Coronavirus and Your Mobile Workforce: Latest Updates

Keeping You Updated in Challenging Times

The Novel Coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 is a global issue, and its impact on talent mobility evolves quickly. To keep our clients, partners, colleagues and mobile employees informed, Weichert, in partnership with our Emergency Response Team (made up of members of our Senior Leadership, Mobility Business Unit and Advisory Services) has issued a number of advisories and practical advice for staying safe, as well as plans we’ve put in place to ensure uninterrupted service to our customers.

Given the unprecedented global response to this virus, we also felt it appropriate to provide all corporate mobility professionals with the latest best practices and strategies for managing mobile employees in the face of Coronavirus. Please bookmark this page and visit regularly for the latest information.

Updated March 23, 2020

The latest information on how the Coronavirus is impacting corporate relocation and global assignments.

The Coronavirus is challenging HR and corporate relocation managers in unprecedented ways. Our latest podcast discusses the virus’ impact on mobility, offers timely advice for keeping employees out of harm’s way, and provides insight to how other companies worldwide are tackling this problem.

Listen using the player below. You can also download or listen on the Apple podcast app.

Updated March 13, 2020

The latest information on how the Coronavirus is impacting corporate relocation and global assignments.

Now designated a global pandemic, the Novel Coronavirus that causes the disease COVID 19 has had unprecedented impact on the mobile workforce and employers worldwide. What was considered a low risk location yesterday might now be subject to entry restrictions, waiting periods and quarantines. The rapidly changing situation makes it imperative to refer to the official CDC and WHO websites but we wanted to share some of the practical implications for your mobile workforce and results from our “live” virtual benchmarking which tracked how companies are responding to the outbreak.

Results of our live virtual benchmarking sessions, conducted the week of March 9, 2020 and reflecting input from more than 100 companies worldwide, offer real time insight into how employers are responding to the outbreak:

“How is your mobility program being impacted by the spread of Coronavirus? (select all that apply)”

Results exceed 100% because of multiple choice answers.

In the chart above, “other” encompassed a wide range of responses, including:

  • Canceling meeting at my own office with outside suppliers
  • Allowing employees to go on with perm transfer but will self-quarantine if coming from high risk country
  • No formal evacuation by the company but due to country specific initiatives it has impacted decisions we are making as an organization
  • Specific countries such as Mongolia that has closed its boarders and we aren’t able to get people back to home country
  • Restrictions around schools closing and children not being allowed in public places

As evidenced by these results, only a small portion of employers are repatriating their employees from assignments. Furthermore, 41% are postponing new initiations or moves/assignments. These findings align with our own practice as we work with clients around the world to share knowledge and best practices that can inform their response to the COVID outbreak. One of the most important features in any crisis is to proactively communicate with employees and help manage their expectations.

Here are just some of the down-stream impacts of the pandemic on the mobile workforce:

General Timing Expectations

  • Travel restrictions and quarantines are resulting in more frequent rescheduling of services.
  • Despite redundancies built into the supply chain, as the spread of the virus impacts service providers and/or if they are exposed to the virus, new assignments may need to be reassigned causing delay.
  • Scheduled packing, pick-up and delivery dates may need to be adjusted.
  • Delays are expected for international relocations; even U.S. outbound shipments are experiencing delays.

Changes to Shipments of Household Goods

  • Government-imposed quarantines are causing a shortage of containers and might limit the availability of people to work in certain locations, causing potential delays.
  • Delays in household goods may increase the need, and related costs, for interim storage (and additional benefits like furniture rental or furnished accommodations).
  • As supplier partners adhere to CDC and WHO guidelines, employees should not be surprised that providers are wearing masks and gloves.

Housing Assistance

  • Reflecting government imposed quarantines, certain locations are reporting limited availability or ability to provide in-market origin and destination services.
  • National Association of Realtors guidance for dealing with CDC guidelines suggests that agents think about alternative property marketing to avoid exposure to the virus. These alternatives may include video tours and other methods to virtually tour a property.
  • In traditional marketing processes (i.e., Open House), all visitors should disinfect their hands upon entering the home, and the agent should provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers at the entryway as well as soap and disposable towels in bathrooms. After the showing or open house, strict sanitizing protocols should be in place to disinfect the home, especially commonly touched areas like doorknobs and faucet handles.

