How to maintain a strong benefits program beyond U.S. borders

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The struggle of maintaining a strong benefits program for clients is constantly on the forefront of an adviser’s mind. Ensuring the retention of employees while also staying within regulations put in place by the United States government is already a full plate, but what about if an employee needs to travel abroad for an extended period of time, or if a client hires an employee on a work visa in the U.S., or if a client hires an employee who telecommutes from another country? How are benefits offered in these situations?

Brian Sideris, national sales director for MetLife expatriate benefits, says advisers are key players when determining what clients need to provide for their employees who are working outside of U.S. borders.

“Advisers and brokers play an important role in understanding the needs of their clients and identifying where there is global exposure and the strategies and programs they can help put in place which support clients’ talent mobility needs,” Sideris says. “These strategies should take into consideration globally portable coverage, appropriate global support and service for members, robust international healthcare networks; compliant plans and benefits that can help their clients attract and retain talent.”

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These international robust benefits are called expatriate or “expat” benefits, which provide globally portable employee benefit offerings of specialized services and products to employees who are on assignment outside of their home country for typically longer than six months. These benefit programs help employers attract, retain and deploy top talent while providing additional tools and resources to the employees and their dependents to help them manage their health and well-being while in foreign countries.

Sideris says expat benefits can offer a host of different benefits, including access to credentialed healthcare around the globe while providing multi-lingual, 24/7 service support to eliminate the challenges that employees face while managing their healthcare overseas.

“Typical benefits include medical, pharmacy, vision, dental, life, accidental death and dismemberment, long-term disability as well as medical evacuation and repatriation of mortal remains,” Sideris says. “Employees with these programs get a globally portable benefit plan that stays consistent, even as they travel and enter new countries.”

Another company experienced in handling foreign benefits affairs, TriNet, recently launched a new program called, “TriNet Technology,” which has a key component dealing specifically with employers who have employees who work in the United States, but are not citizens.

Hiring international employees involves various departments, including finance, legal and HR. It also includes regulatory agencies such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of Labor.

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James Richards, director of product management at TriNet, says this new product focuses primarily with technology companies and one of the consistent needs technology companies are requiring is international services and expat benefits.

“Technology companies need to hire the best people, regardless of their national origin, and if you look at U.S. universities, which are the talent producing centers of the United States, many of the students there, especially enrolled in technical programs and computer science, are of foreign national origin,” Richards says. “In order to employee a foreign national in the United States you need to obtain a work visa for that employee and in many cases those employees later want to transition to a more permanent option, like a green card.”

In most cases benefits such as healthcare do not differ in the case of a foreign employee from the healthcare of a U.S. citizen. However, employers can choose to limit benefits for non-U.S. employees to more closely mirror their home country standards, remove access to certain high-cost areas of care or may choose to provide one global plan for both U.S. and foreign expatriates altogether.

“The recent Affordable Care Act reform in the U.S. has also impacted expatriate plans and can impact the decisions that an employer makes regarding their benefits plans, especially if some their non-U.S. employees are not impacted by ACA and therefore do not need to meet minimum standards as set forth for U.S. employees,” Sideris says.

Not meeting ACA standard comes into play much more frequently when handling employees who do not reside in the U.S., but rather telecommute from another country. Richards says advisers need to take a global perspective when advising clients on what to offer their employees.

“Canadian healthcare is very different from U.S. healthcare, so naturally the types of plans we offer in Canada are also very different plans than what we offer in the United States,” Richards says. “Often, companies have different benefit plans for different countries, but mainly because there are different needs in other countries.”

Richards adds that generally he sees many employers offering benefits that mirror the offering of other countries where their employees may reside.

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