Have Laptop, Will Travel

“The world’s my home… When I’m mobile”: ‘Going Mobile’ by The Who, 1971

A glance around the business class lounge at any airport lounge will bring you face to face with numerous varieties of that modern day creature, "The Mobile Worker". Logging in the available workstations, checking email on their BlackBerries, or using cell phones to speak with their assistant at the home office, these travelers are the modern incarnation of the "Global Economic Elite" ("GEE").

WHO ARE THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC ELITE?

There are two general archetypes of GEEs. The first are individuals who bring their universally transferable skills to various locations around the world. This group includes pilots, doctors, nurses, financial analysts, management consultants, engineering and computer consultants, artisans, musicians and actors, and skilled-trades people.

The second group is individuals who are able to operate from any location, which has sufficient technological infrastructure. They include money managers, remote business operators, and mail order or on-line service providers. This group also includes internationally orientated lawyers such as the author. A significant number of GEEs are a hybrid of the two archetypes and find their need to travel varies according to their personal or professional career life cycle. However it is the rare GEE who never engages in at least some type of business travel.

In order to be competitive in the modern global economy, every country must have a critical mass of GEEs operating within their borders. This truism was explained by Professor Ian Angell of the London School of Economics in his landmark book, “The New Barbarian Manifesto” (Kogan Page 2000).

“The income of these owners of intellectual and financial wealth will increase substantially. They will be made welcome anywhere in the world, no matter what their age, race, sex, colour or creed. In an attempt at ‘right-sizing’, companies and countries will be scouring the globe, competing with each other to attract this top quality ‘people product’, dragging them off the planes if necessary. Knowledge workers now have a choice. They can stay with the nations of their birth, providing of course that the price is right, or they can join the new barbarian hordes of ‘economic mercenaries’ somewhere else, thereby ransacking the old order.” (p. 55-56)

Unfortunately while I agree with the theoretical soundness of Prof. Angell’s statement, I find that the ‘on the ground’ reality is often quite different. GEEs don’t deal with Finance and Immigration Ministers at the arrival counter of airports. Rather they deal with front-line bureaucrats who may be ignorant of the economic benefit that GEEs bring; feel that they are the protectors of the domestic work force or simply jealous of the obvious prosperity of the GEEs in front of them. As a result GEEs themselves or the organizations which are seeking their presence must plan ahead to ensure their smooth and timely access to all of the jurisdictions in which they hope to reside or operate.

THE PROPER CARE AND FEEDING OF THE HIGHLY MOBILE ELITE

If you are a GEE or are the Human Resource Manager responsible for attracting or retaining external and/ or internal mobile workers, then you need to have a proper immigration strategy in place long before the plane touches down on the tarmac. As in most effective problem solving exercises there are four basic steps that should be followed. In short they are:

Step 1 Investigate and Evaluate: Review the individual professional and personal necessities/preferences of each particular GEE. This step would include determining the following:

  • Existing citizenship(s) and residence status(es)
  • Breakdown of frequency of travel to various countries (i.e. occasional day visits, short-term assignments, long-term or permanent relocations);
  • Nature of activities during travel to various countries (i.e. meetings at hotel, site visits for discussions, ‘hands-on’ work or direct involvement with locally based workers, senior administrative duties);
  • Economic impacts if unable to enter or remain in a given country;
  • Local presence requirements (i.e. operate out of hotel room or customer’s location or need to establish a permanent physical base of operations);
  • Accompanying family members (i.e. will they be working or attending school);
  • Employment/ labor standards regulation (employee vs. contractor);
  • Minimizing global tax burden (e.g. restricting time in a given location); and
  • Medical or minor criminal complications.

Step 2 Analyze and Strategize: Work with qualified immigration counsel to determine ‘best practices’ for travel for business meetings; determine means of acquiring required ‘work permits’ (also study permits for children); review advantages and means of securing ‘permanent residence’ and citizenship (including reviewing related tax and dual citizenship issues).

Step 3 Execute: Work with qualified immigration counsel to determine what elements of the strategy can be completed directly by either the GEE or the Human Resource Manager; and what elements are so complicated or important that outside counsel should be involved.

Step 4 Monitor: The immigration counsel should monitor and advise as to on-going changes to immigration laws and administrative practices which may present difficulties or opportunities to GEEs or the organizations that they deal with. As the immigration counsel is dealing with a number of cases, across a variety of situations and over an extended period of time, they should have a more accurate understanding of current trends than a given GEE who may have had a single negative (i.e. refusal) or positive (i.e. no questions asked) experience.

Given the cost of a missed business meeting or the ability to operate in a chosen market, proper immigration strategies are a ‘mission critical’ requirement for GEEs. Furthermore increased scrutiny in a post-September 11th world, which is also struggling with the shift of economic power away for fixed local workers to mobile GEEs means that it is even more important for individuals to not rely solely on their ability ‘to talk their way in’. This is especially true when claiming that you are just here ‘visiting friends’, could result in a long-term bar for misrepresentation.

The turn of the millennium is a time for unbounded potential for the Global Economic Elites. However that potential can be frustrated or even severely curtailed if you believe the myth that the world has no borders.

Written by David S. Lesperance,Barrister & Solicitor.

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