Given that the world is more connected today than it was at the turn of the 21st century, it’s caused many to speculate if overseas work will be less common. Given that it’s more effortless than it ever was to communicate with people from across the globe, surely there will be less of a necessity for people in many industries to work abroad.
However, this has not necessarily been the case. While some expat postings declined, others increased. Fewer employees from the first world are getting expat postings and more people newly-industrialized countries such as China and India are working abroad in capacities that are not typically associated with low-wage migrant labor.
The American expat experience
A recent 2017 survey by the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), an American advocacy group for foreign trade indicates that the makeup of expats the world over has significantly changed in the past generation. As the NFTC is an American advocacy, it may be helpful to look at data they gathered about American expatriates.
Compared to when the last survey was taken in 2001, fewer Americans, in general, found themselves getting foreign postings, and this drop-off in expats was most notable in developed countries in Western Europe. However, there were comparatively more Americans getting postings in less-developed countries such as India, China, and the Philippines, which is indicative of the fact that American businesses saw the developing world as an opportunity.
Critical shifts in outlook
There was also a shift in attitudes towards expat work among both employers and employees that would account for the difference. In the years between 2001 and 2017, more and more employers started to see the cost of American labor as prohibitive, which in turn led to fewer assignments abroad overall. More expat employees also expressed concerns over treatment by employers, citing the lack of support during overseas assignments.
More than half of respondents ( 59 percent) expressed that they did not know if there were services such as international health insurance that were readily available to them and many expressed a sense that their employers did not care about how well they were adjusting. This implies a lack of support for the physical and mental health of the employees.
A trend towards older workers
Overall, only 78 percent of American expats surveyed accessed their health plan benefits while overseas. Additionally, younger overseas workers aged under 34 reported not knowing about the details of their benefits, specifically their health plans. It should be noted that the 25-34 age group comprised 35 percent of the expat worker population in 2001 and sharply declined to just 17 percent in 2017.
This implies that companies are treating younger workers differently or that they are not providing the right incentive for younger workers to want a foreign posting. In most countries outside the US, expat postings also tend to be given to older, senior workers, a trend that is also starting to happen more in American companies. Additionally, fewer and fewer expats are taking their families with them, instead opting to leave them at home, which brings up a host of potential social issues.
It’s clear that overseas work won’t be going away any time soon. However, the types of workers have changed, and the increasingly older overseas worker population may be an indication that companies are less willing to take risks with younger workers on foreign postings.
Companies are also seemingly less willing to give workers as much support as they did in previous years, possibly making it critical that workers undertake their own steps to ensure their health and safety during an overseas posting. Overseas workers still have the option of taking out international health insurance for themselves. Going with a specialized insurer such as Now Health International will help keep the cost of premiums down while allowing overseas workers to enjoy a wider range of coverage.