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Workforce Mobility Safety Framework Guidelines Released

Worldwide ERC® adds its voice to the Safely Back to Work Initiative with the release of its Workforce Mobility Safety Framework. The document provides guidance in developing protocols for safely moving global talent and creating safe workforce mobility practices.

“We are pleased with our industry’s efforts to help companies ensure key elements of workforce mobility are being addressed,” said Randy Wilson, NEI Global Relocation President | CEO. “The Framework guidelines include high-level direction for mobility professionals to consider during these fluid and ever-changing times. As a member of the Worldwide ERC Government Affairs Council, I commend Lynn Shotwell, Worldwide ERC President and CEO, and Rebecca Peters, Worldwide ERC VP of Government Affairs, for leading this initiative and forming the framework guidelines.”

Topics and resources provided in the Framework include suggestions for:

  • Duty of Care
  • Workforce Planning
  • Tax Implications
  • Immigration
  • Travel
  • Housing (temporary and permanent situations)
  • Moving and Transportation

NEI Global Relocation is here to support the safe and successful movement of a global workforce and meet the needs of our clients. To access the framework guidelines and accompanying information, click the below link. If you have any questions, please reach out to your NEI representative for further assistance.


Managing COVID-19 Relocation Challenges

Since early January 2020, with the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, NEI has continued supporting our clients creatively and effectively with both intra-country relocations and global assignments or repatriations, where allowed. 

To start, we practiced and tested a Business Continuity event in January – specifically for COVID-19 – to ensure we were 100 percent ready. 

NEI’s Business Continuity Plan was activated and has been properly functioning since March 2020 when our processes were implemented. Our existing work-from-home program was quickly expanded to include most of our work force. We were able to continue supporting our clients and their relocating employees without any reduction in services, despite the constantly evolving situation.  

We continue to adjust our practices, advise clients, and counsel relocating employees on compliance with numerous states’ and countries’ evolving guidance for businesses.

Today, as countries in Europe have begun opening borders intermittently, for example, NEI has navigated the fluid changes in country-specific regulations each week to help clients and their employees maximize productivity and minimize stress.

Service Exceeding Expectations Never Stops at NEI

NEI’s consultative approach remained customized for each client to meet the specific business needs. As the global mobility industry challenges continued to evolve due to COVID-19, NEI proactively worked with all parties to maintain momentum as much as practically possible. When an everyday task becomes a puzzling challenge due to a worldwide pandemic, that’s when NEI’s resourcefulness is even more appreciated. For example:

THE NEI DIFFERENCE – Sunday Night COVID-19 Challenge Resolved by Monday Morning

An assignee from China in the U.S., who was working through another relocation management company (RMC), was told by its temporary living apartment management group that she needed to vacate in only eight days. This came during major COVID-19 challenges in Princeton, NJ – a stressful situation indeed, further complicated by her concerns about her family in China.

The RMC managing her relocation could not find suitable accommodations in the same facility and indicated that the only option was to move her across town. Understandably, she was concerned about moving, cleaning and unpacking in a new facility during the pandemic and very much wanted to stay.

Because NEI managed the U.S. Domestic portion of the client’s program, our client contact enlisted NEI for assistance on a Sunday evening. Through NEI’s quick team work with our service partners and internal teams, and within a matter of a few hours on Monday, we were able to share the happy news that our service partners found a unit in the very same corporate housing facility allowing her to change units without moving to a new facility.

Our client expressed their gratitude for NEI’s resourcefulness during the pandemic crisis. When it was time to reevaluate their global mobility program, they awarded 100 percent of their relocation business to NEI.

“THANK YOU VERY MUCH AGAIN. I`ve to tell you that your support and partnership is critical for our success. I informed your team about this case on the weekend and in less than 24 hours you came back to us with the solution. I really appreciate all your hard work and excellent support!                           ~ NEI Client Contact 

 

Earning Regular Accolades from Relocating Employees During COVID-19

 “My NEI Account Executive has been the epitome of professionalism, efficiency & calm during an incredibly challenging time! (COVID-19) Her recommendations, follow up and advice were invaluable. Anyone who does not utilize NEI is at a severe disadvantage. I cannot recommend my NEI Account Executive highly enough!!!  Outstanding work!!!”   

~NEI Client Relocating Employee

“The level of customer service my Account Executive and her assistant provided throughout the entire process was unbelievable! Day or night, weekday or weekend, before and during COVID-19, they were always available, empathetic, informed and helpful. They were simply amazing. As I told them last week, my wife and I feel like we had two friends working on our behalf, instead of simply being another customer.”  

~NEI Client Relocating Employee

“My NEI Account Executive was always available to answer any questions and for guidance. Even in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, she is friendly, courteous, and very helpful. Great Job! … The best experience was the helpful staff and availability, even during the current conditions.”

