After a hectic few months I’m back. After a hectic few months of what you ask? Moving, not just houses but countries. Yes, my lovely readers, I am now an immigrant living in Germany where the beer is cold, the bicycles are plentiful, and the wasps are huge. Packing, arranging, tearful goodbyes, researching my new neighbourhood, and putting my affairs in order has consumed much of my time of late, but the entire process of upping sticks and moving to Germany has been an extremely valuable learning experience. I thought I’d share some of my newfound insights here.
Firstly, emigrating is difficult. Setting aside the legal aspects of European Union freedom of movement rules for a moment, there are barriers to immigration that exist but aren’t often talked about. One thing I ran up against fairly early on in my efforts to move was something called “Schufa“, basically the German equivalent of a domestic credit history, which I didn’t actually have prior to my arrival in Germany. Most of the places here require three months worth of decent Schufa. How to get that without living there? A catch 22 situation.
Secondly, emigrating is expensive. If you’re after a seasonal job fruit picking and can stay in a tent on site, or if you’re single and are looking for a place to tide you over for a while with just the basics, I can imagine you making the jump without too much expense, perhaps just a plane ticket and a few bags of clothes if you’re a rolling stone. But if you have a family and pets, including the sort of home infrastructure (furniture, computers, pictures, etc) that comes with them, then moving that hundreds of miles and across several borders can be a quite costly enterprise.
Thirdly, emigrating requires exceptional organizational skills and logistical planning. I had to move my family, my belongings, and my pets, and coordinate them all to arrive at the same location at the same time, even though we all travelled and left separately. The pets travelling first class on a British Airways cabin from Heathrow, my cherished china cups heading on a van, down the UK, through Euro-tunnel, across France then Germany, and myself, husband, and son on EasyJet from Manchester to Berlin.
Fourth, emigrating can be confusing. I’ve spent a great deal of time researching recycling, researching where to get yellow bags for plastic, researching where the local doctor is, finding out where the chemist is and where I can buy fruit. I’ve spent time researching how to get my son into a local school and spent some time debating the fastest way to get to the S-Bahn with my husband.
Fifth, the language barrier is more of a language fence if you have at least the basics down. I wouldn’t describe myself as fluent in German, far from it. But I can manage quite well in most circumstances. However, the general idea that you only need English to get by is very wrong if you get outside the big cities. I’ve run into several people who have no English at all, including the very nice gentleman who installed my internet connection and the man that helped me find my way back out of the woods after I took a slight detour. If you’re going to head outside of the general international areas of the new country you move to you’re going to need to at least have the basics of the local language.
Sixth, emigrating can be traumatic. Don’t underestimate how difficult it can be to leave friends and family behind when you strike out and set sail for new lands. Though we now have cheap flights and travel, internet, and applications such as Skype or Whatsapp to keep in touch with people, it isn’t going to be the same as popping in for tea. Leaving your country can be an emotionally gut-wrenching experience.
Given the modern globalized economy and the necessity of free movement of people to make it work, immigration is a fact of the modern world. Airbus, Aviva, Allianz, and AstraZeneca operate throughout several countries and hire people from dozens if not hundreds of nations. And these are just some of the companies that start with the letter “A”. I’m not the first and I certainly won’t be the last person who emigrates. I’ve described just some of the hurdles that international candidates may face when emigrating. So if you’re working in a company that is looking to attract international talent then what can HR do to help?
From the outset remember that an international candidate may have a more difficult start and require more assistance than a local candidate. Expect lots of questions, the occasional request for an afternoon or morning off to register with a doctor/school/council/local government or immigration services. Some companies or managers might object, or expect the employee to use holiday time to do this. The first few weeks and months in a new role are crucial to building good employee relations and attitudes like this are sure to make some employees question whether they moved for the right company. My advice is let them have the time off to organise their affairs as the employee has basically relocated their entire life for the company and this should be acknowledged. Yes, the wage might be higher, the opportunities greater, but to remain a happy and motivated employee they also need to feel settled in their new home. From a commercial perspective the candidate is also likely to be less distracted, fully integrated and performing at there best when they are not distracted by problems associated with their relocation.
A good way to keep such distractions to a minimum is to get assistance. In Germany there are many relocation consultants. They deal with paperwork, regulation, home registration and all kinds of other matters such as setting up internet or approaching local schools to accept the kids. There are similar businesses in France and The Netherlands. Considering the sheer scale of bureaucracy and layers and layers of paperwork required they’re well worth the money. If your company hires a lot of candidates from abroad you should consider retaining the services of such an agency and keeping in contact with them.
Another important thing is to utilise the services of an immigration lawyer. The world of visas, work permits and residency rights is complex and can be costly to get wrong. New recruits that require a visa or a work permit to work are likely to be a little more anxious or nervous about upping sticks and relocating themselves and potentially their families to another country. An immigration lawyer is a huge asset in this regard as they know the system inside out and can guide the new employee through the process to ensure that they are able to join as swiftly as possible.
The creation of a relocation handbook or pack which answers frequent questions and has useful points of contact is also highly advisable. Such a tool can be assembled from the experience of your current workforce should you already have migrant employees. Asking them about what difficulties they faced and how they solved those problems should yield information that can be of use to those who follow their footsteps. If you have such a thing it should be issued before they start, so they can make necessary preparations themselves rather than spend time researching what has already been researched by one of their future co-workers.
Lastly, if your company hires a lot of international talent you might find yourself facing the same questions and the same issues frequently. If this happens then it could be worth actually creating an immigrant induction package. Consider appointing and training one of your HR staff as a cultural specialist who can be a point of contact and someone who can help your new recruits transition and integrate into their new environment. Cross cultural awareness has become absolutely essential in modern international HR operations and is well worth investing in. Multi-national and multi-ethnic teams can provide a wealth of diverse expertise and bring ideas and solutions to problems that would elude a more mono-ethnic group. Furthermore, a candidate who packs up their life and travels across countries for a job will likely be confident and sure they can perform well in their new role. So whilst the initial costs and hurdles of hiring outside of your local area might be higher, the rewards can be much greater.
Also, as I’m now an immigrant I thought it might be a fun topic to weigh in on from the perspective of HR for Zukunft Personal. Scurry over here and check it out.