Expatriate Work Assignment: Best Practices

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Expatriate Work Assignment: Best Practices

Expatriate Work Assignment: Best Practices


Repatriation is the defined as the re-entry of the expatriate into his/her home country of origin or citizenship after termination or expiry of international assignment abroad. Therefore, repatriation can be described as the last and final step in the process of expatriation (i.e. the process of sending employees into foreign countries for a particular period of time on an international assignment).

What does repatriation entails?

The process of repatriation entails four main phases of preparation, physical relocation, transition and readjustment. The preparation (or pre-entry) phase involves developing plan for the future such as establishing a suitable position within the organization for the expatriate upon returning. This occurs about 3-5 months prior to the expatriates return to the home country. The second phase of physical relocation entails removal of the expatriate’s personal belongings, breaking social and communication ties with friends and colleagues at the international assignment and travelling to the next posting preferably in home country. At this point, the expatriate is offered professional re-entry training covering sociocultural contrast orientation, update on political and social changes, job opportunities for the partner as well as the psychological elements of repatriation (Paik, Segaud & Malinowski, 2002).

The transition phase of repatriation comprises of readjustment of the expatriate and immediate family members to home country environment. Some of the readjustment activities include acquisition of temporary accommodation, making housing and schooling arrangement for the expatriate’s children, conducting various administrative activities such as application for medical insurance, renewing driver’s license among other activities. In some reputation international organizations, some of these activities are performed by hired professional relocation consultants. Finally, the readjustment phase of repatriation entails coping up with new environment in terms of reverse culture shock and professional demand in the current position within the organization.

Importance of repatriation program

Besides expiry of an international assignment, other reasons for repatriation include the need for expatriates to have their children study in their home country, the need for the expatriate to proceed to similar foreign assignment (reassignment) to enable him/her to use acquired skills and experience and incompetency of the expatriate as a result of inability to adjust to the prevailing environment in the foreign country. In most cases, this can force the assigning organization to terminate one’s international assignment before time thus calling for repatriation. Whichever the reason for repatriation, it is the sole responsibility of the organization to provide an effective expatriate management process whereby repatriation is integral. This is important in enabling the expatriate to adjust to the new working environment as well as dealing with sociocultural shock due to cultural difference between foreign and home countries (Lazarova & Caligiuri, 2007).

Risks of lack of effective repatriation process/program

Although organizations have beforehand knowledge on the importance of repatriation process for expatriates, some organizations have failed to implement effective repatriation process/program. On the other hand, some organizations have problems with their repatriation programs. Failure to institute effective repatriation programs has been associated with some risks to the expatriate, the immediate family as well as the organization. For instance, research findings have established that organization with effective repatriation programs/processes are better placed in advance of the activities preceding the expatriate’s return. This preplanning is important as foreign assignments are usually characterized by high level of anxiety and uncertainty during international assignment as well as frustration upon return to home country. Lack of proper planning of repatriation process usually results into limited job opportunities whereby no jobs are available for expatriates at the time of return. This has become the greatest risk for organizations since it makes it difficult (for the organizations) to find a suitable positions for the expatriates. This often results from organizations having limited planning horizon which is responsible for expatriates being ‘out of mind’ whereby organizations do not have expatriate in mind hence their return after completion of their international assignments is not planned for until the time for their actual arrival.

Research studies have shown that lack of proper repatriation program is responsible for high level of anxiety with regard to the expatriate’s future within an organization. This has resulted into poor performance on international assignments in addition to poor repatriation upon return home. Hence, researchers have generally agreed that organizations should put in place an effective repatriation process with high-quality career counseling to provide information on the purpose of expatriate’s international assignment, the significance an organization will accrue from such assignments and the expatriate’s career options within an organization upon return (Jassawalla et al., 2004). Therefore, lack of appropriate repatriation program is associated with the risk of the expatriate having no post to occupy upon return. Lastly, lack of proper repatriation program in an organization has some risks to the family especially job placement for the spouse. For several years, this has been the main repatriation issues facing many international companies that are not providing job placement for the spouse thus making it difficult for employees to accept international assignments. However, some countries such as Denmark have taken this risk into consideration through implementation of rules and regulations that provide jobs for expatriate’s spouse. In summary, every organization should implement repatriation programs in order to ensure success of the international assignment as well as dealing with risks to the expatriate, family and organization associated with lack of proper repatriation program/process.



Jassawalla, A., Connelly, J., and Slojkowski, L. (2004). Issues of Effective Repatriation: A Model and Managerial Implications, S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal. Cincinnati: Spring 2004. Vol. 69, Iss. 2; p. 38.

Lazarova, M & Caligiuri, P. (2007). ‘Retaining Repatriates: The Role of Organizational Support Practices’, Journal of World Business, vol. 36, no. 4, pp. 389-401.

Paik, Y, Segaud B & Malinowski C (2002). ‘How to improve repatriation management’, International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 23, no 7, pp. 635-675

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