Challenges faced by LGBTI expats and how HR can help

June 20, 2019

The process of finding the right candidate for an expat role can be difficult. When you do, there are always challenges when it comes to relocating. If your ideal candidate is LGBTI and homosexuality is illegal or discriminated against in the country they are relocating to, it can cause additional complications.

There are currently 73 countries where homosexual activity between consenting adults is illegal. Many of these are in popular assignment destinations for multinational companies like the Middle-East, Russia, Asia and Africa.

Compared to heterosexual couples, same sex couples can encounter additional difficulties when it comes to expat life. Typical challenges faced by LGBTI people, even in countries that do not outlaw homosexual activities, include:

The partner of an LGBTI expat may have difficulties acquiring a spousal visa. Alternative arrangements may need to be made to facilitate their partner during their time abroad.

As of 2019 gay marriage is only recognised in 26 countries in the world. If a married LGBTI couple is moving from a country with legalised same sex marriage to one without, they may lose many of the rights they currently enjoy including:

  • Being legally recognised next of kin
  • Tax benefits
  • Inheritance rights
  • Legal standing of their relationship to their children
  • Healthcare rights

LGBTI employees are at higher risk of experiencing loneliness and isolation if they are living and working in a country with a negative attitude towards homosexuality. Without an LGBTI community for support, they may find themselves hiding their sexuality. If homosexuality is illegal they also face the possibility of arrest and imprisonment.

As an international HR manager, even if you have a robust international diversity and inclusion policy within your organisation, helping LGBTI employees transition and settle into an expat assignment can be difficult.

Some suggestions to facilitate LGBTI employees in expat roles include:
In some countries, this can be more important than the legal status of homosexuality. An often-used example is South Africa where gay marriage and discrimination is legislated for; however, homosexuality is not accepted socially in some areas. This contrasts with a country like Australia which only legalised same sex marriage in 2018 but, broadly, there is much more acceptance of gay people. Ensure LGBTI expatriates are thoroughly prepared for what to expect and are aware of the supports that exist within your organisation to help them
Ensure LGBTI needs are met in pre-departure training. Include information on what they can expect in their new home and how they should prepare. If dependent visas are not available for same-sex couples, alternative arrangements should be provided. Settling in to their new home may be more difficult, so ensure they have the support they need with an expat assistance programme.
If LGBTI employees are living in a climate where being open about their sexuality isn’t an option, ensure your offices are a safe space. Multinational organisations like Facebook and IBM ensure their office environment is like an embassy where employees can be themselves regardless of their orientation.
Unfortunately, there is not always an easy answer for LGBTI employees working as expats in countries that are hostile to them. Organisations have a duty of care to employees and if sexual orientation puts their welfare at risk then careful consideration must take place before they are sent on international assignment.
As part of protecting the physical health and wellbeing of your employees ensure they have access to international health insurance for the duration of their assignment.