Expat Focus International News Update November 2020

Secularisation is boosted in the UAE

After a two-year review of the legal system, the UAE has undertaken a number of social reforms, including the decriminalisation of alcohol consumption and suicide. It is also now legal for unmarried couples to live together in the same household. In addition, if you got married outside the UAE but decide to divorce during your time there, you will be subject to the law of the country in which the ceremony was conducted, rather than Sharia law. The UAE has also cancelled lenient penalties for honour killings.

It is likely that these reforms have been brought in with an eye to the number of Western personnel in the Emirates. The UAE is a majority-expat country, and these reforms will significantly benefit them. In saying this, it is worth noting that many of these expats are not Western, but instead come from Asia and other Islamic nations, such as Pakistan. The government is keen to retain wealthier expats, and has brought in attractive retirement packages for over 55s who meet the minimum income threshold.

 

Virtual recruitment is a growing practice

Digital marketing firm Traktion say that virtual recruitment is growing as a result of lockdown measures and an increasing reliance on platforms like Zoom. This may well come as no surprise to expats, but look out for new opportunities that mean you won’t have to leave your home base to secure a job. All manner of employment below CEO level is now subject to online recruitment, and you may even receive a virtual office tour to give you a sense of your working environment. Traditionally, many jobs abroad – such as in international education – have relied on boots on the ground, but the increasing digitalisation of the working world has made it possible to secure more jobs remotely.

 

Australian expats return home

Australia has seen nearly 400,000 Australian nationals return home in 2020, a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Of the expats surveyed, 30% say that they have moved home for good, while a similar percentage say that they might live overseas again at a later date. 21% are intending to relocate as soon as borders have been fully re-opened.

Australian commentators say that the influx is made up of entrepreneurial risk takers. However, recruiters are wary. Most of the people surveyed who had gone into the Australian workforce had done so through personal contacts. Returnees say that recruiters don’t necessarily value expat expertise. They may also be concerned that returning expats will simply go back abroad once the pandemic has died down.

 

Russia and Covid-19

The Russian government has extended work permits that were otherwise due to expire, as a result of the disruption caused by the pandemic. This will have been a relief to many expats in Russia. A presidential decree has validated permits due to expire between 15th March and 15th December 2020. However, a number of foreign workers with Russian employers who were caught outside the country have still had their employment contracts terminated. This is because the migration authorities only approved remote applications for permit extensions at the end of the summer and, legally, Russian companies cannot keep personnel on if their work permits have expired.

Russia’s borders are still closed to many nationalities, although Britons can enter without needing to submit to an isolation period. In saying this, you will still need a negative Covid-19 test.

 

‘Stealth expats’

Personnel Today reports that the international workforce now consists of a number of ‘stealth expats’. This term refers to citizens working abroad who returned home around the time that their home nations locked down, and who gained permission to work from home, but whose employers have not actually realised that they are no longer in their host country.

This is not intentional, but is instead a result of the disarray at the start of the pandemic. Workers are usually expected to inform their employer if they suddenly move country, for example, but in the confusion caused by Covid-19, many did not do so. Plus, many employers did not run checks, and they are still not doing so – as long as the employee carries out their duties satisfactorily, many employers may not be overly concerned. At least, they aren’t yet – there are obviously various potential problems waiting in the wings, from immigration laws to health and safety compliance, insurance issues and medical policies, IT licensing, and employee registration. If you are an employer, you may, for example, suddenly become liable for minimum wage regulations in your employee’s host country.

If you are employing staff who are working remotely, it might be advisable to check exactly where they are, to avoid any difficulties further down the line. Asking them directly is the best way to do this, and make it clear that they are not in trouble. Simply let them know that there are wider considerations thatthey may not have given thought. Whilst it is possible to track people via mobile phone usage, there are privacy regulations in some countries, including most of the EU, so these must be complied with.

 

Covid-19 and the Costa del Sol

Property experts in locations such as Marbella have been keeping a wary eye on property buyers, fearing another crash, this time due to Covid-19. Much of the property in the region is bought by foreigners, who have been prevented from travelling in 2020. The middle of the property market has been gouged by Covid-19, whereas the high-end market is booming. The super rich have not, predictably, been as badly affected by the pandemic as others, and they still seem to be making the most of opportunities to purchase.

Properties costing €2.5 – €7 million in branded developments in the region have been selling well over the summer of 2020. The nationality demographic has been shifting, from older UK buyers to Scandinavians in their 30s. Large developments have been flooding places like Estepona, which is cheaper than Marbella, but demand has slowed significantly in these middle-market segments. Lenders to property development companies are more wary, having been burned some years ago. So, if you have the money, it’s a good time to buy.