~NEI Client Relocating Employee

“My Account Executive’s coordination with my real estate selling agent made the process so much easier and satisfying. They were linked at the hip in terms of advising us similarly, and both understood the challenges associated with selling during this COVID-19 period.”   

~NEI Client Relocating Employee

“I was briefing my boss on the status of my upcoming move this morning. Closing on 5/6, packing here on 5/11, and moving in later that week.  He was amazed / stunned as to how quickly / smoothly my relocation was going... especially amidst COVID concerns. I relayed that my NEI and Realty teams were “the A Team”.  I did “knock on wood” to not jinx us (not that I’m superstitious), but this has been an amazing experience... especially amidst COVID. Appreciate all you’re doing to get me into my new role. The company recognizes and appreciates your efforts.”

~NEI Client Relocating Employee


Snapshot: The Pandemic's Impact on Mortgage Lending

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged our society in ways we couldn’t imagine even six months ago.  The home lending industry is no exception. 

Below, we explore how the U.S. lending industry is adapting in the following areas:

  • Record low interest rates and home inventory levels
  • Tightening of lending standards / modifying certain lending products
  • Providing online or curb-side services for social distancing when feasible

Record Low Interest Rates and Home Inventory Levels

With mortgage rates falling to record lows, experts wonder just how long this will continue. Even before COVID-19, rates had been sliding in response to market forces and Federal Reserve policies. Strong buyer demand has held steady for the most part as low home inventory rates continue to fuel competition and upward prices in many markets.

As further proof, a recent survey by LendingTree reported 53 percent of homebuyers are more likely to buy a home in the next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and an impressive 67 percent of potential homebuyers said the main reason they would be willing to move is to take advantage of the record-low mortgage rates.

Because of the low supply of available homes for sale now, home sale prices are exceptionally strong, but interest rates are predicted to increase should the economy and unemployment rates improve. The silver lining is that current interest rates clearly impact affordability. Danielle Hale, Chief Economist at Realtor.com, recently confirmed in an interview with The Washington Post, “Low rates are energizing home buyers with a boost in affordability and are bringing them back to the housing market, despite the swirling economic uncertainty.”

To navigate the interest rate environment, it’s recommended borrowers shop for the lender who is most knowledgeable to guide them through the process and the best fit – both in service and rates. NEI collaborates with knowledgeable, service-oriented lending firms who not only have a wide variety of loan products to offer but can guide transferees through the process. Relocating employees can also have these lenders run different mortgage scenarios, evaluating various loan products, and review the results and options with them, so transferees can make the best choice.

Increased Forbearance Requests Resulting in
Risk Mitigation Strategies

Changes in the mortgage industry have been implemented to mitigate risk as a result of ongoing high unemployment and the number of people requesting mortgage payment forbearance.

Nationally, approximately 8 percent of mortgages are in forbearance today -- which translates to over 4 million U.S. homes – and could influence the buying process if a transferee were in a forbearance agreement on their current property while trying to buy another.

As a result of the high unemployment and mortgage forbearance requests, many banks and lending firms have tightened their borrowing standards and criteria.

  • Borrowers may need to provide banks or mortgage companies updated income and/or employment verification documents closer to the time of closing than was required before COVID-19.
  • To reduce risk exposure further, some -- but not all – lenders around the country have discontinued certain mortgage products. Many have paused offering non-conforming and jumbo loans or raised down payments for jumbo loans.  For lenders that are still offering jumbo financing, guidelines are being reviewed across the board regarding down payment and credit scores.
  • Some lenders in the industry have raised minimum FICO scores for mortgage products, reduced acceptable loan-to-value percentages and may no longer accept new applications for home equity lines of credit products as companies limit their risk exposure in these uncertain economic times.

Online or Curb-side Services When Feasible

The industry has done a great job responding quickly to numerous COVID-19 challenges – innovating wherever possible and working collaboratively. Starting early in the process can help with the timing associated with new pandemic-related procedures and changes including:

  • Hybrid e-closings – Closing agents have become very agile in a very short timeframe to allow closings to happen in a socially distant manner. Hybrid e-closings have allowed borrowers to sign majority of closing documents in the comfort of their own home. Some lenders around the country are currently offering such e-closings; however, they may not be available in all 50 states.
  • Drive-thru closings and mobile notaries – Many title companies are using “drive thru” closings to minimize face-to-face contact. Some lenders are using remote notaries through webcams and others are using mobile notaries who can send a notary to the borrower to sign closing documents. Such remote signing options are based on temporary state Executive orders and other temporary authorizations, so their availability may end with short notice. While these remote options may not be available for all, they can benefit many.
  • Appraisals – Automated valuations, desktop appraisals and exterior updates have become more prevalent. For existing homes, lenders are leveraging drive-by, desk-top or exterior only appraisals. Yet even though lenders use desktop reviews and drive-by appraisals, they must still be conducted by licensed appraisers.
  • For new construction or vacant properties, appraisals and final inspections are happening in a business-as-usual way as interior inspections can be done without risk to the appraiser’s health. 
  • Verification of Employment (VOE) – Since most employees now work from home, lenders had to start using alternative methods for VOE. In lieu of 10-day pre-closing verification, a written VOE, paystub or bank statement evidencing payroll may often be permitted. 
  • Allowable age of documents – Approved age of documents required were reduced by most lenders (e.g., from 4 months old to no more than 2 months old), but many lenders also require updated documents from borrowers just prior to closing.

