Reentry of expatriates (or repatriation) refers to the process and the outcomes of the return to the home country of employees who have been sent on assignments abroad. The reentry of expatriates has been given minimal attention until recently, as most practitioners and scholars focused on problems faced by expatriates during their stay in the host country (which is termed expatriation). However, in recent years it has become evident that repatriates also face substantial problems, which incur negative consequences for both themselves and their employers.
It is not unusual for repatriates to experience an intense cultural shock (which signifies the inability to accept and adapt to differences between the culture one is familiar with and the culture one is required to live and work in) when they return to their mother country after completing their assignments. It can be similar to the cultural shock experienced by expatriates when they are sent abroad. This is because these individuals have stayed for substantial amounts of time (normally for a minimum of three years, but in some cases for considerably longer) in countries with different cultures and have adapted and functioned within these cultural environments. Cultural values, assumptions, habits, and behavioral patterns are entirely learned. Hence, during the assignment to the host country, individuals tend to learn and acquire the cultural characteristics of the host country, while at the same time they unlearn (or set in latent mode) the cultural features of their home country. In this sense, repatriation may require similar levels of cultural adaptation as expatriation.
There are, however, additional problems that go beyond cultural preadaptation. These can be categorized in terms of problems in personal readjustment and problems in reabsorption to the home country workplace. Problems in personal readjustment include the loss of fringe and other benefits that are typically enjoyed by expatriates; loss of certain privileges; and in some cases, “demotion” in the cultural lifestyle. For example, expatriates normally enjoy attractive financial packages that are lost upon return to the home country; a fact that forces them and their families to adjust to lower standards of living. At this point it must be kept in mind that in most cases personal readjustment includes the family, which tends to play a pivotal role in the lives of the majority of individuals.
Problems in reabsorption to the home country workplace include dealing with organizational changes while abroad. It is likely, for example, that during the time the individual has been abroad, the home country unit the individual was based in restructures and the individual’s position either becomes redundant or less pivotal. It is also likely that while abroad key peers, mentors, and allies of the individual in his/her home country workplace are transferred or leave the organization.
Other problems may stem from technological advances in the home country operation while abroad. Such advances are likely to make the knowledge and skills of the individual (for which he/she was sent abroad in the first place) obsolete in the home country; meaning that the value the repatriate adds to his/her company upon return has to be reconsidered and adjusted at lower levels. The home country unit in which the individual was based may also learn to operate without him/her, and may “forget” the contributions and value of the individual.
It appears that the majority of repatriates experience work readjustment and reabsorption problems in various degrees. These are likely to result in negative evaluations of the organization, which may be manifested in terms of repatriates’ perceptions that they have been “demoted” upon return to the home country, that their acquired foreign experience is neither appreciated nor used, and that the organization misled them in its promises. These, in turn, are translated in low motivation and high turnover intentions. Indeed, evidence suggests that repatriates are significantly more likely than other employees to leave their employer.
Because of the problems experienced by expatriates, and consequently by their employing organizations, a number of methods have been developed to manage the transition back home smoothly:
- Establishing repatriation agreements. This should take place before the individual leaves for the expatriate assignment. Repatriation agreements reduce the likelihood that false expectations develop and, hence, reduce the likelihood that repatriates feel that they have been misled or betrayed by their employer.
- Mentoring or sponsorship during the expatriate assignment by senior colleagues or peers in the home country. This increases the likelihood that individuals are kept informed on changes and developments in the home country while abroad and, hence, reduces the likelihood that individuals face totally unexpected situations upon return.
- Maintenance of regular contact between the home operation and the individual during the expatriate assignment. This can be achieved in terms of regular memos as well as briefings during the visits of the expatriate to the home operation. The advances in information and communication technology greatly facilitate the implementation and running of such policies.
- A dedicated human resources unit to deal with repatriate and expatriate issues. Some large corporations have resorted to the establishment of such units. The specialist unit can function as a link between the individual and the home country and can assess the personal and professional needs of the individual before his/her return to the home country in order to identify (a) areas in which the repatriate can contribute to the home operation and (b) knowledge, skills, and competencies of the repatriate that need improvement.
- Stewart Black, “Coming Home: The Relationship of Expatriate Expectations With Repatriate Adjustment and Job Performance,” Human Relations (v.45, 1992);
- Shu-Cheng Steve Chi and Shu-Chen Chen, “Perceived Psychological Contract Fulfillment and Job Attitudes Among Repatriates,” International Journal of Manpower (v.28/6, 2007);
- Michael Dickmann and Noeleen Doherty, “Exploring the Career Capital Impact of International Assignments Within Distinct Organizational Contexts,” British Journal of Management (v.19/2, 2008);
- Jean-Marc Hachey, The Big Guide to Living and Working Overseas (Intercultural Systems, 2007);
- Mitchell R. Hammer, William Hart, and Randall Rogan, “Can You Go Home Again? An Analysis of the Repatriation of Corporate Managers and Spouses,” Management International Review (v.38/1, 1998);
- AnneWil Harzing and Joris Van Ruysseveldt, International Human Resource Management (Sage, 2004);
- Tiina Jokinen, Chris Brewster, and Vesa Suutari, “Career Capital During International Work Experiences: Contrasting Self-Initiated Expatriate Experiences and Assigned Expatriation,” International Journal of Human Resource Management (v.19/6, 2008);
- John M. Mezias and Terri A. Scandura, “A Needs-Driven Approach to Expatriate Adjustment and Career Development: A Multiple Mentoring Perspective,” Journal of International Business Studies (v.36/5, 2005);
- Arvind V. Phatak, International Dimensions of Management (PWS, 1992);
- Rosalie L. Tung, “Career Issues in International Assignments,” Academy of Management Executive (v.2/3, 1988).