executive Order 11935), and the Consolidated Appropriations Act ban on payment of funds to non-U.S. citizens, do not apply to federal positions outside the continental U.S. Use NOAC BPM and cite 5 CFR §8.3 when processing actions (see OPM GPPA, Chapter 11, Excepted Service Appointments).
- With the exception of Details and Transfers to International Organizations (see (4) and (5) immediately below), HHS employees serving overseas are not entitled to continuation of employment after the expiration of their time-limited overseas assignment (see Section 301-1-70, Tour of Duty ).
- Employees serving in overseas positions must compete for a vacancy in the U.S. via competitive examining, merit promotion, direct hire authority, excepted service recruitment, etc. following the rules of the applicable job opportunity announcement/hiring authority. (See the citizenship requirement (7) at bottom of this Section.)
- This option is available when the Division’s servicing HR Center has a documented Merit Promotion (MP) Plan in place that includes the requirements listed under 5 CFR §335.103 and has identified such reassignments and/or promotions as discretionary actions in its MP plan. See also discretionary actions under (B)(3) above.
- This option is not available for employees serving on either a temporary or term overseas appointment under 5 CFR Part 316 and the employee has not previously held a permanent competitive service position prior to accepting the temporary or term overseas appointment . Employees do not acquire competitive service status based on a temporary or term appointment and these time-limited appointments end automatically at the expiration date. Such employees need to compete for a vacancy and be selected prior to their expiration date to avoid separation or a break in service.
- This option is not available for employees serving on an excepted service, SES, or Scientific or Senior Level (ST/SL) overseas position and the employee has not previously held a competitive service position on a permanent basis . If the employee has previously held a competitive service position on a permanent basis, they can be placed via merit promotion procedures into a competitive service position that has no greater promotion potential than the employee previously held on a permanent basis in the competitive service. Prior to placement, HR Centers must verify status via a SF-50 showing the employee previously held a competitive service position on a permanent basis.
- Details to International Organizations (5 U.S.C. §3443), see (B)(6) above. Employees remain in their official HHS position of record while on a detail to an international organization and return to their official position of record at the expiration of the detail, see Section 301-1-40 for definition.
- The employee must apply for reemployment no later than 90 days after separation from the international organization;
- The separation is either voluntarily or involuntarily, without cause; and
- The international transfer must not exceed the time limits described under (B)(6)(e) above.
- If (a)-(c) immediately above are met, the former employee must be reemployed within 30 days of receiving the former employee’s reemployment application. (If the former employee applies before separation from the international organization, the 30-day period begins either on the date of application, or 30 days before the separation date from the international organization, whichever is later.)
- The application must be in writing, in any format of the HR Center’s choosing. The international organization’s separation notice must be included.
- Reemployment instructions for former SES employees can be found at 5 CFR §352.311(c).
- Upon reemployment, the employee is entitled to the rate of basic pay which the employee would have been entitled had the employee remained with the employing agency; and
- The employee is entitled to restoration of any sick leave.
- An employee who elected to retain federal retirement coverage and continued to make all required employee contributions while employed with the international organization, may make make-up contributions to the TSP which were missed due to federal separation. The employee also receives make-up agency contributions and lost earnings on the agency contributions, consistent with the TSP rules.
- The period between separation and reemployment is creditable service for all employment purposes.
- If the OpDiv/StaffDiv fails to reemploy their former employee within 30 days of receiving their application, the servicing HR Center must notify the employee, in writing, of the reasons and their right to appeal to the MSPB. The HR Center must follow the notice of appeal rights procedures under 5 CFR §1201.21.
- If the OpDiv/StaffDiv fails to reach and issue a decision to the employee within 30 days of receiving their application, the former employee is entitled to appeal the OpDiv/StaffDiv’s failure to issue a reemployment decision to the MSPB.
- An HHS employee’s family member who has served of creditable overseas service (as defined in 5 CFR §315.608(b)) may be eligible to be noncompetitively appointed to a competitive service position in the U.S. (including Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands) at any series or grade the family member is qualified for.
- The overseas position in which the family member served must have been recruited overseas among people residing in the overseas area and must have been non-permanent ;
- The family member received a performance rating of fully successful or higher;
- The family member must have lived in an overseas area at the time of the HHS employee’s overseas appointment;
- The family member is eligible for three (3) years from the date of return to the U.S. to reside (may be extended for specific reasons listed under 5 CFR §315.608(d)); and
- The family member must meet all appointment criteria, such as U.S. citizenship.
- For definitions, including family member and creditable overseas service, see 5 CFR §315.608.
- Citizenship . Individuals who are not U.S. citizens or nationals cannot be appointed to competitive service positions within the U.S. (Executive Order 11935). In addition, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (i.e., the annual federal budget) contains a government-wide prohibition on compensating individuals who are not U.S. citizens or nationals for any federal position within the U.S. , unless the agency has a statutory exemption to the ban. Within HHS, only 42 U.S.C. §209(h) permits hiring non-U.S. citizens as Special Consultants (42 U.S.C §209(f)) or Service Fellows (42 U.S.C. §209(g)) to positions within the U.S. without regard to the appropriations ban. There are not similar restrictions to appointing or compensating non-U.S. citizens to positions outside the U.S. ; however, with the exception of employees hired under 42 U.S.C §§209(f) or (g), HHS has no legal authority to pay non-U.S. citizens the allowances and differentials under 5 U.S.C. §§5923-5928 (5 U.S.C. §5922), see Section 301-1-90 for additional information. Consult the Office of the General Counsel with any questions.
301-1-90 Pay, Leave, and Benefits
- Comparability Pay . In lieu of locality-based pay,overseas employees excluding Title 38 physicians (series 602), podiatrists (series 668), and dentists (series 680), receive comparability pay in addition to base pay that is calculated as 2/3 of the Washington, D.C. locality pay rate. Rate is limited to the Executive Schedule Level IV rate. Basic pay is used in calculating overseas allowances. (Public Law (P.L.) 114-113 §212(3); P.L. 114-223 Div. C; P.L. 114-254 Div. A §101(1)) HHS annual overseas pay comparability tables are located at https://intranet.hhs.gov/hr/policy .
