Ford Motor Co. Shows Mobility Compliance as a New Direction for Travel Managers

This article was originally published on Business Travel News on April 08, 2021.

The ever-changing role of the travel manager appears to have mutated yet again thanks to macro-trends that stretch well beyond the business travel sector. Step forward the mobility compliance manager, a role certainly accelerated by new border controls in response to Covid-19 but that was emerging anyway thanks to increased unrelated checks and restrictions on international freedom of movement.

Those controls include tightened enforcement of taxation rules for short-term business visitors, increased scrutiny of work visas, A1 social security certificates and Posted Worker notifications in the European Union, and Brexit restrictions on EU-United Kingdom movements.

Stephen Swift, the U.K.-based EMEA and APAC travel manager for Ford Motor Co., is clear his job has changed as a result. “It’s so much more than managing the travel management company and the policy,” he said. “You have to have a broader mindset for immigration and tax issues, as well as health and security. Saying ‘here’s your passport and e-ticket, and off you go’ is a thing of the past, at least for the next few years.”

It’s not only mindsets that need to be broader. So do the accompanying tools and processes. Swift has collaborated deeply with a series of stakeholders, both internally and externally, to build a pre-trip approval process that equips travelers fully with the paperwork, permits and information they need to cross borders without breaking any rules.

Swift started his mobility compliance project at Ford three years ago, initially to handle increasingly complex immigration and taxation rules around relocations and longer-term foreign work assignments. It was a project made more pressing by Ford’s switch to a globalized structure instead of building vehicle models country by country. The new strategy meant a jump in international travel, resulting in 240,000 trips by 26,000 different travelers to 140 different countries in 2019, with a spend of US$160 million.

“We were finding immigration was being used by more and more countries as a political tool to show they were protecting their population above workers coming in and potentially taking their jobs,” said Swift. “It wasn’t enough anymore to go in on a visa or [visa waiver]. People were being stopped at borders, turned around and sent back, because most types of visa only allow you to attend a few meetings and do a few basic things. They don’t allow you to work.”

In addition, Ford became increasingly aware through work with its tax adviser Deloitte that overseas visits were creating a potential tax liability for the company and the employees. More recently, said Swift, immigration issues are “something that we’ve noticed creeping more and more into general business travel. It’s something we found authorities were picking up on and asking us to get a different immigration status for.”

Examples include visits by U.K.-based employees to Turkey, whose authorities no longer tolerated visas for work trips being obtained on arrival, and repeat trips by individuals to the same destinations. Swift added that he also is seeing more pressure for compliance checks on business trips because of Brexit and growing paperwork demands within Europe. “The EU is stepping up its requirement that you have posted worker registration if you move between member states,” Swift said. “Some of those states are also asking you to show your A1 certificates to prove you pay social security in your home country.”

Travel Takes the Lead

Swift had identified a clear problem confronting travel for his company. But finding resources both internally and externally to create a solution was far from straightforward. Internally, as is so often the case for a challenge that requires interdisciplinary collaboration, “no one was putting up their hand to own it,” said Swift. As he is responsible for relocation as well as travel, Swift decided to drive the project himself. He reached out to Ford’s legal office and human resources department, but he also found support within the very core of the business.

“We spoke to the leaderships of the teams doing the travel—our product development and manufacturing leaderships—and they recognized the need for this,” Swift said. “As much as it was a push from us, it was a pull from those parts of the organization. They had seen this arise as we started to travel more to support our global products.”

Externally, Swift found his regular travel service providers not as well-equipped as he would have liked to handle tax and immigration issues. Instead, he turned to Ford’s global relocation service provider Weichert Workforce Mobility. In turn, Weichert connected him to the Irish company Tracker Software Technologies, which offers a tool called GT Global Tracker that ensures travelers have the right work permit and other permissions to enter a country, and tracks days spent in different countries from a tax perspective. This information also is routed to Deloitte, which will raise the alarm if it spots any potential tax-compliance challenges.

Travelers for the assessment are required to submit information including destination, duration and a selection from a highly detailed drop-down list of trip reasons, often the key determinant of how much immigration paperwork will be required.

“People try and game the system by saying they’re going for a meeting because they know it will be easier,” said Swift. “But if someone puts that more than once, we’re going to flag it, so they must at least have a conversation with someone from an immigration perspective.”

Swift is also working with Ford’s HR communications team to explain to travelers why it’s important they complete the pre-trip admin correctly. “We’re communicating that the world is changing, immigration and tax rules are changing, and therefore we need to make sure they’re protected as travelers and we’re doing the right thing as Ford Motor Company,” he said.

Swift is “refining and Ford-izing” his company’s version of Global Tracker to minimize the work required of travelers. This version will include prepopulated information, such as employee number, passport number, nationality and country of residence. Historical travel and expense data also will be loaded to allow an automated determination of any immigration or tax-compliance measures that need to be taken. Additionally, travelers will be informed about Covid-19 requirements relevant to their proposed trip.

May I Connect You?

The big frustration for Swift is that he sees no ability to connect the compliance process he has built with Weichert and Global Tracker to his company’s online booking tool or travel management company. “Until TMCs get in the game here, we’re having to create these processes ourselves,” he said.

Ford is far from being alone in the approach it is taking to improving mobility compliance, according to Tracker Software Technologies CEO and co-founder Liam Brennan. “We’re seeing a huge surge in multiple-stakeholder teams, including travel, HR or mobility, tax and legal, going out with global bids to standardize this,” he said.

Exactly the same trend was also identified by David Livitt, director of business traveler services for the mobility tax consultancy Global Tax Network. “Travel managers have always been involved in this, but very much on the periphery,” he said. “They were interested in compliance only as far as budget and duty of care. Now they are being brought into a multidisciplinary process. The direction for travel managers is going to be much more around that approval process.”

But what should travel managers do if they identify a need for mobility compliance that no one is taking the lead on in their organization? The answer in Swift’s view is to take the initiative themselves. “Build your case and get the relevant people together—HR, legal, maybe health and security teams—and present the fact that this is the new normal in the travel world,” he said. “You have to make them aware there’s an additional layer of complexity, which is tax, immigration, social security compliance, and that you need to create the processes and policies around it.”

Written by Amon Cohen, a specialist business travel writer, conference moderator and media trainer. Amon regularly writes for BTN Europe, Business Travel News and The Beat and is a conference director for the Business Travel Show.

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