NEI recommends speaking with a lender early in the home finding and home purchase process and understanding what income documentation (recent pay stubs, W-2s, tax returns, etc.) a specific lender might need for loan approval.

Service Excellence and The Human Connection

Buying a home any time can be a little stressful, but a global pandemic can make it a bit more challenging.  Even though relocating employees appreciate the convenience of many digital tools to help them, NEI consistently hears that they truly appreciate always having an advocate with their NEI Account Executive and lending service partner just a phone call away.

We fully appreciate how important service excellence and the human connection is to the entire relocation process, including the more intricate mortgage process in today’s “new normal”.  NEI educates relocating employees and sets expectations for the processes when using a mortgage lender. The lender partner then provides an explanation of each step throughout the process, and prior to closing the sale, notifies the relocating employee and NEI of final closing costs.

Keeping our pulse on mortgage market trends for clients helps eliminate surprises. NEI makes every effort to help ease the financial burden placed on today’s relocating employee and when employees select one of NEI’s four preferred mortgage partners, they have access to key advantages including:

  • Direct billing of allowable closing costs per policy
  • Mortgage loans available in all 50 states
  • Competitive rates
  • Efficient application process, including applying for a loan, locking in a rate, being pre-approved, and learning about alternate loan products can all be accomplished conveniently online or over the phone
  • On-time closing guarantees
  • Second mortgages or mortgage subsidies for high cost of living benefits
  • Ability to assist international employees moving into the U.S. and establishing U.S. credit

Working in partnership with NEI’s lending service partner loan officers, we personalize, humanize and streamline the mortgage process to achieve Service Exceeding Expectations across all relocation aspects for satisfying and productive customer experiences. Said one recent NEI client transferee about their lending partner experience:

“I was very happy with the way loan officer handled the whole process of buying a house. He was very willing to do whatever it would take to be there if I had questions or needed anything. That is a great service that is hard to come about nowadays.”


INDUSTRY ALERT: PRESIDENTIAL PROCLAMATION

NEW BAN ON NON-IMMIGRANT WORKERS TO THE US

What Happened

On Monday evening, June 22nd, President Trump signed a Proclamation suspending several categories of foreign work visas as part of an effort to limit entry into the U.S.  It is an amendment to Presidential Proclamation 10014 of April 22, 2020 and both expands and extends the ban on green cards issued outside the U.S. until the end of the year.

What It Means

This Presidential Proclamation has important immigration restrictions that take effect immediately (12:01 am EDT June 24, 2020) and shall expire on December 31, 2020, but “may be continued as necessary”.

Among the details released, the following changes could significantly impact a client’s global mobility program and employee immigration into the U.S.:

  • The ban on new visas applies to H-1B and H-2B visas, as well as J-1 visas ”to the extent the alien is an intern, trainee, teacher, camp counselor, au pair or summer work travel program” and L-1 visas for workers being transferred within a company. Note: all suspensions of visas above also include restrictions to “any alien accompanying or following to join such alien.”
  • There will be exemptions for food supply chain workers and “any alien whose entry would be in the national interest”.
  • Medical workers and researchers assisting with the COVID-19 fight will also continue to be spared from the green-card suspension, though their J-1 visa exemptions are narrower.
  • These new restrictions will not apply to visa holders already in the U.S. or those outside the country who have already been issued valid visas.

Existing COVID-19 entry bans remain in effect for foreign nationals who have been physically present within the past 14 days – in the UK, Ireland, the Schengen countries, China, Iran, or Brazil – subject to certain exceptions, including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card holders) and their family members, as well as C (transit) or D (sea crewmember) non-immigrants, among others.

 What’s Next?

The Proclamation is expected to be challenged in court this week and the immediate effects will likely be limited as U.S. consulates around the world remain closed for most routine visa processing due to the pandemic. However, a continuation of this suspension - or new changes - could again take place on or before the Proclamation is set to expire at the end of the year.

In addition to Monday’s action, the White House noted it plans to enact several permanent changes to policy including awarding H-1B visas using a merit-based system that awards H-1Bs by highest salary and doing away with the H-1B visa lottery. It also aims to tighten rules around H-1B workers assigned to third-party employers and contractors and re-calculates the wage scale to require companies to pay the visa holders higher salaries.