Compliance Concerns

  • Our partners at Weichert Mobility Tax Services (WMTS) have been advising clients on their specific population but advise that many jurisdictions have indicated there will be tax deadline extensions.
  • Concern is increasing for employees on EBTs, STAs and other assignments that might trip the 183 day threshold in income tax treaties as a result of being quarantined in the host country.
  • There is potential impact of not qualifying for the foreign earned income exclusion for US outbounds that need to meet the 330 day threshold of the physical presence test.
  • It may be difficult to arrange timely mandatory pre-assignment physical exams.

Immigration Issues

  • Immigration issues abound and are very fluid. As a result we recommend conferring with your provider for specific insights reflecting the nationality, location, type of visa and options.
  • You may experience Visa issuance delays for those coming from highly impacted countries (China, Korea, Iran, Italy) and more countries will be added
  • This may result in delays for employees trying to repatriate/return to their home country or host country (postponed end to assignment, or end to home leave)
  • Our partners at Fragomen have established a special section on the home page of their public website – https://www.fragomen.com/about/news/immigration-update-coronavirus

Exceptions

In light of these extenuating circumstances, you are likely to experience an increase in exceptions. When handling exceptions, we’ll borrow a quote from one of our clients: “If it feels wrong to say no to an exception, then think about how you can accommodate the request.” To that end, here are some practical recommendations you might consider:

  • Create a temporary addendum to policy. Include a statement that the addendum is temporary in nature and that the company reserves the right to amend and terminate at any time.
  • Track reasons for delays and exceptions to policy to substantiate decisions and support future claims (i.e., for tax filing extensions, etc.).
  • Most companies will cover reasonable travel expenses for delays and/or mandatory waiting periods/quarantines will be covered.
  • Think about allowing extended temporary storage coverage for the period.
  • If you still adhere to a one year rule (or other time controls) and moves can’t be completed within that timeframe, maintain documentation to support decisions to extend the move.
  • If home buyouts (GBO or BVO) are outstanding and an employee is reluctant to market his or her home, consider hibernating the program and restarting at a future date. Think about how this decision could impact interim expenses if the employee has already reported to work in the new location.
  • As a result of travel restrictions, entry bans or screening delays, employees may require extended temporary living.
  • If employees moved using a lump sum allowance, think about how they may need to manage unexpected expenses caused by travel restrictions and address any reasonable shortfall.

While all policy addendums should be reviewed by safety, legal and HR, we think these kinds of reasonable accommodations will ensure the least disruption to your mobile workforce.

Additional Updates

We continue to monitor reports from our global network of Supplier Partners, International SOS, WorldAware and of course, the CDC and WHO.

Please also review previous posts on this blog for important regional updates and additional advice.


Updated February 28, 2020

While we continue to monitor news and updates from Weichert Global Network partners worldwide, it is difficult to escape the relentless media attention about Covid19, the new name for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. This constant barrage of news has fueled anxiety, sparked a staggering impact on the market and triggered organizations worldwide to implement emergency action and contingency plans.

On Friday, February 28, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it had raised its risk assessment relating to COVID-19 for the rest of the world to very high from high and earlier this week officials at the CDC said it was almost inevitable that the virus will spread in the U.S. These events exemplify why it is so important to coordinate the management of the ‘mobile workforce’ with your peers in HR and Travel, Health and Safety professionals.

The coronavirus has impacted organizations around the globe with cases reported in all continents except Antarctica (so far).  With an increasing list of countries implementing entry restrictions, screening and quarantines, options for evacuating and redeploying employees are becoming more challenging.  In addition, a growing number of companies have issued international travel bans and are restricting/discouraging non-essential travel for all employees, not just their mobile workforce.

As evidenced by this February 26, 2020 NY Times article; “1,000 Workers, Go Home: Companies Act to Ward Off Coronavirus” many companies are permitting remote working, encouraging social distancing and discouraging travel even within what is currently considered low risk locations.

See our previously posted recommendations for implementing an emergency response.

  • In collaboration with Corporate Health, Travel and Security resources, activate your emergency response plan.
  • Assess or inventory your mobile population (including domestic and inter-regional transferees and business travelers).
  • Contact all employees and ask your Emergency Assistance Provider to contact them as well. Local laws permitting, ensure you identify anyone with a compromised immune system, chronic illness or underlying medical issues as these individuals may be at a higher risk.
  • Re-issue any emergency assistance provisions in your policy for international assignees.
  • Provide emergency contact information (especially important for employees in quarantined areas).

Employees on Assignment

We have been working with clients all over the world and tracking their management of mobile employees. To date we have not witnessed mass repatriations. That said, some companies are repatriating employees from Japan, South Korea and Italy.

