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Covid-19 – The End of Global Mobility

Author: Birgitte Ovesen

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone. What happens in the future with Global Mobility as we know it today in terms of expatriates, commuters, business travelers and foreign workers – a very important part of the whole globalization ….? Will we still see a great number of assignments abroad, of people accepting living and working in completely different cultures and countries, the business travelers spending time flying form continent to continent working in many different countries, the commuters and foreign workers being an important part of the economics in the country where they work?

Has COVID-19 put an end to intercultural experiences, to international exchanges – to the globalization?

There are no valid worldwide statistics yet, but clearly a lot of international students have gone back to their home country not knowing if they will be back by the start the coming year of study. Expatriations have been ended – families have chosen to go back to a more well-known society and context, close to their relatives. What does that mean for the projects they were working on? What does that mean to them, to their employers? We don’t have a global picture yet.

Fortunately, many international citizens have also decided to stay abroad continuing their studies, work or mission abroad.

Everyone has a tough time for the moment, among many other commuters, foreign workers and business travellers are all forced to find new ways of working. Traveling is not an option, but the work has to be solved remotely from at home or eventually from the office. All kinds of digital means are put into place both for professional and for private purposes. Although very many countries are very advanced regarding digital means, it is not comparable to the ways of working based on human relations and contacts in an office or at a working place. It takes time to get used to it, it takes time to use it in an efficient and productive way.

From an OECD perspective:

The OECD Secretariat has made an “Analysis of Tax Treaties and the Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis”. Their focus in this article is of course the tax issues, but at the same time it shows very clearly the complexity and the variety of questions due to a completely new situation all over the world. In the article, OECD emphasizes

  • “Concerns related to the creation of permanent establishments (PE)
  • Describes the situation about Home Office and Agency PE
  • Concerns related to the residence status of a company (place of effective management)
  • Concerns related to cross border workers
  • Concerns related to a change to the residence status of individuals”

Companies working at an international level will now have to look deeper into this complex set of rules to assure a correct treatment of their employees. A new, important and time-consuming challenge.

From a Danish perspective:

Based on an information from the Federation of Danish Industries, Denmark has approx. 55.000 employees with a place of residence outside Denmark. This figure takes into account both foreign workers working in Denmark and commuters living abroad and working in Denmark.

Is it possible to continue this important activity? Both a control of the corona-infection and the need of limiting the infection are vital to allow these employees to continue coming to Denmark. Fortunately, it has been possible to realise and implement a great number of actions meaning that solutions have been found to this challenge. Very many companies and the Danish economy and society depend on the foreign workers and the commuters coming from abroad.

Some of the actions taken:

  • The companies are responsible for the working environment related to COVID-19
  • Control and tests at the borders when coming to Denmark
  • A taskforce has been put into place having a focus on foreign workers
  • Close follow-up of the development of infection – especially in the areas with many commuters
  • In case of a negative development 14 days of isolation for all incoming people, disregarding their nationality

The fact that there are sudden epidemics of new diseases has already had and will certainly have an important impact on our future. This new situation worldwide has a lot of consequences within health, economics, finance, digitization, exchange, intercultural relations, global mobility, human relations, set of values, our way of living, our way of working. The world has to face this new challenge and find new ways to deal with it.

Whatever actions and whatever solutions there will be to face the COVID-19 and eventually future epidemics, we have learned that our health, but also the human contact instead of isolation are extremely important for us. Global Mobility is based on intercultural exchanges, getting to know other cultures and other people, on international understanding in the world of business and in the social world.

The COVID-19 is not the end of Global Mobility, but it will force everyone to re-think our lives, our set of values and the way we do things. We will create new ways allowing us to continue to be global and to be mobile.