Who to Contact for More Information

As this continues to unfold with more certainty, NEI will convey the impact on our clients and the industry.
 
“NEI will stay on top of this important development and help our clients comply with the Proclamation impacting visas, immigration and relocation,“ says Michelle Moore, CPA, MPA, CGMA , NEI’s Chief Global Mobility Officer  “We will also help communicate these changes to our clients’ relocating employees and global mobility administrators accordingly,” says Moore.
 
In the interim, should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact NEI for help navigating the current travel restrictions and exemptions or reach out to Mollie Ivancic, NEI’s VP International Services. 
 
A link to the official White House release on this Proclamation can be found HERE.


NEI Cancels June 2-4, 2020 Omaha Client Conference

NEI has been closely monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and consulting with our clients and service partner network on its potential impact. The health and safety of our employees, customers and service partners is our highest priority, and after a thorough assessment, we have determined the best course of action is to cancel the June 2020 Talent Agility Symposium (TAS).

This decision was not made lightly, and we are immensely disappointed that we will not be able to host this event and help fuel opportunities for our clients.

  • First and foremost, we are cancelling to help keep everyone healthy and safe. As the coronavirus situation continues to evolve, it is increasingly more difficult to guarantee a healthy and safe environment for our attendees, even with the utmost precautions.
  • Second, for every client symposium, we make a promise to deliver a productive and valuable experience, where attendees leave with more knowledge, expertise, contacts and business opportunities. With more and more travel bans, and many understandably concerned with traveling, it is clear that moving forward with the event would compromise our ability to deliver on that promise.

This is an unprecedented situation for NEI and we appreciate your patience and support. We remain committed to our 2021 Talent Agility Symposium, scheduled for June 8-10, 2021. The symposium will be held in downtown Omaha at the Embassy Suites.


Additional Countries Impacted, CDC Guidance for U.S. Companies and Recommendations on Group Health Insurance Plans

Covid-19 Update

The coronavirus respiratory infection - known officially as COVID-19, which causes pneumonia-like symptoms - has been declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).  

The virus has infected nearly 84,000 around the globe with 94 percent of those cases in China, nearly three percent in South Korea and the remaining three percent distributed around the world with Italy and Iran showing large recent increases.

Northern Italy

Italy has seen the largest number of cases in Europe – over 650 to date.  Italian authorities have announced measures to try to halt the virus's spread. More than a dozen towns in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto have been placed in lockdown, leading to 50,000 residents now unable to leave without permission.  This quarantine could last for weeks, and schools and other public spaces, including theaters and museums, have emptied.  An estimated 100,000+ people are likely to be affected by the travel restrictions. Many U.S. universities are canceling study abroad programs in Italy and urging students to return to the U.S. amid the escalation of COVID-19.

Some NEI clients and other companies have expanded their restrictions to now include EMEA countries.  On-site visitors, consultants, and supplier visits are being restricted by several companies unless they can document their travel destinations for the 14 days prior to their visit. 

CDC Specific Guidance for U.S. Companies

The U.S. declared the outbreak a public health emergency and the UK declared it a "serious and imminent threat" to public health, announcing new authority to fight its spread. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided a comprehensive list of considerations for U.S. employers to consider within their “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), February 2020”.

 Recommended strategies for companies include:

  • Actively encourage sick employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness to stay home
    • Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies
  • Separate sick employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or who become sick during the day and send home immediately
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning of all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs 
  • Take additional action steps for employees who are well, but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19
  • Advising employees before traveling to take specific steps, such as:  Checking the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices 
  • Checking themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before travel and notifying their supervisor and staying home, if they are sick
  • Instructing employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment to notify their employer and promptly call a healthcare provider
  • Following company policy for obtaining medical care if the employee is outside of the U.S. and becomes sick or contacting a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to help them find an appropriate healthcare provider in that country   

For the full details on the above CDC recommended strategies and more information, please see the report on the CDC’s website at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/guidance-business-response.html

Insurance Plan Considerations

NEI recommends companies review their group health insurance plans - as well as any separate assignment, business traveler or other insurance plans covering their employees - to determine how charges related to the virus might be covered. It is NEI’s understanding that some clients have noted certain caveats or clauses within their policies that may exclude coverage for employees that have traveled to countries with a U.S. Department of State warning.  

We encourage all clients to review their policies with their benefits teams to understand in advance how COVID-19, related to travel or not, may be covered.

COVID-19 Impact to Global Mobility in China

Several of our household goods partners have reported the following global mobility impacts of COVID-19 in China.

