Virginia, US

In my capacity as a Global Client Services Manager at Fragomen, I am on occasion involved in RFPs to win global contracts to manage a company’s immigration program. One differentiator, we include in those responses is often that we think globally and act locally. It is a catchy phrase, but what does it mean? Luckily, in my day job actually managing these client programs, I have gained a great feel for what this means.

The immigration landscape

Historically, large multi-national companies managed a myriad of local law firms and relocation companies to move people around the world. The typical expat assignment involved a person moving from one of the major economic hubs of the world (e.g. United States, Great Britain, France, Germany) to all various parts of the world on multi-year assignments. The expats would receive enormous benefits packages and would ordinarily be executive-level. On any given move, the company would engage with a local provider to ensure the proper permits were in place and then the move took place.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and there has been an explosion in the international movement of people from any point in the world to any other point in the world. The assignments may be long-term, permanent, short-term and sometimes only a few weeks or months. The skills required in a given market may be specialized in nature or involve a project of great importance. Governments all over the world have implemented more and more immigration controls to reflect this growth of the international movement and travel, and the dangers of non-compliance are greater than they ever have been. Technology and information sharing allows for better enforcement.

Moving to a globally-managed program

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a few large companies principally headquartered in the United States began to seek firms that could manage moves all over the world. The companies did this to limit costs and difficulties in managing so many local vendors, particularly as the number of countries involved in grew exponentially. In turn, firms such as Fragomen began to build their own network of vendors around the world to assist their clients. A central management system was created and much of the communication ran through a team of people based in the United States. Over time, that model has changed dramatically.

Thinking globally, acting locally

A system whereby all communications were managed through a central person or team was not particularly efficient. Even more important, the local expertise was diluted and the local relationships with the host company were often lost. When a program is too closely managed from the headquarters, a certain level of frustration and resentment can build with local HR managers, local project managers, and business leaders. Moreover, there can be a sense in the market that the company headquarters and the firm they have chosen to manage their program do not understand their market. This can foster a lack of trust on whether the firm chosen even understands the local immigration laws.

The solution to the conundrum has found itself in building a network of offices, empowering our lawyers in the market to build local client relationships and trust. Although still centrally managed in the sense that there is synchronisation of service level standards, rules of communication, and reporting (e.g. case status, spend, KPIs), the best model for me has been to encourage all of our teams around the world to build relationships with company contacts at that level, to provide their expertise directly to those that require it, and to smooth the path to the best result for the company both locally and globally.

It has been a progression in thinking to get to this point, and being involved in it day-in, day-out, I often take it for granted. There are, however, a number of companies still coming to the realization that a globally managed program that allows its local businesses to still have a part can be accomplished. With transparent communication, clear goals, and strong leadership, it certainly can be done.