- Physician, Dentist and Podiatrist Pay (PDP) . Physicians (series 602), podiatrists (series 668),and dentists (series 680) are eligible for Title 38 market pay, in accordance with HHS Instruction 590-1, Physician, Dentist, and Podiatrist Pay. Market pay is a component of annual pay intended to reflect the recruitment and retention needs for the specialty or assignment of a particular HHS physician. Employees who receive market pay are also eligible for overseas allowances, with the exception of any premium pay (including compensatory time). Overseas allowances are computed based upon applicable percentage of the employee’s GS base pay plus market pay. In no case may the total amount of compensation paid to a physician, podiatrist, or dentist exceed the amount of annual compensation of the President of the United States (3 U.S.C. §102).
- Quarters allowances described under 5 U.S.C. §5923 when Government owned or rented quarters are not provided without charge (see also DSSR Chapter 100) ;
- Cost-of-Living Allowances under 5 U.S.C. §5924 when applicable (see also DSSR Chapter 200) ;
- Post hardship differential(s) based on environmental conditions described under 5 U.S.C. §5925 and the requirements described in DSSR Chapter 500;
- OpDiv/StaffDiv Head or written designee may authorize the payment up to an additional 15% over basic compensation to an employee assigned to a foreign post designated by the Dept. of State for a DSID.
- If the post for which the DSID is authorized is also authorized for Danger Pay Allowance ((7) immediately below), the combination of the Danger Pay Allowance and the DSID may not exceed 35% of the basic compensation.
- Should post hardship differential fall below the 15% requirement, the employee will continue to receive DSID until the end of his or her tour of duty or permanent departure from the post.
- Only employees who are eligible to receive post hardship differential as defined in DSSR Chapter 500 may receive DSID.
- Authorizing and certifying officials approve payment of an employee’s SND/DSID allowance upon submission by the employee of a properly executed SF-1190 and confirmation by the authorizing official that payment is appropriate.
- Compensatory time at certain foreign areas described under 5 U.S.C. §5926 (see also DSSR Chapter 800) , excluding employees in positions listed in (A)(2) immediately above;
- Advances in pay described under 5 U.S.C. §5927(a)(1-2) (see also DSSR Chapter 850) ; and
- Danger pay allowance under 5 U.S.C. §5928 when applicable (see also DSSR Chapter 650) .
- Official residence expenses under 5 U.S.C. §5913 may be paid to an HHS senior official who is working in a foreign country and who has been designated by the Secretary of State as occupying a position of such importance that the Government should defray the unusual expenses incident to the operation and maintenance of his/her official residence and the HHS Secretary has determined the overseas residence as an official residence in accordance with the DSSR Chapter 400.
- Leave. HHS employees in a position with an overseas duty location are covered by the leave rules under 5 U.S.C. Chapter 63, 5 CFR Part 630, and HHS Instruction 630-1, Leave and Excused Absence . Employees are eligible for home leave when they have completed 24 months of continuous service outside the U.S. in accordance with the rules described under 5 CFR 630, Subpart F.
- Leave of Absence. Public Health Service (PHS) employees on appointments with an overseas duty location may be required by their OpDiv/StaffDiv Head or written designee to take a leave of absence upon completion of 12 months of continuous overseas service, and PHS employees shall be required to take a leave of absence as soon as possible after completion of three (3) years of continuous overseas service as described under 22 U.S.C. §4083 (42 U.S.C. §242l(c)). In accordance with 22 U.S.C. §4083, employees may take the required leave anywhere in the U.S. or its territories, including American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands; or in cases where the employee is working at an unaccompanied overseas location, at home where their family resides (22 U.S.C. §4083(b)). While on a leave of absence, the employee may be required to work, but such time is not counted as leave (22 U.S.C. §4083(c)). (For the purposes of this policy, ‘Department’ is defined as HHS, and ‘member of the Service’ is a PHS employee under 22 U.S.C. §4083.)
- Benefits. There is no impact on federal benefits (life and health insurance, retirement, Flexible Spending Accounts, Long Term Care Insurance, etc.) when a permanent HHS employee accepts a position with an overseas duty location. Overseas employees who are U.S. citizens or nationals are eligible for all federal civil service benefits; however, benefits available to employees on time-limited appointments may vary depending on length of appointment. Employees and HR staff should consult their servicing HR benefits officer with any questions.
- Medical evacuation and hospitalization coverage for overseas employees is explained in the ASA/Program Support Center’s HHS Travel Policy under International Requirements.
- Workplace Flexibilities. Employees who are working in an overseas location may be eligible for workplace flexibilities (e.g., telework, alternate work schedules, etc.) in accordance with HHS Instruction 990-1, Workplace Flexibilities .
301-1-100 Travel, Service Agreement, and Other Requirements
- Employees appointed to a position with an overseas duty location must sign a service agreement prior to departure or extension for a period equal to the length of the overseas assignment or be required to reimburse their employing OpDiv/StaffDiv for the cost of the assignment (e.g., travel, relocation, and per diem expenses, not including salary and benefits) if the employee does not fulfill the service agreement. The OpDiv/StaffDiv Head or written designee, in accordance with the HHS Delegation of HR Authorities, may waive this reimbursement and reason(s) must be documented.
- Reimbursement of travel expenses for moves to/from an overseas assignment, including rates of per diem for employees and dependents, shipment of household effects, temporary duty allowances, etc. is paid in accordance with the HHS Travel Policy . Travel and transportation questions should be directed to the ASA/Program Support Center.
- OpDivs/StaffDivs must follow the HHS Travel Policy for international travel requirements, including Passports; Visas; medical clearance and immunizations; completion of HHS Office of National Security safety/security briefings, and Dept. of State Foreign Service Institute training; overseas tour renewal travel (i.e., return home), etc.
- Travel and Related Expenses . In addition to the travel and related expenses authorized by the HHS Travel Policy, OpDiv/StaffDiv Heads or written designee may authorize the payment of costs and expenses listed under 22 U.S.C. §4081 incurred by PHS employees and their families.
- Basic Household Furnishings . OpDiv/StaffDiv Heads or written designee may loan PHS employees on appointments with an overseas duty location basic household furnishings and equipment for use in personally owned or leased residences (22 U.S.C. §4082).
