Only 9 % of Expat Spouses are employed during their assignment

Pic credit: stockphoto

Pic credit: stockphoto

Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Survey shows that for relocating couples, 50 % of spouses were employed before the move, and only 9 % also during (2009). In other words, when considering the option to support their partner’s career, four out of five spouses do so at the cost of their own. 

Here are two mitigating circumstances that might make those numbers seem a little less scary:

  1. Some spouses might be unemployed because they cannot find suitable work due to economic challenges. It’s true, the labor market has been difficult to get into, especially in 2009 when this survey was taken. At the risk of sounding spoilt, I know from personal experience that working in another country is especially unappealing when the wages range at about 1/10th of what you’re used to earning.
  2. Other spouses might welcome the break in their working life and use the time abroad to pursue secondary education or start a family. In fact, I would love for Brookfield to add this distinction to their next survey, because I feel it makes a huge difference to the self-esteem of the spouse (and in consequence to the well-being of the family) if they have a choice.

Having said that, it is more likely that the spouse simply did not receive a work permit, because the sad fact is that obtaining such paperwork is costly and - in most countries - a bureaucratic nightmare. Still, 34 % of responding companies reported actually sponsoring spouse work permits.

Given that family issues and spouse career and resistance are the top reasons cited for both “critical family challenges” and “top reasons for assignment refusal,” the report points out:

With such widespread agreement about the nature of these challenges over such a long period of time, the lack of apparent success in addressing them is puzzling and they continue to appear year after year.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself, in fact, I’ve been wondering about this very same thing for some time now.

So, are you one of the four or the one who’s continuing to work? What were your choices? If you are one of the four who do not work anymore, which tips do you have for other readers to make the most of their time? Would you recommend volunteering? Why or why not?

(from the archives, first published in 2010)