These women and men reshaped the American economy and in turn, the global economy. They made waves around them, broke barriers, led movements, proved theories that the world follows.
They were all immigrants.
Immigrants are an undeniable force in every national economy. Many of them have crossed borders to create opportunities rather than seek opportunities. In many parts of the world, immigrants have even helped to build nations and lay the foundations for progress and development.
And yet, they hardly get the support they need to be able to thrive.
Not many organizations, public or private, have programs in place to help world citizens to succeed when they cross borders. The few efforts that are in place have huge, gaping holes in them.
Being an immigrant myself and having lived across a few different countries and continents, I can tell you, however, that the support systems are NOT always in place to support immigrant success.
When I met Alicia and Kathra, the women who went on to found Generation Mobility with me, we knew that we wanted to enable capable global professionals to succeed no matter where in the world they went. We wanted to make sure that the world wasn’t robbed of its next Einstein, Huffington or Strauss, just because the global transition was challenging for so many people.
With this article, I want to establish two truths. First, that highly-skilled immigrants who struggle to find success in their new host countries are not alone in their experience.
And secondly, that organizations, in the private and public sector, need to look up and realize that these challenges are real, severe, and have a detrimental impact on the bottom line of a company and a nation.
Let’s have a look at the top challenges that highly skilled immigrants face when they move abroad:
1.Managing different HR expectations
What seemed like a gold star on your resumé back home can suddenly appear out of place and irrelevant to hiring managers in your new host country.
Different markets have different standards and expectations of employees.
While specialization might be a feather in your hat in some markets, in another being a varied professional who has done a little of everything might be perceived as a strength.
Add to that the complications of unconscious bias that exists stealthily in organization cultures, and a lot of well-qualified, great-for-the-job immigrants are suddenly unable to land the right opportunities for themselves.
These differences can throw even the most experienced professionals off their game after they have relocated. When a family relocates, one spouse’s job is likely the reason behind the relocation.
The other ‘trailing spouses’, however, are left to figure out the challenges of their own career transitions themselves. And that’s just one group of qualified, skilled immigrants. Others who cross borders for a variety of other reasons face similar challenges, too.
Most of these professionals have little or no support to bridge the gap in HR expectations in their new work environments.
2. The frustration of re-establishing
Many highly skilled immigrants leave behind a 15- to 20 year career and move to a new country.
Think about everything else that they leave behind: childhood friends and people who they know they can count on, school and university alumni, a complete professional network, social proof of their success, recognition of the companies, projects, and causes that they have been a part of.
All of that is gone when these professionals have to re-establish in a new market. It’s a clean slate – they have to form new connections, prove themselves all over again, and rebuild their professional standing.
Until you experience it yourself, it’s difficult to understand just how confidence-shaking the whole ordeal can be.
3. The socio-cultural barriers
For most of us, compartmentalizing various aspects of our lives into ‘work,’ ‘family,’ ‘social,’ is a challenge.
And even if we do get good at splitting our time and attention between these areas, when it comes to emotion, the compartments are hardly airtight.
For immigrants who transition abroad for international assignments set up by their companies, the companies are likely to help make the logistics of the move and the career transition as easy as possible.
But what about the socio-cultural transition? Companies don’t look into whether their overseas employees are developing social circles or learning more about the local culture or even feeling included in work circles at lunch.
Immigrants often have to learn to fit into a whole new way of doing things. In Norway, for instance, most people finish work at 4 pm and not a minute past, family and personal time are stressed upon heavily, and people disappear from the cities to their holiday homes about three times a year!
That’s a lot to take in when you come from a more taxing work culture like India or even corporate America.
It might seem like grown-ups don’t need this kind of care, but the numbers speak for themselves. Anywhere between 25 % and 40% of international assignments reportedly fail every year, and one of the biggest causes behind this is family and socio-cultural adaptation. These numbers are likely on the conservative side because a lot of project failures don’t get reported externally.
The pressing question is: How are the same people that are creating such a significant impact in one country struggling to find the tools to succeed in another?
As a globalized world, and one tuned into the needs of the future of work, shouldn’t we be better equipped to make the transition abroad as seamless as possible?
At Generation Mobility, we believe that these questions are too important to be left unaddressed. What we are committed to providing a holistic solution for people and businesses to thrive abroad emotionally and professionally.
As they say, if you don’t take care of your people, somebody else will. In an economy where people are your biggest wealth and resource, and as we stand here on the horizon of the global future of work, I urge companies to look inwards and analyze their current people’s support systems. Are you doing enough?