- HHS employees on an overseas assignment are subject to the applicable ethics statutes and regulations including: 18 U.S.C. §§ 201-227 – Criminal Conflicts of Interest; 5 U.S.C. app. – Ethics in Government Act of 1978; 5 U.S.C. §§ 7321-7326 and 5 CFR Part 734 – Hatch Act and implementing Political Activities Regulation; 5 U.S.C. § 7342 – Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act; 5 U.S.C. § 7353 – Gifts to Federal Employees; 41 U.S.C. §§ 2101-2107 – Ethics provisions of the Procurement Integrity Act; 5 CFR Part 735 – Employee Responsibilities and Conduct; 5 CFR Part 2634 – Executive Branch Financial Disclosure and Related Requirements; 5 CFR Part 2635 – Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch; 5 CFR Part 5501 – HHS Supplemental Standards of Ethical Conduct; and 5 CFR Part 5502 – HHS Supplemental Financial Disclosure Reporting Requirements. The servicing ethics office of the employing OpDiv/StaffDiv is responsible for communicating these requirements to their employee. Questions should be directed to the servicing Deputy Ethics Counselor and/or Ethics Coordinator, a list of whom can be found at: /about/agencies/ogc/contact-ogc/agency-deputy-ethics-counselors-and-ethics-coordinators/index.html .
- Employees are subject to the provisions of 5 U.S.C. Chapter 73, which regulates employee suitability, security, and conduct, including restrictions on political activity, and agency standards of conduct regulations.
- HHS employees must also follow the Dept. of State Chief of Mission security policies when working overseas. See Dept. of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual, Chief of Mission Authority, Security Responsibility and Overseas Staffing, June 10, 2020 for additional information.
301-1-110 Documentation, Reporting, and Accountability
- Records associated with personnel actions, including service agreements, and all documentation sufficient for third party reconstruction purposes, must be retained according to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) schedule. Generally, all records created in a given year must be retained for a total of three (3) full years. Records involved in litigation and grievance processes may be destroyed only after official notification is received from OPM, Department of Justice, courts, or the Office of the General Counsel, etc. that the matter has been fully litigated, or resolved and closed.
- OpDivs/StaffDivs submit bi-annual overseas hiring plans to the Office of Global Affairs (OGA) no later than October 1 of each year at [email protected] . Questions concerning this reporting requirement should be directed to the OGA.
- ASA/OHR may conduct periodic accountability reviews to analyze compliance with this Instruction, HHS and OPM policy and guidance, and applicable federal laws and regulations.
Example sentences overseas assignments
Even spending a lot of time on short-term overseas assignments without having to relocate can entitle executives to a 20% 'disruption allowance'.
I have had several long-term overseas assignments while working for an international company.
Men get to the top by seeking out powerful mentors, demanding overseas assignments , attending executive programmes of top business schools and making sure they are in business critical roles.
In contrast, the tax-free allowances paid during overseas assignments (especially the housing allowances) are generally considered to be an incentive to serve overseas, as they can be quite generous.
Definition of 'assignment' assignment
Definition of 'overseas' overseas
COBUILD Collocations overseas assignments
Browse alphabetically overseas assignments.
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- overseas assets
- overseas assignments
- overseas bank
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Why 40% of Overseas Assignments Fail and What You Can Do to Prevent It
- Global Mobility
Four in ten international assignments are judged to be a failure. And yet the number of overseas assignments continues to rise. Global companies are under considerable pressure to determine what makes a successful overseas assignment and to understand why they so often fail.
To minimize the risk of such failure and to ensure the well-being of their employees, organizations must examine the key challenges facing expats deployed overseas, and determine the best way to prepare, support, and manage them during their time abroad.
Challenges of overseas assignments
International companies are realizing that expatriate employees require significant support to complete their assignment successfully.
With 40% of all overseas assignments failing, the cost of failure is high – the average cost of an expat assignment can amount to $311,000 per yea r. It makes financial sense for companies to ensure that they fully prepare and support expatriate employees before, during, and after their overseas assignments.
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Companies sending employees overseas have a moral responsibility and a duty of care to ensure that they understand the legislation and cultural differences in the country assignees are going to.
Some of the most important services that should be available to all expats on overseas international assignments include:
- Pre-assignment health screening to ensure that the employee is fit for the assignment
- Cross-cultural training for the entire family
- Comprehensive travel and medical insurance packages
- Access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) throughout the assignment
Why expatriate assignments fail and how to prevent this failure
According to INSEAD business school, the five main reasons for expatriate assignment failure, which they estimate at 40-50% of all overseas deployments are:
1. You chose the wrong person in the first place
Unless there is a previous track record of success, it is very difficult to isolate the qualities that successful expats require.
2. Lack of local support in the host country
The local branch of the company in the host country has a crucial role to play in supporting newly arrived employees.
3. Disconnection from the home country
It is very important for expats to keep in touch with colleagues and work life back home so that they have a more balanced view of their role within the global organization and are better prepared for repatriation once the assignment is over.
Assignment failure: what is behind it and how to fix it, why mental health should form part of your duty of care policy, out of sight out of mind: why are expats forgotten, 4. domestic difficulties.
While children and spouses are frequent factors in early repatriation cases, these difficulties are extremely hard to spot because most expats are reluctant to share domestic or social difficulties with the company – the company needs to know that the assignee’s family is coping, and it should explain the need for open communication up-front.
5. Failure to plan
Individuals need time to prepare practically and mentally for an overseas assignment, and an organization needs time to put the right infrastructure in place.
It takes time to choose the right candidate, and to put in place the people required to support them, so effective planning for the overseas international assignment is crucial.
Preparing employees for overseas assignments
Preparation is key to ensuring a successful overseas international assignment and support should be offered throughout the process.
Global Mobility professionals must:
- Select employees carefully Success at home does not necessarily translate into high performance overseas for an employee. It is important to consider soft skills, such as flexibility, self-reliance, tolerance, and the ability to handle change and ambiguity, since these are qualities that point to the likelihood of success in a new environment.
- Prepare for departure This is where companies often fall short – pre-deployment programs such as cross-cultural training and intensive language classes need to be developed and supported financially by the organization.
- Offer ongoing support Proactive, ongoing support versus reactive actions by employers has been found to markedly increase the success rate of expatriate assignments, so this kind of support should be integral to the program.