  • Some companies have offered home trips or transport to lower risk locations (especially if located in under developed countries with limited medical facilities).
  • Self-initiated early returns seem to reflect situations with underlying medical concerns (i.e., pregnancy or issues that would cause concern if there were local quarantines).
  • It is important to exercise caution and consult with immigration specialists and corporate travel about each case to avoid travel related issues (i.e., quarantine on arrival).
  • Most countries have introduced additional health screening procedures at some or all of their ports of entry. Travelers to and from the affected regions should allow extra time for such possible screenings.
  • An increasing number of countries are implementing entry or travel restrictions at their ports of entry.
  • If it is deemed appropriate to repatriate employees make sure you have temporary housing arrangements at the destination and recommend that employees travel with an adequate supply of any medications and appropriate documentation in case they develop symptoms and have to be quarantined at their destination.
  • Many serviced apartments and hotels have established additional and individual safety measures and will require travel itineraries, quarantine release documents and/or health certificates if guests have travelled from key epidemic areas.
  • In high risk areas it is difficult to arrange school interviews and property viewing may be restricted.
  • All international and local schools in China remain closed for the time being. No official announcements have been made by the educational bureau on the re-opening date, but general expectation is for this to last for at least another 2-3 weeks.
  • The education bureau in Hong Kong has already extended the closure until April 20th.
  • Schools in Japan have been closed until end of March.
  • Quarantined areas in Italy should be avoided.

Service Disruptions

Our APAC leadership and local service providers are reporting back to work in China and Hong Kong where service delivery in the region is normalizing. That said, other locations are now experiencing potential service disruptions including Japan, Italy and throughout Europe.

Additional Updates

We continue to monitor reports from our Weichert Global Network members and from International SOS and WorldAware.

Partners at Fragomen have established a special section on the home page of their public website – https://www.fragomen.com/about/news/immigration-update-coronavirus

Check back frequently for updates on our blog and let us know if we can be of assistance.

Updated February 14, 2020

The latest information on how the coronavirus is impacting corporate relocation and global assignments.

Together with our on the ground partners, we are continuing to monitor the situation and are drawing on multiple government and news sources to keep our clients up to date and informed. In Mainland China, many offices have reopened this week, although companies are encouraging their employees to continue to work remotely from home, as per government recommendation. For the most part, Hong Kong companies have returned to business as usual.

For Mainland China:

Impact on Destination Services:

  • Most international schools in China will remain closed until at least 2nd March 2020, with the possibility of this being extended further. Most schools have implemented an online, home-schooling process, which reportedly is causing additional stress for parents during these challenging times. Campus visits during school search program can currently not be conducted. Admissions offices are working for most schools and are in contact with assignees on applications that have already been submitted.
  • Property Viewings continue to be severely restricted in most locations as many compounds are still conducting a resident-only policy. Only people currently residing on the premises are allowed to enter most gated compounds and we are therefore restricted in what properties can presently be shown to incoming assignees.
  • Expat-focused doctors and hospitals remain open, but are asking patients to only visit by appointment and if absolutely necessary. Patients with fever symptoms are not permitted to enter but are required to go to government-run hospitals instead.
  • Service apartments and hotels have established additional safety measures and are requesting for travel itinerary from guests checking in. Residences of Hubei province and those with Hubei ID cards are only permitted to stay in government-approved hotels.
  • Social Activities: Most social expat and sports activities and clubs remain closed. Public gatherings such as dining with large groups are discouraged (and in some areas in fact prohibited). Gyms are closed until further notice, as are playgrounds, some malls and cinemas. The extend of these closures differ from location to location.
  • Supermarkets and grocery stores remain largely open, although opening hours have been modified. We are not receiving any news or reports on food shortages, except for hygiene masks and any kind of sterilizing sprays and handwash.
  • Daily life: Most residential compounds remain generally closed to outside visits. Courier and food delivery etc. must be picked up at one designated entry gate. All comings and goings are monitored with temperature checks. If residents are showing temperature above 37.3 degree, they will need to visit a designated fever clinic and are not permitted entry to the compound. Residents must register with the property management to enter the compound. Most cities are advising travelers to take a 14-day home quarantine if they were travelling outside their home city over Chinese New Year. Local community representatives are regulating and enforcing these home quarantines and measures vary between compounds.

Impact on V&I Services

  • The China exit-entry bureaus and local foreign expert bureaus have returned to work since February 10th.
  • For new residence permit application, physical presence at the local bureaus is still required.
  • In general, the exit-entry bureau encourages companies not to submit visa application for the next two weeks, unless they are deemed urgent.
  • Overall delays in the application process are to be expected.

