Relocating International Employees to the EU: What You Need to Know in 2021

Got big hiring plans for 2021 but not sure what to expect when hiring from abroad in an ongoing pandemic? Having relocated more than 1,000 people from across the globe in 2020, Jobbatical can fill you in on what you need to know about relocating talent to Europe in general and to Estonia, Spain, and Germany in particular.

The state of international talent relocation

At the height of the pandemic in 2020, people and businesses were experiencing the fallout in very different ways. Layoffs and hiring freezes became distressingly common, while some businesses continued to hire and relocate talent from abroad. 

Over the past year, circumstances and outlooks on the international job market have fluctuated a lot, but one thing seems to hold true: relocating employees from abroad can still be done and probably isn’t going to grind to a full halt in the long run. As we’ve previously reported, relocation cases at Jobbatical saw a massive boost in 2020, rising by more than 300 percent.

Louise Worbey, Global Mobility Lead at KPMG, writes: “In many industries the need to physically be present for a client or to operate successfully within a market has been imperative, and while traditional physical mobility will likely decline in the immediate future, past recessions have shown that that it is unlikely to cease completely.” 

People, especially millennials, are restless and want to work abroad as much as ever. Employers offering relocation support right now will stand out in the eyes of top talent ready to move somewhere new. 

Here’s our guide to finding and hiring international talent that will supercharge your team. If you’ve already found the right people and now just need to get them to your location in Europe, let’s get to the lowdown on how talent relocation works during a pandemic.

The reality of talent relocation to the EU in 2021

In her article about flexibility and agility post-Covid, Louise Worby writes: “Any Global Mobility professional deploying assignees is likely to have seen more immigration rejections in the last 12 to 18 months than potentially they have experienced in their entire careers.” 

So far in 2021, things aren’t a whole lot simpler, but with vaccines available and the world adjusting to constant change, optimism is gaining ground. “As businesses start to re-imagine talent strategies and operating models, mobility will inevitably be impacted. Global Mobility teams will need to plan for potentially several waves of COVID-19 restrictions and a period of ongoing ‘shocks’," Deloitte reports.

According to Jobbatical data, relocating a new hire to the European Union took around three months on average during the height of the pandemic. But depending on the countries of origin and destination, as well as a thousand other moving parts, relocation processes can vary considerably in length. This means that even more so than before, employers should plan disruptions and delays into their timelines to avoid surprises. Due to entry restrictions all around the world, it might be tricky for talent to visit their nearest embassy to apply for a visa or residence permit for a Schengen country. And even when all their paperwork is in order, talent can still run into problems in transit.

“The main thing that employers need to take note of is that relocation may take a lot more time,” says Killu Vantsi, Global Mobility Lead at Jobbatical’s Estonian branch. “Changes at the last minute are very common, due to flight cancellations or entry restrictions, and much more support needs to be given to talents when they are traveling.”

Entry conditions and requirements vary by country, so here are some key stats and tips for the three top countries for Jobbatical’s relocation services: Estonia, Germany, and Spain.

Talent relocation to Estonia

In Estonia, the annual immigration quota was already filled in January. Authorities recommend not submitting any more applications for residence permits that fall under the quota. The annual immigration quota (the number of residence permits that can be issued) is 1,315 for 2021. The good news, of course, is that there are a number of exemptions: EU citizens, US and Japanese citizens, startup employees, ICT specialists, other top specialists, and family members of foreign employees. You can still get permits for anyone who falls into these categories. 

Though entry to Estonia is restricted because of the pandemic, relocation for employment purposes is still possible. Employers should keep in mind that timelines may be much longer than usual, caution Jobbatical’s relocation and immigration advisors in Tallinn. Most Visa Facilitation Services centers are currently closed and it's not possible to apply for C-visas from countries with Estonian representations. If the closest embassy where talent could apply for a visa or temporary residence permit is located in a country with entry bans, it may not be possible for your new employee to apply for a visa or permit for some time. At the moment, relocating people from countries like Pakistan, Nigeria, and Bangladesh to Estonia is more complicated than usual, so make sure to get expert help. And if you’re relocating employees with families, keep in mind that due to current entry restrictions, family relocation might be limited.

In more good news, Estonia has just lifted the quarantine requirement for arrivals with proof of Covid-19 vaccination.

Talent relocation to Germany

Germany requires a negative Covid test 48 hours prior to entering the country. And they're not joking around—it is crucial that you pay extra attention to the accuracy of this timing. Jobbatical’s experience shows that your talent may be denied entry or not allowed on their flight even if their negative test was taken 48 hours and 35 minutes ago!

Relocating talent for employment purposes is definitely still possible, but like in other countries, Jobbatical’s in-house experts advise that the relocation process to Germany can take longer due to Covid. In addition, based on the talent’s position or qualification, immediate relocation might not even be feasible for some—only some types of talent (IT specialists, medical workers, etc.) are currently able to get a visa. 

According to our immigration specialists in Berlin and Munich, the most complicated countries to relocate talent from at the moment are Nigeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, and Pakistan. The longest it could take to relocate someone to Germany might be up to 18 months.

When preparing to relocate an employee to Germany, be aware of travel restrictions: Travel bans are in effect from several countries until February 17th.

If you’re relocating people to Germany, and to Berlin in particular, watch the recording of our recent webinar about talent relocation to Germany during Covid-19.

Talent relocation to Spain

Our relocation experts from Jobbatical’s Madrid office are reporting that the average time to relocate an international employee to Spain currently stands at 1.5-2 months, regardless of where you relocate people from. 

Like Germany, Spain also requires a negative Covid-19 test from arrivals coming in from high-risk countries. The test should be carried out within 72 hours before arrival. 

How to safely relocate international employees to the EU 

When relocating talent to your location in Europe, make sure you show them you have their needs and safety in mind. Relocation is an emotionally and psychologically taxing process even in the most uneventful times, and doubly so in a pandemic. 

  • Plan ahead and allow for delays and changes;
  • Prepare your employees and their families;
  • Be agile and responsive (even more so than usual).

Rules and restrictions can still change overnight. To make sure you never fall behind, consider working with a relocation service provider whose job it is to stay up to date on the latest developments and move your talent as smoothly and efficiently as possible. 

And don't be discouraged by the added complexity and potential delays—they are still outweighed by the value your new international team members will add to your team. Check out how Jobbatical’s relocation services can navigate this changing world for you and bring your talent to you safe and sound.

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