- Prepare for repatriation This is an often overlooked factor in the success or failure of international assignments — expats need to have sufficient time to prepare for a new environment at home for themselves and their families.
The benefits of overseas assignments
There are numerous benefits for both companies and employees in meeting the challenges of successful overseas international assignments.
Advantages for companies
- Expansion into both new and existing markets: By building out a talented workforce abroad, a company can bolster its global influence and revenue
- Development of top talent: international experience can help train employees for leadership , managerial, and executive roles in the future
- Streamlined operations: if a company is looking to make moves quickly, sending an existing employee abroad can help streamline operations
- New perspectives are gained: having employees working overseas can help funnel new perspectives, ideas, and business practices back to headquarters
Benefits for employees
Likewise, there are significant benefits for employees of working abroad, and expatriates should understand that overseas deployments will often result in benefits not only for the company but for themselves:
- The potential for career progression
- An increased salary or compensation in many cases
- Attractive perks and benefits for the whole family
- The development of professional skills that could lead to future promotion
- Enhanced personal experiences and potential opportunities for travel
- The discovery of new people, traditions, and ways of working
- Familiarization with new languages and cultures
Managing expatriates on overseas assignments
Research shows that services that prepare, support, and show employees that they are valued typically represent just 1% of the total cost of overseas assignments.
The following tips apply to all global organizations managing expatriates on overseas international assignments:
- Ensure that your employees are medically fit
- Make sure that any drugs that the employee/family needs are legal
- Give cultural training to employees and their families prior to travel
- Offer intensive language courses for the whole family
- Sign up for an expatriate Employee Assistance Program
- Provide international medical insurance
When it comes to overseas assignments it is really a case of – fail to prepare: prepare to fail. Global mobility professionals must examine the challenges facing the modern assignee and determine the best practices to support and manage them throughout their assignment.
As International Management Consultant Audrey Rowley puts it:
“Successful overseas assignments depend on the individual and the support they receive. After the initial honeymoon period, it is common for employees to feel isolated because of the cultural and language barriers and the separation from friends and family. Having a benefit and support program that starts [at home] and continues throughout the assignment can alleviate the risk of failure, provide employees with support to address any issues, and ensure the assignment is a success for the company and the employee.”
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The top 6 reasons to take that overseas assignment
Many of us dream of living abroad for at least some time during our life. and for very good reason. there are many benefits, both personal and professional, to embarking on an international assignment. , 1. explore the world .
If you have the travel bug, there’s nothing more satisfying than working abroad. Not only do you get to experience your new country at a much deeper level, you get paid to do it.
Living in a foreign country is completely different to a holiday. You’ll actually get to experience your adopted country in the long-term, picking up local knowledge along the way such as who sells the best coffee, what tourist traps to avoid and how to get the most out of your new city. As well as exploring your host country, you’ll also get the chance to travel to neighbouring countries on your time-off.
2. Brush up on your language skills
3. enhance your career & boost your cv.
Having an international assignment on your CV could boost your future employability. The training and work experience you gain at an overseas company will expand your horizons and range of expertise.
In a globalised, well-connected world, employers increasingly value candidates with international work experience, and it’s often seen as a prerequisite for most senior positions at major international companies. Many professionals who undertake expat assignments find that they experience faster career progression as a result.
4. Experience a new culture
5. earn better pay and benefits .
Many expats receive salaries that are considerably higher than those of their counterparts back home, and in some countries expats also benefit from favourable tax regimes.
In addition, expats normally also receive a considerable amount of expatriate benefits. An additional allowance is usually provided to help with relocating and settling into a new country and often includes accommodation, work permits, medical cover and other perks.
6. Expand your global network
Working abroad is a great way to expand your personal and professional network, giving you the opportunity to build relationships with people in your field on an international level. Developing an international social network can be useful both during your stay and when you're back in your home country.
Luckily, maintaining the network you build abroad is now easier than ever before. Social media, LinkedIn, and apps like WhatsApp, can all help you to stay connected with your circle of friends from all over the world.
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Will it boost or harm your career?
- February 1, 2021
There is no suspicion that working abroad is romantic. Living in a culture with different languages, habits, and working styles is an exciting and once-in-a-lifetime experience. It can not only much promote your career development, but also broaden your horizons. However, what many companies now call “global” assignments has some disadvantages. Some parts of the world are indeed dangerous for some visitors, but in most postings worldwide, the challenges are related to different cultures and ways of doing business. Here are some pros and cons of an international assignment to help you decide if it is a smart career move.
Table of Contents
Pros of international assignment, international work experience.
Indeed, the world is growing and becoming more and more mobile and accessible. This is the main driving force. Business leaders today are not geographically constrained. Work experience in an international corporate environment and culture is often described as a prerequisite for most senior positions at major international companies. Instantly add diverse and multicultural elements to your portfolio and experiences to make them more appealing to your position on a global scale.
Global companies are paying more and more attention to international diversity, and there is no sign that this trend stops. Therefore, the overseas experience gained by international mission professionals will help those seeking senior management positions. If you are one of these ambitious professionals, the question should be whether you can afford not to participate in the international assignment?
The company devotes substantial resources to expats international assignments. Allocation itself is usually performed for a specific purpose, and ROI is an important goal. For example, you can transfer assignees with specific skills to a new location to lead a project that is considered essential. Therefore, being selected for a job is usually a compliment, but it is also an opportunity. A successful project overview allows you to prove that you are the assignee and develop your career from the benefits of success. If you can withstand the pressure, then your international assignment can prove beneficial. Are you ready to move forward and succeed?
Experience Different Ways of Doing Business
Learning a particular field and working in that field in the same country means a fairly fixed set of expectations and assumptions. Overall, understanding how other countries treat your industry and business can be an excellent way to open yourself to new ways of doing things. The best part? Wherever you are, you will get these learning outcomes.
Diversify Your Income
When it is difficult to predict what will happen politically, earning income in different currencies is an excellent way to diversify risks and protect the financial future. For example, in the past two years, the pound sterling value has changed 30% from the value of the euro. If you are particularly interested in the domestic economy, relocation is still a way to obtain better salaries and employment opportunities in a more stable business environment.