For Hong Kong:

On February 13, the Education Bureau announced all schools should defer class resumption for two more weeks, that is, 16 March. Schools have implemented online classroom support and circulating homework assignments for continuation of learning throughout this period. Additionally, the civil service, which includes Hong Kong Immigration, is expected to continue working from home until February 23 (subject to further confirmation). Immigration has suspended filing of new work visa applications and while visa renewals are being accepted, there is no timeline as to when Immigration will revert on these applications.

Landlords do expect prospective tenants to wear masks to view and some buildings have implemented temperature checks upon entry.

Our partner providers are taking maximum precautions and efforts to make sure that the services which can be delivered will be delivered as safely and efficiently as possible. We are expecting delays for new assignees inbound to China.

Please note all dates and all travel/closure advisories are subject to change. We strongly urge clients to confirm closure dates and travel restrictions with in-country resources in China and via official websites and news sources.

Updated February 9, 2020

The latest information on how the coronavirus is impacting corporate relocation and global assignments.

In collaboration with our destination service providers, we continue to monitor the situation during these challenging times.

Many offices that have been closed are scheduled to reopen on Monday, February 10. However, most companies are enforcing internal precautions and safety measures for their teams. This includes a 14 day work from home incubation period for team members who have been travelling recently, as well as encouraging employees to regularly check their temperature and use masks when appropriate (particularly in public spaces).

The impact on Destination Services for assignees remains high, particularly in mainland China.

Impact on Destination Services:

  • Most international schools are closed until at least 17th February 2020, but may remain so for longer. In Hong Kong, schools are already announced to be closed until at least 2nd March. Most schools have implemented an online, home-schooling processes, but campus visits during school search program cannot be conducted currently.
  • Property Viewing are severely restricted in most locations as many compounds are still conducting a resident-only policy. Only people currently residing, or have been granted special permission by the occupant, are allowed to enter most gated compounds and we are therefore restricted in what properties can presently be shown to incoming assignees. In Hong Kong, landlords are operating as usual, although some have implemented additional hygiene and cleaning measures. In some isolated instances, some landlords are limiting viewings.
  • HHG Shipments: Similar to the above, few compounds are allowing moving trucks or other external delivery trucks onto their premises, and several HHG providers report that deliveries within China cannot be made.
  • Social Activities: Most social expat and sports activities and clubs remain closed. Public gatherings are discouraged or prohibited in some locations. Gyms are closed until further notice, as are playgrounds, some malls and cinemas.
  • Supermarkets and grocery stores remain largely open, although opening hours have been modified. Initial reports of shortages appear to mainly apply to hygiene masks, sterilizing sprays and handwash. Food and grocery delivery services continue to operate, although goods can only be delivered to the compound gate for pick up.
  • Several fast food and coffee chains remain closed, as are large furniture centers, such as Ikea.
  • Expat-focused doctors and hospitals remain open, but are asking patients to only visit by appointment and if absolutely necessary.
  • Service apartments and hotels have established additional safety measures and are requesting for travel itineraries from guests checking in.
  • Most flights to and from China remain cancelled or reduced in frequency.

Impact on V&I Services

  • Overall delays in the application process are to be expected. In China, the exit-entry bureaus and local foreign expert bureaus has been partially operational since 3rd Feb 2020 – with restricted conditions. In Hong Kong, the Immigration Department has been working on a skeleton staff.
  • In China, new work permit applications can still be submitted online; the original, face to face, documents verification process for new applications, renewals and cancellation is currently not needed. Local host companies are instead asked to provide a commitment letter for each on-going case to ensure that all the application documents copies submitted on-line are correct and authentic. However, for new residence permit application, physical presence at the local bureaus is still required.
  • In general, the exit-entry bureau encourages companies not to submit visa application for the next two weeks, unless they are deemed urgent.

Please note all dates and all travel/closure advisories are subject to change. Together with our destination service partners, we urge you to continuously verify the latest, reliable closure dates and travel restrictions with your in-country resources in China and via official websites and news sources.

Updated February 4, 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Friday, January 30, 2020, that the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). According to the WHO press conference, China’s response is to be commended and establishing the outbreak as a PHEIC is designed to better coordinate the global response especially within countries that have “weaker health care systems.”

Furthermore, on January 30, 2020, the Department of State issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel Advisory for China and the U.S. and several other countries have established restricted entry for travelers that recently visited China. With the outbreak spreading to 24 countries, concern is growing not just for employees, assignees and other business travelers in Wuhan and throughout China, but employees who could be stationed in developing countries.

