As we settled in that first year in Tokyo we learned that our package was not unique at all. The office were we both worked was filled with other French expatriates and those higher on the food chain had even better packages. The Grand Poobah himself, a product of France's finest schools, travelled in a car with a driver, lived in a huge apartment, and was given a French tri-lingual secretary whom he treated with great respect. She was a necessity because even after 10 years in Japan, he spoke very little Japanese and preferred to conduct business in French or English.
Sounds positively colonial, doesn't it?
In 2015 all that is gone, gone, gone. Most of the French expatriates who worked with us years ago went home. It was simply too costly, we heard, to support so many in the style to which they had happily become accustomed. And so the French company gave them two choices: repatriation or local contracts. Most left.
As for the company (a different one) that sent us to Osaka earlier this year, this package is nothing compared to what we had the last time. During the negotiations prior to leaving France, the company did everything they could to keep the costs down. They succeeded; it is only costing the company slightly more to have us in Osaka, Japan as opposed to France, my spouse's home country.
Personal experience is not proof of a trend. And yet a recent Wall Street Journal article analyzing the state of the traditional business expat in Asia argues that, yes, post-financial crisis. the business expat experience in this part of the world is very different.
In Singapore, China and Hong Kong, says writes Rashmi Dalai, the packages are slimmer, the salaries are lower, and the profiles are different: more expats from other parts of Asia and fewer from Europe and North America. Younger, too, and willing to stay long-term even if it means less money and living in less desirable locations.
Very interesting article and well worth the read. If you are a Flophouse reader in any of these Asian countries, I would to have your take on what she says. Dalai was based in Shanghai, a city I worked in temporarily a few times, but don't know it well. All I can offer here is my perspective from Japan, and I have a few questions about her argument.
Writing about three countries on this vast continent and implying that this is representative of Asia is a bit hard to swallow. Yes, over the years the action (so to speak) is centered on Asian countries with growing power and influence, and strong economies. I am old enough to remember when Japan was booming and was the place to be. Some of the expatriates I've met here who stayed through the busts and the natural disasters have a certain nostalgia for that period when even a foreign language teacher could make decent money.
Last time I looked Japan was still part of Asia as is Korea or Thailand or Vietnam or Cambodia. There are business expats in those places, too. So I would argue that she would have to look at a more diverse selection of places before she can dub this an Asian trend. For that matter it would be interesting to know if the trend was not regional at all, but international in scope with business expatriates in South America, Africa or Europe having similar experiences.
I was also a bit dubious of this assertion: "Five years ago, the majority of expats in Asia were Westerners on short-term assignments with multinational corporations that offered generous housing, schooling and travel packages."
I really doubt that is true. Yes, there are cities in Asia with a high number of business expats like Tokyo and probably Hong Kong or Shanghai. But however large that population, there is almost always a greater population of Western foreign language teachers, academics, translators, small business owners, spouses, students and missionaries.
They are far less sexy (and probably of little interest to WSJ readers) than the entrepreneurs or company transfers and reflect a much wider socio-economic spectrum than the businessmen and women. These Westerners are not drawn to Asia by the expat packages because they don't have them and never did. For that matter, some arrived without any job at all and did what was necessary to get one.
Whatever is going on with the traditional business expats in Asia or elsewhere, a far more interesting question (to me at least) is the relationship between the foreign company transfers, the floating group of short to medium-term expats with more mundane jobs, and the more or less permanent Western communities in Asian countries. If what Dalai says is true about their being fewer Western expats with money to burn and the power to hire, and there are more local people who have the qualifications and the profiles to take over those positions, what is the impact on all the other Western expatriates or permanent residents?
Will there be fewer opportunities for Westerners overall? Will it be harder for the permanent foreign residents to survive even with their language and culture skills? What happens to the infrastructure (schools, churches, societies) if there are no longer enough well-heeled foreign nationals to support them? Or the small businesses built around "translating" the local culture and language for short to medium-term expats?
Last word. It is a real pity that we have such a loose definition of expat and that so much energy is expended avoiding the word migrant for people from Western countries. Why? Because the surface interpretation of this article would be that one type of expat is simply being replaced by another type of expat. Another, and I think a truer interpretation, would be that the expats are being replaced by economic or opportunity migrants who just happen to be from Western countries like Europe or North America. And once we've opened our minds to that, we can look to migration experts for theories and answers.