Explore the world
If you are passionate about traveling, nothing is better than working abroad. Not only you experience the country more deeply, but you can also get rewarded for it. You do not need to spend two weeks to get to know the country’s culture and personality directly. This is also an excellent opportunity to explore neighboring countries. If you are learning a language, immersion in the countryside is also an excellent way to quickly improve your skills.
Cons of an international assignment, emotional problems.
Life as an expat is a rewarding experience. However, it can be challenging. Loneliness, culture shock, and nostalgia usually overwhelm foreigners, and not all migrants are ready to face this strong, perhaps new emotion. The combination of pain and diligence described above has reportedly resulted in high burnout among professional immigrants.
Less Job Flexibility
You love your new country, but do you hate work? Unlike going home, if your position is not suitable for you, you can shop here. Working abroad may mean that your job is linked to your visa. Even if you are not restricted by a visa, your lack of language skills and local experience may limit your escape options.
Interrupted Career Progression
For outsiders, “Out of sight, out of mind” can be a very familiar word. Even if you live in the same company, you do not go out every day or work in different time zones. This means that good impressions are slowly disappearing and are no longer the number one promotion. In the country of visit, it may be necessary to take a junior position due to a lack of local experience or limited language skills, which can feel like a step back professionally.
Cultural and Language Barriers
Among foreigners who cannot establish the necessary business relationships or live daily lives, posting emails in places where there is a tremendous cultural difference or where communication in a new language is required can cause trouble. Non-traditional families, such as gay couples, may face cultural resistance and pressure, making assignment management difficult in the long run
Domestic work laws and regulations regarding wages, taxes, and pensions usually differ between residents and foreigners. As with immigration requirements, compliance with legal requirements must be ensured.
Your country’s technology can lag foreign countries for several years. After returning home, it may take several months to digest all the changes.
As global mobility increases, many employees want foreign stamps on their passports to support their personal growth and career development. They are increasingly looking for commuters, rotational, expatriate, or other alternative jobs to build resumes. International assignments are an essential tool for international career development. In this case, employees with international experience are the greater wealth for the organization.
Some potential business traveling international career in which global travel is usually necessary like international accountant, marketing and sales International missions help improve cultural literacy, promote foreign language learning, expand professionals’ network, and broaden their horizons. But of course there are always pros and cons of an international assignment.
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Cross-Cultural Communication pp 98–124 Cite as
Selection and Preparation for Foreign Assignments
- Brian J. Hurn 3 &
- Barry Tomalin 4
This chapter covers the methods involved in selecting the appropriate personnel to live harmoniously and work effectively in foreign countries. It includes an examination of the cultural aspects of recruitment and the subsequent preparation for their assignments, in particular the various types of cross-cultural training and the agencies which provide the training. It also covers the repatriation of personnel after they have completed their assignment.
- Home Country
- Human Resource Management
- Cultural Awareness
- Culture Shock
- Foreign Culture
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Authors and affiliations.
London Academy of Diplomacy, University of East Anglia, UK
Brian J. Hurn ( Visiting Lecturer )
International House, London, UK
Barry Tomalin ( Visiting Lecturer, Director of Cultural Training )
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© 2013 Brian J. Hurn and Barry Tomalin
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Cite this chapter.
Hurn, B.J., Tomalin, B. (2013). Selection and Preparation for Foreign Assignments. In: Cross-Cultural Communication. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230391147_6
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230391147_6
Publisher Name : Palgrave Macmillan, London
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The Right Way to Manage Expats
- J. Stewart Black
- Hal Gregersen
Sending executives abroad is expensive, but most companies don’t get much back for their money. Those that do follow three practices.
In today’s global economy, having a workforce that is fluent in the ways of the world isn’t a luxury. It’s a competitive necessity. No wonder nearly 80 % of midsize and large companies currently send professionals abroad—and 45 % plan to increase the number they have on assignment.
But international assignments don’t come cheap. On average, expatriates cost two to three times what they would in an equivalent position back home. A fully loaded expatriate package including benefits and cost-of-living adjustments costs anywhere from $ 300,000 to $ 1 million annually, probably the single largest expenditure most companies make on any one individual except for the CEO.
The fact is, however, that most companies get anemic returns on their expat investments. Over the past decade, we have studied the management of expatriates at about 750 U.S., European, and Japanese companies. We asked both the expatriates themselves and the executives who sent them abroad to evaluate their experiences. In addition, we looked at what happened after expatriates returned home. Was their tenure worthwhile from a personal and organizational standpoint?
Overall, the results of our research were alarming. We found that between 10 % and 20 % of all U.S. managers sent abroad returned early because of job dissatisfaction or difficulties in adjusting to a foreign country. Of those who stayed for the duration, nearly one-third did not perform up to the expectations of their superiors. And perhaps most problematic, one-fourth of those who completed an assignment left their company, often to join a competitor, within one year after repatriation. That’s a turnover rate double that of managers who did not go abroad.
If getting the most out of your expats is so important, why do so many companies get it so wrong? The main reason seems to be that many executives assume that the rules of good business are the same everywhere. In other words, they don’t believe they need to—or should have to—engage in special efforts for their expats.
Take the expat assignment process. Executives know that negotiation tactics and marketing strategies can vary from culture to culture. Most do not believe, however, that the variance is sufficient to warrant the expense of programs designed to select or train candidates for international assignments.
Further, once expats are in place, executives back home usually are not inclined to coddle their well-paid representatives. When people are issued first-class tickets on a luxury liner, they’re not supposed to complain about being at sea.
Finally, people at the home office find it difficult to imagine that returning expats need help readjusting after just a few years away. They don’t see why people who’ve been given an extended period to explore the Left Bank or the Forbidden City should get a hero’s welcome. As a result of such thinking, the only time companies pay special attention to their expats is when something goes spectacularly wrong. And by then, it’s too little, too late.
Of course, some companies do engage in serious efforts to make foreign assignments beneficial both for the employees and the organization. Very often, however, such companies consign the responsibility of expat selection, training, and support to the human resources department. Few HR managers—only 11 % , according to our research—have ever worked abroad themselves; most have little understanding of a global assignment’s unique personal and professional challenges. As a result, they often get bogged down in the administrative minutiae of international assignments instead of capturing strategic opportunities.