  • Most of their partners in China have resumed operations on a very limited level
  • In many cases, a small number of staff members are in the office and working long hours
  • The process to get the required permission to enter buildings and expat communities requires much more time than normal
  • Coordination with transferees, many of whom are no longer in the country, is also taking extra time
  • Tight security throughout the country restricts the flow or movement of the staff and the goods
  • Flights and sailings continue to be cancelled, which has ripple effects throughout the global shipping industry
  • Shipments are moving very slowly without specific timeframes for an expected delivery date 

For any questions on a specific shipment targeted for delivery in or out of China, please reach out to your NEI contact.

NEI Global Relocation Assistance

NEI continues to monitor the situation as it progresses and will share updated information as it becomes available. Our pulse survey results were distributed recently and you can access a copy from the below link. Please understand that the survey results are from responses made from  4-6 of February.  

If you would like to discuss a plan of support for your traveling or on-assignment employees, please do not hesitate to reach out to your NEI representative or Mollie Ivancic, NEI’s VP, International Services.


Impact on Relocation

Covid-19 Update

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the world in new and evolving ways. In addition to the obvious health and economic issues, government responses to curtail its spread and support those affected are rapidly changing. The following summary focuses on our current state-of-affairs, as of this writing, and the anticipated impact on relocation and assignment management around the globe.

Based on reported numbers of active cases, the duration of the curve in China from lockdown to returning to work and beginning to reopen businesses was about eight weeks. Experts expect it will take several months to return to previous operational levels.

U.S. Real Estate Considerations

Because the COVID-19 pandemic is so fluid, it is uncertain how real estate markets will fare in the upcoming months. At the time of this writing, Dr. Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist for the National Association of Realtors, sees mixed effects on real estate from COVID-19 and, while societal response such as social distancing has affected the real estate market, acknowledges the future is difficult, if not impossible, to predict. 

 “With fewer listings in what’s already a housing shortage environment, home prices are likely to hold steady,” Yun said. “The temporary softening of the real estate market will likely be followed by a strong rebound once the economic ‘quarantine’ is lifted, and it’s critical that supply is sufficient to meet pent-up demand.”

With that in mind, Yun cautiously added: “The decline in confidence related to the direction of the economy coupled with the unprecedented measures taken to combat the spread of COVID-19, including major social distancing efforts nationwide, are naturally bringing an abundance of caution among buyers and sellers. However, Yun believes that the nation’s housing market could potentially be looking at “a V-shaped robust recovery” later this year. According to Yun, the underpinnings of the housing market remain strong, even though the coronavirus pandemic poses significant challenges that will undoubtedly result in “downward pressure” on existing home sales for the foreseeable future.

Unlike previous drops in home sales, as during the 2007-2009 subprime mortgage crisis, a real estate softening is not expected to last nearly as long by some.

“Assuming a strong fiscal and monetary policy response, pent-up demand from the spring buying season will help sales recover by the end of the year,” said Matthew Pointon, a property economist at Capital Economics, in an interview with CNBC, but added that “increasingly restrictive measures on people’s movement, and an imminent surge in unemployment,” could impact the market’s future.

Some experts are optimistic when comparing today to 2007-2009 as there were too many homes for sale in 2007, which caused prices to tumble. Today, there is a shortage of inventory that has caused an acceleration in home values. Demand for housing was especially strong before COVID-19 hit the U.S., thanks to favorable demographics and strong employment.  

Additionally, it’s much more difficult to qualify for a mortgage today than in the early 2000’s and home prices have also risen nicely over the last few years, leading to over fifty percent of U.S. homes having greater than 50% equity. Further, today’s owners haven’t been tapping into their home equity nearly as much as they did in 2005-2007.

What NEI is Seeing

While the full impact of COVID-19 on the nation’s real estate market will remain uncertain until the impact on the economy and labor force is determined, some NEI clients very recently have taken steps to address a potential, even temporary, real estate slow down to support their relocating employees and their ongoing business needs. 

Companies may want to consider temporary modifications during COVID-19 knowing that, while some proactive changes may result in cost increases, the cost increases could be less than if reacting later and could effectively help impacted employees/families now.

Some companies may want to consider the following – based on one’s unique business needs, program goals, corporate cultures and budgets:

< >Extending benefits for such components such as New Home Closing Costs, Old Home Closing Costs Reimbursement, Household Goods Moves -- up to 90 days in 30-day increments, with notification to the employee for 30 days at a time. NEI can track as “COVID-19 related” for clients to allow for clear identification and reporting.Requiring employees use a selected real estate agent to market their homes to qualify for home sale assistance.Extending home marketing time, if employees request more time to sell.Increasing the bonus to the maximum, regardless of when home is sold, if a home sale bonus program is based on selling the home within a certain number of days.Requiring list price restriction to home sale programs so employees list their homes within a certain percentage of the buy-out offer (or BMA or appraisal) to qualify for home sale assistance.Increasing the number of temporary living days, if employees are stalled in a temporary housing situation because of a travel ban.Offering or extending storage days if the employee must vacate and cannot gain access to the new home.HERE or on the graphic to link to that map.

