The Indian expat community is one of the largest in Great Britain. Rohit Kumar, Managing Director and Co-Owner at IKAN Relocations, shares his expert knowledge on the relocation and integration of Indian international assignees in the United Kingdom (UK).
1. What are the main challenges that Indian expats face when moving to the UK for work?
As India has a fantastic education system and Indian parents have a large focus on the erudition of their children, the number of highly-skilled Indian employees is fast-growing. When moving abroad, they face various challenges, as many of them have probably never traveled outside of India before.
Not only this is usually their first ever foreign assignment, but many Indian expats also have very little exposure to the Western culture in India. As many of them lack the intercultural knowledge of the Western world, they usually find themselves at sea in their early days of the assignment. Though they quickly learn to adapt to life abroad, several factors are a source of a culture shock to them.
The language differences represent one of the initial challenges Indian expats face when moving to the UK. It is said that India is the second largest English-speaking country in the world, but the nature of the English spoken in India is very different from anywhere else, and communication challenges are galore with the inability to understand the accent both ways.
Living in Western-style homes represents another key challenge for Indian expats, as their eating, cooking, and toilet habits need to be replaced with Western customs.
Family issues also arise frequently. India is an inclusive family culture and many Indian expats take their wives and children with them on their foreign assignment — some even their parents, if they can. After arriving in the UK, the focus of most Indian expatriates on the well-being of their wives and children tends to overshadow their immediate job responsibilities, hence they are unable to hit the ground running.
2. How can Indian relocating spouses be better supported in the UK?
It is important that the spouses are provided with adequate direction on how to keep themselves busy and help them integrate quickly into the local community. There are many differences between India and the UK — adapting to such a different environment can be challenging and this can result in psychological issues, including depression.
The earlier on families settle in and understand and accept the differences, the faster they integrate and become comfortable. This cannot possibly happen without dedicated support from experienced professionals. Indian expats need help when moving abroad. While sometimes this might come from friends and family already in Europe, employers and global mobility service providers also have important roles in supporting Indian expats during the delicate onboarding phase and through the integration process.
3. The time Indian expats are offered to move to the UK is often limited. How does that impact the onboarding phase and what can be done to improve their experience?
Many engineers in India are hired immediately after graduation and put on the bench. They are sent abroad at the first opportunity. Indian companies try to provide cultural sensitivity courses, but this is not enough. Many of these courses don’t include families and are imparted in large groups, losing their effectiveness. Furthermore, when receiving this type of information in one day, the knowledge that’s shared is naturally quite limited.
Also, Indian employers tend to follow a lump-sum model for relocation. This money usually finds its way into the pockets and is rarely spent on what it was actually meant for. Many young expats tend to use the help of friends and relatives to settle into the UK, to save on rent and enjoy a familiar home, even if it means a larger transit time to their place of work.
It may be a better idea for employers to hire good destination services companies and give these Indian expatriates some hand-holding and support from day one rather than just offering the lump-sum, as is the current practice. Support with the school admission process, identifying the best community to live in within their budgets, and negotiating with the landlords in the UK would certainly help.
4. How do these challenges faced by Indian expats affect their integration?
Many young Indian expats see international assignments as an opportunity to save more money. It is also often a ticket to a larger dowry and a good marriage. However, when moving abroad, they often see gaps between their expectations and what they actually experience. The lack of knowledge of the British culture and the varied English accent is the first barrier of communication. This further magnifies as they have limited intercultural knowledge. On top of this, Indian graduates come with a high sense of entitlement, as they may actually be the first ones in their families on an international assignment. All of this can easily build up to the create a sense of pressure, frustration and isolation.
5. Do you think Indian expats need to receive better social integration support in the UK?
Most certainly. Young Indian expats need more integration support. This is because most of them have no previous experience abroad or even outside of the family home, their spoken English is very different from those of the British natives, they have limited or no cooking skills, and many of them have never driven a car before. Also, they may be recently married and have their partner or even older parents or very young children move abroad with them. The wet and cold weather with limited sunshine days also tends to add to depression.
6. Do you see any specific differences between Indian expats moving to the UK and expats from other nationalities?
I am sure many of the challenges of relocating to the UK would be common to most nationalities, but then the Indian culture is unique in its own way. Day-to-day living habits, family values, cost of living challenges, different spoken English, cooking habits, and their need to save rather than spend make young Indian expatriates in need of tailored solutions.
7. How can companies better support their Indian expats in the UK?
I would suggest that employers relook their relocation policies. Indian companies like to provide lump-sum payments. It is an attractive incentive, but it defeats the very purpose for which the lump-sum was created.
I would recommend to source support from professional companies with years of experience in settling people into a particular country. Be liberal with this support. Many companies tend to limit the support they offer by time and they often don’t allow enough time to do justice for the settling in needs. It’s also important to provide clearly defined bundles of support for different types of Indian expatriates. Young engineers, expatriates with a wife, relocating spouses, and more seasoned expatriates with previous foreign assignment experience all have different needs.
About the Expert: Rohit Kumar is Founder, Co-Owner, and Joint Managing Director of IKAN Relocations. A pioneer in global mobility and relocation services in India, he has been part of the global mobility business for the past 20 years and has had a front row seat to how the industry has grown and matured.