Over the past several years, we have concentrated on examining the small number of companies that have compiled a winning track record in the process of managing their expats. Their people overseas report a high degree of job satisfaction and back that up with strong performance. These companies also hold on to their expats long after they return home. GE Medical Systems, for example, has all but eliminated unwanted turnover after repatriation and has seen its international sales expand from 10 % to more than 50 % of its total sales during the last ten years.
The companies that manage their expats effectively come in many sizes and from a wide range of industries. Yet we have found that they all follow three general practices:
When making international assignments, they focus on knowledge creation and global leadership development. Many companies send people abroad to reward them, to get them out of the way, or to fill an immediate business need. At companies that manage the international assignment process well, however, people are given foreign posts for two related reasons: to generate and transfer knowledge, to develop their global leadership skills, or to do both.
They assign overseas posts to people whose technical skills are matched or exceeded by their cross-cultural abilities. Companies that manage expats wisely do not assume that people who have succeeded at home will repeat that success abroad. They assign international posts to individuals who not only have the necessary technical skills but also have indicated that they would be likely to live comfortably in different cultures.
They end expatriate assignments with a deliberate repatriation process. Most executives who oversee expat employees view their return home as a nonissue. The truth is, repatriation is a time of major upheaval, professionally and personally, for two-thirds of expats. Companies that recognize this fact help their returning people by providing them with career guidance and enabling them to put their international experience to work.
Let’s explore the practices in turn, illustrating them with companies that have put them to good use over the past several years.
Sending People for the Right Reasons
For as long as companies have been sending people abroad, many have been doing so for the wrong reasons—that is, for reasons that make little long-term business sense. Foreign assignments in glamorous locales such as Paris and London have been used to reward favored employees; posts to distant lands have been used as dumping grounds for the mediocre. But in most cases, companies send people abroad to fill a burning business need: to fight a competitor gaining market share in Brazil, to open a factory in China, to keep the computers running in Portugal.
Immediate business demands cannot be ignored. But the companies that manage their expats effectively view foreign assignments with an eye on the long term. Even when people are sent abroad to extinguish fires, they are expected to plant forests when the embers are cool. They are expected to go beyond pressing problems either to generate new knowledge for the organization or to acquire skills that will help them become leaders.
Imagine a large Canadian company that wants to open a telephone-making plant in Vietnam. It would certainly send a manager who knows how to manufacture phones and how to get a greenfield facility up and running quickly. The manager’s performance rating and compensation would reflect those objectives, but that’s where most companies would stop. Companies that manage their expats effectively, however, would require more of the manager in Vietnam. Once the plant was established, he would be expected to transfer his knowledge to local professionals—and to learn from them, too. Together, they would be expected to generate innovative ideas.
Nokia, the world’s second largest manufacturer of mobile phones, is a good example of a company that effectively uses international assignments to generate knowledge. Unlike most large technology companies, Nokia does not rely on a central R&D function. Instead, it operates 36 centers in 11 countries—from Finland to China to the United States. Senior executives scan their global workforce for engineers and designers who are likely to generate new ideas when combined into a team. They bring these people together in an R&D center for assignments of up to two years, with the explicit objective of inventing new products. The approach works well: Nokia continues to grab global market share by rapidly turning new ideas into successful commercial products, such as the Nokia 6100 series mobile telephones that were launched last year in Beijing and have quickly captured a leading position in markets around the world.
Other companies have more need to focus on the second reason for international assignments: to develop global leadership skills. Such companies would concur with a recent observation by GE’s CEO: “The Jack Welch of the future cannot be like me. I’ve spent my entire career in the United States. The next head of GE will be somebody who has spent time in Bombay, in Hong Kong, in Buenos Aires.” An executive cannot develop a global perspective on business or become comfortable with foreign cultures by staying at headquarters or taking short business trips abroad. Such intangibles come instead as a result of having spent more than one sustained period working abroad.
Indeed, the only way to change fundamentally how people think about doing business globally is by having them work abroad for several months at a time. Everyone has a mental map of the world—a set of ingrained assumptions about what people are like and how the world works. But our maps may not be able to point us in the right direction when we try to use them in uncharted territory. Consider the case of a tall American businessman who, during a recent trip to Japan, dined at a traditional restaurant. Upon entering, he bumped his head on the doorjamb. The next day, the same thing happened. It was only on the third time that he remembered to duck. People on international assignments hit their heads on doorjambs many times over the years. Eventually, they learn to duck—to expect that the world abroad will be different from the one they had imagined. Hard experience has rearranged their mental maps or, at the very least, expanded the boundaries on their maps.
It is with such a broadened view of the world that global leaders are made. A vice president for Disney, for example, was posted in 1993 to EuroDisney, the company’s struggling theme park just outside Paris. Stephen Burke arrived in France with the same mental map of the company as the senior managers at home. He believed, for instance, that families and alcohol do not mix at Disney theme parks. But after living in France for several months, Burke came to see what an affront Euro-Disney’s no-alcohol policy was to most of its potential local customers. A glass of wine with lunch was as French as a cheeseburger was American. Further, Burke came to see that Disney’s lack of focus on tour operators—a more important distribution channel in Europe than in North America—made it inconvenient to book reservations for complete vacation packages, which many Europeans prefer to arrange.
With his new perspective on the local market, Burke pushed hard to persuade Disney’s top management to sell wine at its French park and to create complete vacation packages for tour operators. He succeeded. Because of those and other changes, attendance and hotel occupancy soon skyrocketed, and EuroDisney posted its first operational profit. Burke told us afterward, “The assignment to EuroDisney caused me to challenge long-held assumptions that were based on my experiences and career at Disney. After living in France, I came to look at the world quite differently.”
The two principal goals of international assignments—generation of knowledge and development of global leaders—are not mutually exclusive. But it is unlikely that an international posting will allow a company to achieve both goals in every case or to an equal degree. Not every employee going abroad has abundant knowledge to share or the right stuff to be the company’s future CEO. What matters, however, is that executives explicitly know beforehand why they are sending a person overseas—and that the reason goes beyond an immediate business problem.
The reason for sending a person overseas must go beyond an immediate business problem.
