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The world has been living in a permacrisis, defined as “an extended period of instability and insecurity” since at least 2015. 

While recent events such as Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and now Israel come to mind, many examples predate these, including natural disasters that are proliferating due to climate change, the global financial crisis, and political instability caused by events such as the George Floyd protests or the Arab Spring. 

Going forward, it's likely the world may see a combination of geopolitical, environmental, economic, and health crises with greater frequency and in closer succession. This would mean potential threats to business continuity will happen with greater regularity.

What Is Business Continuity?

Business continuity refers to the strategic and tactical planning undertaken by an organization to ensure that it can continue operating during and after a disruptive event.

It involves identifying critical operations and systems and implementing plans and measures to maintain or rapidly restore critical business functions in the face of unforeseen disruptions, such as natural disasters, cyber-attacks, or other crises.

This process is essential for minimizing downtime and financial loss while ensuring the ongoing viability of the business.

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Business Continuity Means Mobility

Human resources and global mobility professionals are well-versed in crisis response and disaster recovery, as training has become more necessary in recent years. 

Speed is a crucial element of crisis management. HR professionals should make practical immigration and mobility considerations part of their standard playbook, and ensure it’s up-to-date and stress-tested.

The general guidance for business continuity management is broken into three parts:

  1. Know in advance who the key stakeholders are as well as their roles and responsibilities
  2. Have a geographic spread of responders and people responsible in the event that some are directly impacted and unable to perform their role
  3. Perfection can be the enemy of good. It has to be good enough as long as organizations are agile and can pivot to maintain business operations.

The Five Key Areas of Business Continuity

Data is instrumental during a crisis

What has become clear in scenarios where employees have to be evacuated from one country to another is how important it is to obtain and maintain key employee and dependents data. 

You need this to be able to do a few things: 

  1. Identify all impacted employees and assess risk as well as consider options for immediate evacuation for safety. 
  2. Consider short- and long-term options for work locations. 
  3. Take decisive action quickly to relocate employees. 

Many organizations may be unaware of the nationalities of their employees as this data is not routinely captured because data gathering can sometimes be seen as an invasion of privacy. However, in a crisis, having the correct data is the key to the entire process. 

As companies look to collect this data, it is imperative they also collect the employees’ family members’ nationalities as this data is even less likely to be captured.

Some nationalities are, in reality, easier to move quickly than others. For example, security teams may organize charter flights or even boats to evacuate personnel but in an emergency scenario often do not consider the nationalities of those in question and whether they will actually be allowed to board the flight or enter the destination country.  

It is essential for the professionals responsible for the emergency movement of their employees to be realistic about what is possible within their organization regarding the capability of HR systems to maintain a data depository. 

It may not be necessary to have all data for everyone globally, and this may indeed be prevented by local laws in some jurisdictions. But having a clear plan on where the security concerns might most obviously lie and ensuring that data for those employees and their dependents is available, will go a long way in organizing exits.

For example, during the run-up to Brexit, many organizations did not have data on UK nationals in Europe and Europeans in the UK—they’d simply never needed this.

However, due to the timeline, there was enough time to gather this information and take the necessary action to maintain immigration statuses and ensure business continuity. This is not the case in truly urgent situations, as seen in the past few years in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

If you're using an employer of record in a certain region, there will be risks to mitigate and collaborative efforts to organize as part of that.

Author's Tip

Data is only good while it remains valid. It is important to set up a mechanism to maintain and update it, such as implementing regular cadence of reminders to employees supported by the appropriate technology platform.

Workforce management during a crisis

A workforce management strategy enables the development of a plan to effectively move the workforce to ensure business continuity and make educated decisions when considering available options. 

In some cases, this may not require actual movement from the country for all staff, but an individualized plan for specific staff who may be needed to continue to run operations in the affected location should be created.

