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As the growing impacts of covid-19 continue to disrupt lives and livelihoods, we are inevitably still facing challenges within the landscape of the global mobility industry. To help navigate through this difficult time, here at K2 we hosted a global mobility webinar on 12th May, to keep everyone informed on these ever changing updates.

This live webinar was presented by our service industry experts from destination services, education, shipping and immigration. The session aimed to give an informative and interesting update on the impacts, and potential solutions that we are experiencing across the services, with an opportunity for attendees to ask live questions to the panellists at the end. For an overview of the questions asked, please see below.

The webinar began with an overview of destination services, with Amanda Lillie, Head of UK Operations. Amanda explained how across Europe we are experiencing different restrictions and impacts, dependent on where the country is in terms of coronavirus containment, for example some countries appear to be business as usual, whilst others remain in complete lockdown. Amanda gave an update on the housing industry, and discussed UK estate agents returning to work, what home searches will consist of moving forwards, and what plans are in place for post lock down.

We then heard from Nathaniel Price from Dean Associates, for an update on education. Nathaniel discussed when we can expect schools to re-open, and what this process will look like, as well as advising on school admissions, and what to do now.

Following this, we listened to an update on shipping from Ken McCully, Group Commercial Manager, and Tom Drew, Senior Relocation Manager. Ken began with an update on Air and Sea Freight, updating on the current availability, pricing issues (supply and demand), and what the potential different options are. Tom then explored the impacts that we are seeing on household goods moves, commenting on how crews are safeguarding with appropriate PPE, the uptake and success of virtual surveys, and the increased need to carefully counsel clients on their options. Tom finished off this update on Shipping by exploring what the shipping sector may look like post covid-19 and beyond.

Lastly, the webinar closed with an update on immigration, from Simon Higson, UK Immigration Manager, and Craig Griffis, Global Immigration Manager. Simon began with a UK immigration update, giving an overview on the current UK immigration provisions due to covid-19, the latest insight into Brexit and the EU settlement scheme, and what the new Points Based System will entail. Craig then gave an update from a Global immigration perspective, covering some top tips on how to keep on top of your immigration employees, different reasons travel bans may be implemented, the importance of taking self isolation requirements in-country seriously, the current status of visa extensions and repatriations, and some key insights into redundancies and furloughs.

To conclude the session, our expert panellists then answered live questions from the attendees. Please see below for a summary of these questions and answers.

The session was intended to be relevant, insightful and most of all useful. If you would like to watch the session you can do so via the link below.

Access the recording of this session here

Questions recap 

There’s been a massive drop in rental prices, and great offers from estate agents in the UK, for example no security deposits and short lease contracts (3 months). Is K2 aware, and informing clients on this, as this will assist on the Housing Allowance and less tax calculations over an assignee’s relocation?

We have heard of some estate agents doing this, but this was only at the beginning of lockdown. It is likely that supply will not be there when the market opens up again, as initially we can only show properties that are empty. It seems likely that demand will outstrip supply and we will find that some landlords who were desperate to get tenants into properties before, or just as the lockdown happened, will find that the properties will have many offers on them just because of low supply.

Rents in London haven’t really decreased as a whole. There might have been a blip at the start of the lockdown where this has happened, but only a couple, not huge amounts. Generally what we’re hearing from other places that have opened up across Europe is that rental prices haven’t dropped, just because the demand is still there.

Estate agents will really be recommending to their landlords that without that additional money it’s going to be very hard for them; unless it’s a company lease or not an AST lease, they really shouldn’t be taking tenants without deposits in case their property is trashed. However, each landlord is driven by different motivations! Most landlords don’t want their properties empty and may want to do anything to get a tenant into their property.

When home search starts, we will be looking at every way to try and save the tenant money to try and see if there is some room for negotiation; we do that every day for every tenancy that we negotiate anyway. Experience tells me that there won’t be enough stock initially on the ground to allow people to negotiate what I would call ‘silly’ amounts for rents, where the price is much lower that market rents.

If someone on a Tier 2 visa takes a voluntary salary sacrifice (20% salary and work reduction), what is the impact on their immigration status? Does the employer need to do an SMS update?

Currently the allowable reductions are 20%, i.e. you can have a salary up to 80% or 2,500 pounds, whichever is lowest.  If that is the situation then that doesn’t need to be reported on the sponsor licence, and in addition, a complete absence due to coronavirus also doesn’t need to be reported.

However, there is a slight confusion over furlough. If you are furloughing a sponsored individual (which is allowed as furlough payments are not classes public funds), this should still be identified on the sponsor licence. It is good practice just on your own HR systems to record it from an audit point of view, as this will show that you as an employer have complete knowledge of where, who and what your employees are doing and what they’re being paid etc. But as long as it’s 80% or 2,500 whichever is lower, then that doesn’t need to be registered.

Will self isolation procedures mean short term business trips and commuter assignments are all but impossible until these procedures are lifted?

It would depend on how long people are self isolating for, versus how long they want to be in the country, and how critical it is that they need to be in location. In the short term most companies would take a view that it’s perhaps not worth it. People have been working from home very successfully.