Just as important, it is critical that expats themselves know the rationale for their assignments. Are they being sent abroad to generate knowledge or to develop their leadership skills? At the effective companies we studied, this kind of information helps expats focus on the right objectives in the right measure. For example, a communications company recently transferred one of its top lean-manufacturing experts from Asia to the United States. His task was to help managers understand and implement the practices that had been perfected in Singapore and Japan. The company’s senior executives did not expect him to hone his leadership capabilities because they did not believe that he would ascend the corporate ranks. Knowing the main purpose of his posting, the expert was able to focus his energy on downloading his knowledge to other managers. Moreover, he did not build up unrealistic expectations that he would be promoted after returning home.
Companies with foreign operations will always face unexpected crises from time to time. But the companies that reap the most from sending their people abroad recognize that international assignments can’t just be about sending in the medics. They must also be about ensuring the organization’s health over the long term.
Sending the Right People
Just as managers often send people abroad for the wrong reasons, they frequently send the wrong people. Not because they send people who don’t have the necessary technical skills. Indeed, technical skill is frequently the main reason that people are selected for open posts. But managers often send people who lack the ability to adjust to different customs, perspectives, and business practices. In other words, they send people who are capable but culturally illiterate.
Managers often send people on overseas assignments who are capable but culturally illiterate.
Companies that have a strong track record with expats put a candidate’s openness to new cultures on an equal footing with the person’s technical know-how. After all, successfully navigating within your own business environment and culture does not guarantee that you can maneuver successfully in another one. We know, for instance, of a senior manager at a U.S. carmaker who was an expert at negotiating contracts with his company’s steel suppliers. When transferred to Korea to conduct similar deals, the man’s confrontational style did nothing but offend the consensus-minded Koreans—to the point where suppliers would not even speak to him directly. What was worse, the man was unwilling to change his way of doing business. He was soon called back to the company’s home office, and his replacement spent a year undoing the damage he left in his wake.
How do you weed out people like the man who failed in Korea? The companies that manage expats successfully use a variety of tools to assess cultural sensitivity, from casual observation to formal testing. Interestingly, however, almost all evaluate people early in their careers in order to eliminate some from the potential pool of expats and help others build cross-cultural skills.
Although the companies differ in how they conduct their assessments, our research shows that they seek the following similar characteristics in their expats:
A Drive to Communicate.
Most expats will try to communicate with local people in their new country, but people who end up being successful in their jobs are those that don’t give up after early attempts either fail or embarrass them. To identify such people, the most effective companies in our research scanned their ranks for employees who were both enthusiastic and extroverted in conversation, and not afraid to try out their fractured French or talk with someone whose English was weak.
The tendency for many people posted overseas is to stick with a small circle of fellow expats. By contrast, successful global managers establish social ties to the local residents, from shopkeepers to government officials. There is no better source for insights into a local market and no better way to adjust to strange surroundings.
It is human nature to gravitate toward the familiar—that’s why many Americans overseas find themselves eating lunch at McDonald’s. But the expats who add the most value to their companies—by staying for the duration and being open to local market trends—are those who willingly experiment with different customs. In India, such people eat dal and chapatis for lunch; in Brazil, they follow the fortunes of the local jai alai team.
Expats with a cosmopolitan mind-set intuitively understand that different cultural norms have value and meaning to those who practice them. Companies that send the right people abroad have identified individuals who respect diverse viewpoints; they live and let live.
A Collaborative Negotiation Style.
When expats negotiate with foreigners, the potential for conflict is much higher than it is when they are dealing with compatriots. Different cultures can hold radically different expectations about the way negotiations should be conducted. Thus a collaborative negotiation style, which can be important enough in business at home, becomes absolutely critical abroad.
This article also appears in:
HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Managing Across Cultures
Consider the approach taken by the vice chairman of Huntsman Corporation, a private chemicals company based in Salt Lake City with sales of $ 4.75 billion. Over the last five years, Jon Huntsman, Jr., has developed an informal but highly successful method for assessing cultural aptitudes in his employees. He regularly asks managers that he thinks have global leadership potential to accompany him on international trips, even if immediate business needs don’t justify the expense. During such trips, he takes the managers to local restaurants, shopping areas, and side streets and observes their behavior. Do they approach the strange and unusual sights, sounds, smells, and tastes with curiosity or do they look for the nearest Pizza Hut? Do they try to communicate with local shopkeepers or do they hustle back to the Hilton?
Huntsman also observes how managers act among foreigners at home. In social settings, he watches to see if they seek out the foreign guests or talk only with people they already know. During negotiations with foreigners, he gauges his managers’ ability to take a collaborative rather than a combative approach.
Although time consuming and sometimes costly, Huntsman’s approach to screening potential expats is actually remarkably efficient. He is able to assess candidates before the pressures of an impending international problem make a quick decision necessary. Consequently, he makes fewer expensive mistakes when choosing whom to send abroad.
Other companies, such as LG Group, a $ 70 billion Korean conglomerate, take a more formal approach to assessing candidates for foreign assignments. Early in their careers, candidates complete a survey of about 100 questions designed to rate their preparation for global assignments and their cross-cultural skills. Afterward, LG employees and their managers discuss how specific training courses or future on-the-job experiences could help them enhance their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. From this discussion, a personalized development plan and timetable are generated. Because LG’s potential expats are given time to develop their skills, about 97 % of them succeed in meeting the company’s expectations when they are eventually sent on international assignments.
The surveys used by LG were purchased from an outside company and cost from $ 300 to $ 500 per person. Other organizations develop them in-house, with the help of their training or HR departments. In either case, the survey questions generally ask people not to evaluate their own characteristics but to describe their past behavior. For example, they might be asked when they had last eaten a meal from a cuisine that was unfamiliar to them.
A third approach to identifying potential expats is used by Colgate-Palmolive, which has about 70 % of its sales outside the United States and decades of international experience. To fill its entry-level marketing positions, the company recruits students from universities or business schools who can demonstrate an ability to handle cross-cultural situations. They may have already worked or lived abroad and will at the very least have traveled extensively; they will often be able to speak a foreign language. In this way, Colgate-Palmolive leverages the investment that other companies have made in an employee’s first experience abroad.
Colgate-Palmolive takes a similarly cautious approach once such promising young people are on staff. Instead of sending them on long assignments abroad, it sends them on a series of training stints lasting 6 to 18 months. These assignments do not come with the costly benefits that are provided to high-level expats, such as allowances for housing and a car. This strategy means the company can provide young managers with a broad range of overseas experience. One manager hired in the United States, for example, spent time in the Czech Republic and the Baltic states and recently became country manager in Ukraine—all before celebrating his thirtieth birthday.