Until things settle down and travel bans, lockdowns, and stay in place orders are lifted, relocations and assignments will need to be addressed on a case by case, country by country basis.

If the past course of this disease and the analysis provided by field experts are true, we should see the peak in Europe hit this week and, in the U.S., the following week, representing the first half of the global pandemic.

U.S. Mandated Paid Sick & Family Leave

In a 19 March 2020 post on the Worldwide ERC® Government Affairs page, Pete Scott, WERC Tax Counsel, discussed a new law that was passed, mandating paid sick and family leave in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Businesses with less than 500 employees will be required to provide paid sick and family leave for up to 12 weeks to most employees. Those businesses will be entitled to an offsetting credit against employment taxes.

While this new legislation is unlikely to affect most companies that relocate employees, it does have the potential to impact those providing services to relocating employees. Brokerages, appraisers and destination service providers may experience the tightest squeeze and the smaller the company, the greater the potential impact will be due to cash flow concerns.

In Summary

NEI has helped client programs successfully modify and navigate the constant ebb and flow of the real estate market and the relocation industry for over 35 years.

Our general advice is to continue with relocation and assignment plans and submit authorizations based on an anticipated timeline provided by the experts so business can get in the que to avoid extensive delays as the world returns to normal.

Your NEI representative and the NEI Global Mobility Strategies team remain available – at any time – to help your company meet your recruitment, relocation and retention goals by discussing temporary or ongoing program modifications to help your business and relocating employees succeed.

The coronavirus respiratory infection - known officially as COVID-19, which causes pneumonia-like symptoms - has been declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).  

The virus has infected nearly 84,000 around the globe with 94 percent of those cases in China, nearly three percent in South Korea and the remaining three percent distributed around the world with Italy and Iran showing large recent increases.

U.S. Real Estate Considerations

Italy has seen the largest number of cases in Europe – over 650 to date.  Italian authorities have announced measures to try to halt the virus's spread. More than a dozen towns in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto have been placed in lockdown, leading to 50,000 residents now unable to leave without permission.  This quarantine could last for weeks, and schools and other public spaces, including theaters and museums, have emptied.  An estimated 100,000+ people are likely to be affected by the travel restrictions. Many U.S. universities are canceling study abroad programs in Italy and urging students to return to the U.S. amid the escalation of COVID-19.

Some NEI clients and other companies have expanded their restrictions to now include EMEA countries.  On-site visitors, consultants, and supplier visits are being restricted by several companies unless they can document their travel destinations for the 14 days prior to their visit. 

CDC Specific Guidance for U.S. Companies

The U.S. declared the outbreak a public health emergency and the UK declared it a "serious and imminent threat" to public health, announcing new authority to fight its spread. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided a comprehensive list of considerations for U.S. employers to consider within their “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), February 2020”.

 Recommended strategies for companies include:

  • Actively encourage sick employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness to stay home
    • Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies
  • Separate sick employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or who become sick during the day and send home immediately
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning of all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs 
  • Take additional action steps for employees who are well, but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19
  • Advising employees before traveling to take specific steps, such as:  Checking the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices 
  • Checking themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before travel and notifying their supervisor and staying home, if they are sick
  • Instructing employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment to notify their employer and promptly call a healthcare provider
  • Following company policy for obtaining medical care if the employee is outside of the U.S. and becomes sick or contacting a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to help them find an appropriate healthcare provider in that country   

For the full details on the above CDC recommended strategies and more information, please see the report on the CDC’s website at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/guidance-business-response.html

Insurance Plan Considerations

NEI recommends companies review their group health insurance plans - as well as any separate assignment, business traveler or other insurance plans covering their employees - to determine how charges related to the virus might be covered. It is NEI’s understanding that some clients have noted certain caveats or clauses within their policies that may exclude coverage for employees that have traveled to countries with a U.S. Department of State warning.  

We encourage all clients to review their policies with their benefits teams to understand in advance how COVID-19, related to travel or not, may be covered.

COVID-19 Impact to Global Mobility in China

Several of our household goods partners have reported the following global mobility impacts of COVID-19 in China.

  • Most of their partners in China have resumed operations on a very limited level
  • In many cases, a small number of staff members are in the office and working long hours
  • The process to get the required permission to enter buildings and expat communities requires much more time than normal
  • Coordination with transferees, many of whom are no longer in the country, is also taking extra time
  • Tight security throughout the country restricts the flow or movement of the staff and the goods
  • Flights and sailings continue to be cancelled, which has ripple effects throughout the global shipping industry
  • Shipments are moving very slowly without specific timeframes for an expected delivery date 

For any questions on a specific shipment targeted for delivery in or out of China, please reach out to your NEI contact.