Perhaps they could combine the working from home with a business trip once the self-isolation has been lifted in their location. But, you also need to remember when they come back that they might need to self isolate again, so it could be in both, the home and the host that they have to self isolate if they’re going on business trips.

It really will be dependent on each company in each company’s needs, but I do think that this will probably change business and short term business trips for the foreseeable future.

What sort of moves do you see being initiated currently, is it mainly repatriations?  Are many companies initiating new assignments in the current situation?

Yes, they are! We are taking them to the point where we can do no more, based on the current host locations covid-19 regulations. We are getting initiations in every day and we’re getting initiated in quite large volumes from some clients. We’re still talking to them about their assignments, we’re still understanding what’s happening, and what timelines they’re hoping to work towards. We are booking home search consultants, we’re getting DSPs involved if needed in the host location, and we’re doing virtual surveys. Where it becomes more difficult is the physical process of getting them out on orientation, home search or school search.

As each day changes and as each country opens up a little bit more, we’re able to do a little bit more in each destination and each host location. I’m very optimistic that we will find a way around. We want this industry to survive and we will look at different ways of delivering those services to assignees.

Are K2 suggesting to companies that moves / start dates are pushed back if possible?

I wouldn’t suggest to move anything back to any particular fixed date. What I would say is, if there is a situation let’s talk all the time to understand how we can find a solution. We want to be in a good position to move the minute that a particular country comes out of lockdown or lifts restrictions. Let’s keep in touch, lets plan everything, let’s speak to our suppliers to make sure that they are able to move if they are given the go-ahead by the country. So it’s about making sure that we have things ready and in place. If we then have to reallocate those dates, then so be it. We just have to then plan 3 weeks ahead. We would recommend that you don’t put anything on hold; talk to us and then we can give you a sense of how long we think things are going to be locked down for. We get a sense across Europe that things are starting to lift and business is beginning to get easier. Everybody has a different way of opening up their country, and we’re speaking to our partners and our vendors across Europe all the time to really understand what is happening on the ground at each country.

Will temporary salary reduction affect visas when reported to Home Office?

The home office have said that no person will be detrimentally affected as a result of a covid-19 situation. So for instance, if you are applying for ILR applications, and there’s a minimum salary requirement for that, equally when you’re on a Tier 2 visa, there is also minimum salary requirements for that as well, those are effectively temporarily lifted for the moment.

Once the temporary measures are lifted and we get back to some sort of normality, then those salaries will need to be reinstated. So as a temporary measure it’s not going to be a problem. But certainly with things like furloughing, it does need to be part of a company-wide situation. So you can’t just pick on certain areas and similarly with reduction in hours as well.

You can be assured that if it is a covid-19 decision that you are making that is a result of a change in a sponsor licensed employee, then in most cases there will be some relaxation of the regulations from the Home Office’s point of view.

Will K2 provide guidance to clients on any particular challenges in a specific location when initiated?

Whichever country a shipment will be going to, we will be looking at what restrictions they have in place and whether we can foresee any difficulties at that time. Of course when things are changing so frequently and so rapidly, the information that we give one day could be different maybe a week, or even less, later. However, of course if there are any challenges that we know of at that time, from a household goods perspective, we will be looking to make our clients aware of from the outset.

On any destination services that are being delivered, we will be including the assignee in the process and making sure that they’re comfortable with what is in place. We will always be working to the law of the country and the advice that is given.

In your opinion, is the covid-19 situation going to have any effect on the volume of language and intercultural training initiated?

I think it’s going to have a impact on the volume of people moving between different locations. There will be different factors that come into play when it comes to initiations and volumes of people moving around the globe in the next three to six months. Therefore, of course it’s going to have an impact on language training and cultural training.

But also, if you’re supposed to go on assignment and you are supposed to manage a team of German nationals and you don’t know how to do that, there’s nothing wrong with doing the cultural training and the language training from afar, because it’s going to be as effective for you to manage that team in Germany from your desk at home, or in your office. I’m hoping that people can still see the value in the cultural and the language training even if they’re not there physically to do things.

From a slightly different perspective, we’ve also seen that there’s been an uptake in interest in terms of cultural training or repatriation trainings. We’ve had some individuals that have decided to return early from assignments and are therefore returning to home. These individuals are really having to readjust to lots of change; having to curtail an assignment unexpectedly and then having to move back to a country. So we’ve had some interest in some cultural training around re-assimilation. Individuals have had the chance to do some self learning and some self study. We have some vendors that we can speak to clients about if they’d be interested, if they have any individuals that they feel might need some support.

Are you advising clients on healthcare services in host countries and their safety, availability etc for foreign nationals entering over the coming months?

This is certainly one of the aspects we have been looking at, introducing a minimum covid-19 update to assignees as they start coming back and as they start relocating. Obviously it is something that will change on a daily or weekly basis. But the basic information with regard to local norms, local practices, local laws, at the time that they arrived, would be done just before they leave. It is certainly part of the conversations that we’re having with the assignees when we speak to them.

Access the recording of this session here

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