Companies face a trade-off between the accuracy and the cost of expat assessment. Although Colgate-Palmolive’s approach is probably the most accurate way to assess an individual’s potential to succeed on international assignments, it comes with a substantial price tag. That approach is probably most appropriate for a multinational that needs a large cadre of global managers. For companies with lesser workforce requirements, the less costly approaches of Huntsman and LG may make more sense. In any case, the key to success is having a systematic way of assessing the cross-cultural aptitudes of people you may want to send abroad.
Finishing the Right Way
Virtually every effective company we studied took the matter of repatriation seriously. Most companies, however, do not. Consider the findings of our research: about one-third of the expats we surveyed were still filling temporary assignments three months after coming home. More than three-quarters felt that their permanent position upon returning home was a demotion from their posting abroad, and 61 % said that they lacked opportunities to put their foreign experience to work. No wonder the average turnover rate of returning professionals reaches 25 % . We know of one company that over a two-year period lost all the managers it sent on international assignments within a year of their return—25 people in all. It might just as well have written a check for $ 50 million and tossed it to the winds.
The story of a senior engineer from a European electronics company is typical. The man was sent to Saudi Arabia on a four-year assignment, at a cost to his employers of about $ 4 million. During those four years, he learned fluent Arabic, gained new technical skills, and made friends with important businesspeople in the Saudi community. But upon returning home, the man was shocked to find himself frequently scolded that “the way things were done in Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with the way we do things at headquarters.” Worse, he was kept waiting almost nine months for a permanent assignment which, when it came, gave him less authority than he had had abroad. Not surprisingly, the engineer left to join a direct competitor a few months later and ended up using the knowledge and skills he had acquired in Saudi Arabia against his former employer.
International assignments end badly for several reasons. First, although employers give little thought to their return, expats believe that a successful overseas assignment is an achievement that deserves recognition. They want to put their new skills and knowledge to use and are often disappointed both by the blasé attitude at headquarters toward their return and by their new jobs. That disappointment can be particularly strong for senior expats who have gotten used to the independence of running a foreign operation. As one U.K. expatriate recently observed, “If you have been the orchestra conductor overseas, it is very difficult to accept a position as second fiddle back home.”
Changes in and out of the office can also make homecoming difficult. The company may have reshuffled its top management, reorganized its reporting structure, or even reshaped its culture. Old mentors may have moved on, leaving the returning employee to deal with new decision makers and power brokers. Things change in people’s personal lives, too. Friends may have moved away, figuratively or literally. Children may find it hard to settle back into school or relate to old playmates.
The effective companies in our research used straightforward processes to solve these problems. At Monsanto, for example, the head office starts thinking about the next assignments for returning expats three to six months before they will return. As a first step, an HR officer and a line manager who is senior to the expat—both with international experience—assess the skills that the expat has gained during her experience overseas. They also review potential job openings within Monsanto. At the same time, the expat herself writes a report that includes a self-assessment and describes career goals. The three then meet and decide which of the available jobs best fits the expat’s capabilities and the organization’s needs.
In the six years since it introduced the system, Monsanto has dramatically reduced the turnover rate of its returning expatriates. And because returning employees participate in the process, they feel valued and treated fairly—even if they don’t get their job of first choice.
Along with finding their returning expats suitable jobs, effective companies also prepare them for changes in their personal and professional landscapes. For example, the oil and gas company Unocal offers all expats and their families a daylong debriefing program upon their return. The program focuses on common repatriation difficulties, from communicating with colleagues who have not worked abroad to helping children fit in again with their peers. The participants watch videos of past expats and their families discussing their experiences. That sets the stage for a live discussion. In many cases, participants end up sharing tips for coping with repatriation, such as keeping a journal. The journal is useful, many returning expats say, because it helps them examine the sources of their frustrations and anxieties, which in turn helps them think about what they might do to deal with them better.
Although participants find repatriation programs useful, it is seldom cost effective for a company to provide them in-house unless its volume of international assignments is heavy. Most companies that offer such programs outsource them to professional training companies or form consortiums with other companies to share the costs. Effective companies have realized that the money they spend on these programs is a small price to pay for retaining people with global insight and experience. • • •
Companies that manage their expats successfully follow the three practices that make the assignments work from beginning to end. They focus on creating knowledge and developing global leadership skills; they make sure that candidates have cross-cultural skills to match their technical abilities; and they prepare people to make the transition back to their home offices.
Given the poor record that most companies have when it comes to managing expats, it’s probably no surprise that we often encounter organizations in which none of the three practices are at work. Some companies, however, are committed to one or two of the practices, and so the question arises, Do you have to follow all three to see a payback on your expat investment? The answer, our research would suggest, is yes. The practices not only reinforce one another, they also cover the entire expat experience, from assignment to return home.
Consider the dividends reaped by Honda of America Manufacturing, perhaps one of the best examples of a company that implements all three practices. Honda starts expat assignments with clear strategic objectives such as the development of a new car model or improved supplier relations. Assignees then complete a survey to identify personal strengths and weaknesses related to the upcoming assignment. Six months before an expat is scheduled to return home, the company initiates an active matchmaking process to locate a suitable job for that person; a debriefing interview is conducted upon repatriation to capture lessons learned from the assignment.
As a result of Honda’s integrated approach, nearly all of its expats consistently perform at or above expectations, and the turnover rate for returning employees is less than 5 % . Most important, its expats consistently attain the key strategic objectives established at the beginning of each assignment.
Companies like Honda, GE, and Nokia have learned how to reap the full value of international assignments. Their CEOs share a conviction that sustained global growth rests on the shoulders of key individuals, particularly those with international experience. As a result, those companies are poised to capture tomorrow’s global market opportunities by making their international assignments—the largest single investments in executive development that they will make—financially successful today.
- JB J. Stewart Black is a professor of global leadership and strategy at INSEAD and a coauthor of Competing in and with China: Implications and Strategies for Western Business Executives (Thinkers50). Email: [email protected]
- Hal Gregersen is a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management , a globally recognized expert in navigating rapid change, and a Thinkers50 ranked management thinker. He is the author of Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life and the coauthor of The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators .
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