NEI Global Relocation Assistance

NEI continues to monitor the situation as it progresses and will share updated information as it becomes available. Our pulse survey results were distributed recently and you can access a copy from the below link. Please understand that the survey results are from responses made from  4-6 of February.  

If you would like to discuss a plan of support for your traveling or on-assignment employees, please do not hesitate to reach out to your NEI representative or Mollie Ivancic, NEI’s VP, International Services.


New Travel Restrictions and Closures

Covid-19 Update

Due to client feedback NEI has received for coverage of this rapidly evolving issue, we would like to share two important, new updates: a White House Executive Order impacting new travel restrictions and new Closures throughout the APAC region.

Coronavirus now has been declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of State has also updated its travel advisory to “Level 4: Do Not Travel” for China. The virus has infected almost 24,662 people across 28 countries with 493 deaths - 99 percent of those cases occurring in China.

Participate in Our Survey

Please click HERE to participate in our survey to consolidate the various actions being taken by Global Mobility professionals in response to the Coronavirus Outbreak.  Deadline to complete the survey has been extended to 6 February at 5:00 pm ET so we can provide a timely response to participants by week's end.

Executive Order Defining New Travel Restrictions

To help contain the outbreak from China, the United States, by White House Executive Order (E.O.), “Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus”, began implementing strict travel restrictions that went into effect Sunday night 2 February at 5 PM. ET.

The E.O. includes temporarily denying entry to foreign nationals who visited China in the 14 days prior to their arrival in the U.S.   Restrictions also apply to U.S. citizens who have been in China's Hubei province in the two weeks prior to their return to the U.S.   Upon their return, those citizens will be subject to a mandatory quarantine of up to 14 days.   The E.O.’s Sec.  2 provides a 10-point bullet list of limited exceptions to the ban for some non-immigrants related to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. A link to the E.O. can be found HERE.

Eleven Designated Airports in U.S.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued instructions that direct all flights from China – and all passengers who have traveled to China within the last 14 days – to be routed through one of eleven (11) U.S. airports. At these eleven airports, the government has established enhanced screening procedures and has the capacity to quarantine passengers, if needed.  If passengers are screened and show no symptoms, they will be re-booked to their final destination and asked to "self-quarantine" inside their home, DHS stated.

Considerations

Due to these new restrictions, it is possible employees/families may need to remain in China as many airlines have temporarily cancelled flights to and from the country.   If assistance is needed with housing options or extending housing, please let your NEI representative know. 

Employers and visa applicants in both China and the U.S. should expect continued delays. Employers should be prepared to be flexible with employee schedules and start dates.  Similar delays are occurring for those needing to deregister from China.  If an inability to travel to/from China has an impact on one’s visa status, we recommend contacting a member of your NEI team or your visa and immigration partner for discussion. NEI can help clients explore other travel options and their employees’ immigration needs, including potentially applying for a visa at a third-country consulate.

Increased Closures Throughout the Region

Various government offices, schools and businesses have announced closures. In all cases, it would be best to check websites or call before making a personal visit.  Some examples that would impact mobile employees:

China

  • The U.S. Embassy and consulates in China are canceling all immigrant and non-immigrant visa appointments the week of 3 February
  • Local closures of businesses or reduced staffing may impact services

Hong Kong

  • Kindergartens and schools are closed until at least March 2
  • Government offices will have limited office hours; this will impact HKID registrations and visa and immigrations services

Taiwan

  • Schools are closed until February 25

South Korea

  • Approximately 500 schools have suspended classes

Singapore and Malaysia

  • Visa and immigration applications from China have been temporarily suspended

Developing Information

In a developing story from Thailand, the Ministry of Public Health on Sunday said they discovered a medical treatment that rendered the new strain of Coronavirus impotent in 48 hours with one 70-year-old patient. While the finding will be shared with the international medical community, they warned that the method posed a negative reaction in another instance and more testing is needed.

NEI Global Relocation Assistance

NEI continues to monitor the situation as it progresses and will share updated information as it becomes available.   If you missed our prior update on how other companies are approaching this related to their mobile employee population, you can access that article HERE.

If you would like to discuss a plan of support for your traveling or on-assignment employees, please do not hesitate to reach out to your NEI representative or Mollie Ivancic, NEI’s VP, International Services.


Corporate Reactions to Corinavirus

Covid-19 Update

Due to the substantial interest in NEI’s “Coronavirus Update” sent Friday, 24 January, we are providing information on the various actions we see our global clients taking as the Coronavirus spreads across Asia and the rest of the world.