To that end, we will reiterate our recommendations:

  • If your organization has an Emergency Response plan, activate your plan.
  • Collaborate with Corporate Health, Travel and Security resources.
  • Assess or inventory your mobile population.
  • Contact all employees on assignment and ask your Emergency Assistance Provider to contact them as well. Local laws permitting, ensure you identify anyone with a compromised immune system, chronic illness or underlying medical issues as these individuals may be at a higher risk.
  • Re-issue any emergency assistance provisions in your policy for international assignees.
  • Provide emergency contact information (especially important for employees in quarantined areas).

Obviously this is a very fluid situation with travel and immigration challenges exacerbated by government closures. Several countries have closed their borders with China, commercial airlines have cancelled flights and some countries have implemented quarantines or are restricting entry for travelers from Wuhan, the Hubei province and/or China.

Most companies are proactively monitoring the situation and communicating with assignees and travelers more frequently.

  • Most have halted nonessential travel.
  • Employees in the region are encouraged to work from home and take preventative measures to avoid exposure.
  • Some companies have offered home trips or transport to lower risk locations (but caution and careful planning is required to minimize service disruption and possible quarantines).
  • A smaller number have offered home leaves or repatriation and fewer still are evaluating business trips to other locations in Southeast Asia.

Service Disruptions
Our APAC leadership and local service providers are reporting that the likelihood of service disruptions is significant with so many government agencies in Hong Kong and China closed, the border between mainland China and Hong Kong partially closed, multiple businesses and schools in the region closed and airport screenings increasing. As a result, we are already seeing a “pause” in pending relocation activity into or from high risk locations and assignees wanting to postpone their journeys. This will allow a prudent response and avoid any unintended “precedent setting” reactions.

Additional Updates
We recommend staying abreast of all the latest and are working collaboratively with clients and emergency services to source solutions.

Partners at Fragomen have established a special section on the home page of their public website.

We are also getting routine updates from our Weichert Global Network members in the region and from International SOS and Worldaware.

Updated January 27, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak is evolving quickly. As of late Monday, January 27, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance recommending that non-essential travel to China be avoided. Other countries, including Canada, have recommended avoiding all travel to the province of Hubei, the center of the outbreak, due to the extensive restrictions within the province.

Although the World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet designated the outbreak an “emergency”, new cases continue to be identified worldwide, creating heightened concern and anxiety.

Measures to contain the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, have included health screenings at international airports and emergency evacuations of citizens by some governments.

As you might imagine, this situation raises concerns for international assignees and the people who manage them. As mobility professionals, there are several things you should keep in mind:

What should you do?

If your organization has a time-tested Emergency Preparedness plan, review your established protocols.  If you don’t yet have a plan in place, we recommend that you consider the following:

  • Collaborate with Corporate Health, Safety and Travel Security resources
  • Assess or inventory your mobile population
  • Contact all employees on assignment and ask your Emergency Assistance Provider to contact them, as well.
  • Re-issue any emergency assistance provisions in your policy for international assignees.
  • Provide emergency contact information.

According to partners at International SOS the response has been measured so far.

How concerned are you about the outbreak?

What has your organization done to date?

Our APAC leadership and Weichert Global Representatives in the area are monitoring the situation carefully.  They advise that if government offices remain closed and travel restrictions stay in place, service delivery in the region could be adversely impacted. Chinese authorities have extended the national holidays by 2 days already, but there is the possibility that government bureaus and state-owned businesses will not reopen until February 10, 2020.

These extensions will affect all government bureaus, as well as state- and privately-owned businesses. It will also have an impact on visa offices, property management companies and other regional suppliers that provide services in and about assignees’ properties.

Typical emergency evacuation provisions include moving people to a “safe zone,” but in response to this situation that may not be advisable – make sure to confirm with your organization’s approved Health/Welfare resource before taking any action.

As you plan the support you can offer assignees in impacted regions, it’s important to know that most “emergency evacuation” policies cover the following benefits: evacuation and/or travel expenses; excess baggage; temporary living; school/tutoring; and possibly a miscellaneous allowance or cash advance to cover incidentals like medical supplies.

For more information on how to develop a broader Emergency Preparedness plan, check out our Duty of Care whitepaper. You can also stay updated on the situation through the following resources:

General Overview and Live Updates

South China Morning Post

CNN

WorldAware

World Health Organization

Travel Alerts & Precautions

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

US Department of State

UK Government

Government of Canada

SHRM

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