When conducting an analysis, a company should consider (in conjunction with their immigration service provider) the following relevant factors:

  • Where can staff travel on short notice for safety purposes? Where are the visa-free locations or those where they can obtain a visa on arrival?
  • Can an individual work there short or long-term? How long will it take to secure work authorization?
  • How will they stay abreast of rapid and frequent changes to immigration regulations and travel options?
  •  What are the various remote working considerations? For example, Digital Nomad visas, with some exceptions, tend not to always be usable options when time is of the essence. Companies and employees alike must take into account Permanent Establishment, tax and social security obligations, etc.
  • What are the specific talent requirements in various locations of a company?  While you may have a global footprint, the skillset of the affected employees may only match up with certain locations.
  • What is the risk management of moving people into the crisis location to support the response – e.g. moving security teams to support evacuations due to political instability witnessed in the past years in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
  • What are the various scenarios that need to be considered, such as instances where travel is not possible?
  • If the event impacts the company’s supply chain, what sort of regulatory hurdles will need to be navigated and what sort of contingency plans are in place to ensure business processes aren’t completely derailed.

Importance of having a travel ready workforce

Ensuring impacted individuals are travel-ready to the maximum extent possible is important for a seamless execution of a business continuity plan. 

In addition to having visibility of the nationalities of the impacted individuals, it is also essential to know what valid visas they already have as that can facilitate immediate travel. 

An Indian national in Israel, for example, might not have many options for travel, but if they hold a valid Schengen visa, US ESTA, UK visit visa, etc., suddenly a world of options opens up, at least for travel and safety in the short term. 

In terms of where impacted individuals can travel, in the first instance, it is preferable to have locations lined up where they can not only travel but also continue their work immediately.

If that is not an option, the next best thing is to consider locations where people can enter visa-free and switch their immigration status in-country. 

Sometimes, that might mean a break in work continuity if, for example, they cannot work while an application is pending. Other times it might mean a period of working from a hotel or apartment rather than attending an office.

For example, the United Arab Emirates offers visa on arrival to 70+ nationalities and allows the option to convert the visa into a remote working visa after arrival.

In the case of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the EU was quick to mobilize the Temporary Protection Status for Ukrainian nationals, making it a lot easier for people to continue working once they reached a safe location. But when some companies closed operations in Russia and wanted to move personnel it was more problematic, and options were more limited. 

Employees should ensure their passports are valid and have at least six months validity remaining. They should also have access to documents, such as marriage certificates, birth certificates for children, degree certificates, and so on. 

HR professionals should build this messaging into their onboarding and check-ins of foreign nationals to ensure they have the proper documentation on hand in case of travel on short notice.

Geolocation functionality?

As noted earlier, accurate and up-to-date data is critical in a crisis, but there are limitations on the quality and quantity of that data if managed manually. 

Companies could, and do, institute systems for tracking employee locations for their safety and security which typically include only the country where they are currently located, not the specific location within that country. 

Although organizations likely know the work location of their employees, they may not know whether they are currently there at the time of an emergency or if they are traveling. At a minimum, employees should be advised to register their presence with their home country embassy, especially if traveling to a high-risk country.

In the event of a disaster or another type of disruptive event, having up to date contact information for the employee and the ability to track their location using information technology can be remarkably helpful in navigating any staffing challenges.

Proactively develop a crisis management plan  

A structured approach at an organizational level can limit many challenges a company may encounter during a crisis. Organizations, especially those operating globally, are continuously dealing with one crisis after another. A crisis management plan will: 

  •  Increase risk awareness and aid with a risk analysis to inform any hot spots and action needed
  • Assist the organization to adapt quickly during emergency situations
  • Assist the key stakeholders in taking action promptly
  • Enable real-time monitoring and situational awareness which will be vital to effective decision-making ensure critical business functions are maintained
  • Reduce instability and uncertainty amongst employees in the aftermath of a crisis impacting their workplace.

Overall, the business continuity plan will minimize the impact of the crisis on the impacted employees and will facilitate business continuity. 

As part of your risk assessments, you’ll want to run a business impact analysis for a variety of scenarios and run table top exercises to help your emergency management team understand their roles and responsibilities to ensure preparedness and proper execution of your business continuity program.

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By Annie Weir

Annie is an Immigration Director in Fragomen, an international immigration law firm. With more than 20 years of immigration experience, Annie works within the firm’s European Coordination Centre to optimize Fragomen’s service delivery model.