Situation Update as of 30 January: (updated 2/3/2020)

  • In China, 17,302 cases of the virus have been confirmed with 361 deaths 
  • Outside of China, 186 cases have been confirmed with one death in the Philippines. People are falling ill in Germany, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam - never having visited China
  • Nearly 60 million people are under partial or full travel restrictions in China; the U.S., Japan, and several other countries are organizing flights through the government to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan
  • Numerous airlines around the world have announced plans to reduce the number of flights operating to China or stop flying to the country entirely, such as Germany's Lufthansa airline, which has canceled all flights to and from China until 9 February
  • Other airlines are offering customers refunds on flights to China

Various Actions Global Companies are Now Taking

NEI encourages companies to take a proactive, advice-based approach to formulate the best plan for each unique situation. We have been in collaboration with numerous client medical directors, internal security departments and global mobility stakeholders to develop initial guidelines for the current situation. 

The symptoms of the Coronavirus are similar to other respiratory diseases, including flu and the common cold, so the first questions that should be asked include:

  • Have you travelled in the last two weeks to a high-risk area?
  • Have you been in contact with someone who has travelled to a high-risk area?

If the answer to either of the above questions is YES and the employee is experiencing any of the following symptoms within 10-14 days of such contact, they should seek medical assistance, according to the World Health Organization (WHO.int):

  • Feeling tired
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A high temperature
  • A cough and/or sore throat

If the answer to both of the above questions is NO, there are a variety of steps companies are taking – ranging from cautionary to more strict steps, including evacuation – at each company’s discretion per its business environment, corporate culture and unique situations.  These include, but are not limited to:

  • Placing a HOLD until further notice on various situations involving the transit of employees/families to and from China for:
    • New assignments
    • Scheduled repatriations, depending on the locations, although some clients are continuing with repatriations at employee/family and client discretion
  • Asking travelers to STAY where they are:
    • Having employees currently in China or who have just traveled from China to self-quarantine themselves in their residence for a period of 10-14 days if they feel they might have been exposed
    • Business travelers in the APAC region, while on assignment in China, should not return to their China location and discuss where to go with their company’s health, security and human resources departments
    • Employees who are on home leave from China assignments should stay and work in the home leave location. If the employees were on leave in another country, having them remain in place and providing Temporary Living accommodations until it is deemed appropriate to return to China
    • Restricting travel to, from or within China of any non-essential staff, including the cancelation of all spouse / children family visit trips to employees in China
  • REMIND employees of potential challenges:
    • Those in the middle of destination visits or settling in trips with Destination Service Providers (DSPs) may be delayed by local China travel restrictions and closures
    • Area tours will likely avoid crowded areas and may include drive-by visits of locations that are usually walking tours with DSPs, such as medical facilities and wet markets
    • Delays of shipments and delivery of household goods were already experienced by the extended public holiday and the outbreak will likely further impact ports and related services

No two companies are alike and the approaches to the outbreak will vary significantly between companies. Some are evacuating employees/families back to their home country.

Lastly, some good advice from International SOS who recommends that companies not look at this virus as a single, isolated event, but to set an overall policy related to all types of infectious disease-related issues as part of their disaster recovery plans.

NEI continues to monitor the situation as it progresses and share information updates as they become available. If you would like to discuss a plan of support for your traveling or on-assignment employees, please do not hesitate to reach out to your NEI representative or Mollie Ivancic, NEI’s VP, International Services.


Coronavirus Outbreak and Proactive Steps

To help halt the spread of the Coronavirus in China, which has left 3,000 sick and 80 dead, Chinese authorities on Friday greatly expanded a travel lockdown in central China to include 12 cities near the center of the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei province - in effect quarantining about 35 million people. Authorities have canceled major events in Beijing during the Lunar New Year holiday period.

As much remains unknown about the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday the viral illness in China is not yet a global health emergency. WHO defines a global emergency as an "extraordinary event" that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.  WHO said it will not ask airlines and airports to go beyond their current screening efforts.    

However, airline and airport officials in the U.S. are examining passengers arriving on international flights that may be exhibiting certain symptoms. Other major global hubs, like Hong Kong and London’s Heathrow, have now also begun to monitor people disembarking flights from the center of the outbreak. Additional information related to the virus and its impact to travel can be found at the Center for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov.

Impact on Mobility Programs and Assignees

As a company’s Duty of Care obligation is to protect employees wherever in the world they are employed, NEI encourages companies take a proactive, advice-based approach. This may range from information sharing to formal briefings on the current virus situation and carefully examining employee / family international travel plans. 

“We encourage companies to consider all options to work with assignees who may need assistance and determine how to advise employees traveling or on assignment in China," says Michelle Moore, NEI Chief Global Mobility Officer.  “Employees should be aware of Coronavirus symptoms and confirm where local medical resources / hospitals are should they need treatment. Individuals should be encouraged to seek medical attention if they develop respiratory symptoms within 14 days of visiting Wuhan and are either still in or returning from visiting China.”

NEI will continue to monitor the situation as it progresses and will share information updates as they become available.  If you would like to discuss a plan of support for your traveling or on assignment employees, please do not hesitate to reach out to your NEI representative or Mollie Ivancic, NEI’s VP, International Services.