If you want to recruit talented IT workers from overseas, consider improving the relocation assistance that you offer to foreign workers. For some employees, the quality of the relocation benefits will help determine if they will accept a new job in the U.S.

Database manager Sunil Rao recently wrestled with the question of whether to move his family from Bangalore, India to Chicago.

“I would never have agreed to come if the company hadn’t offered me assistance with finding accommodation and a good school for my daughter,” said Rao.

Increasingly, companies are using relocation benefits as a way to recruit experienced workers. According to a recent survey from the Employee Relocation Council, nearly 80 percent of companies surveyed are using relocation assistance as a recruiting tool, and 43 percent are increasing their relocation assistance to new hires.

Relocation is nearly as important as salary
Especially for foreign workers, effective relocation assistance will also help determine how successful an employee will be after they’ve begun working.

Vidya Ramchandran, an independent human resources consultant based in Gaithersburg, MD, said that formal relocation policies are essential to help foreign workers avoid problems with adapting to a new culture.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate the importance of relocation policies at 8 to 9 for consulting companies,” said Ramchandran, who specializes in handling international relocation issues for IT companies.

Rao feels that his relocation was difficult despite his company’s best efforts. “No one told me about this ‘credit history’ thing,” he said. “I couldn’t afford to buy a car outright. We came here with our savings, but the exchange rate is not in our favor, and I couldn’t finance a vehicle because I didn’t have a credit history.”

Rao also had trouble opening a bank account, and he admits that his relocation problems affected his ability to perform at work.

“I was constantly stressed out. My mind was on other things,” said Rao.

Ramchandran said to help new hires avoid such relocation problems, you should understand that relocation benefits should include more than financial assistance. She offered the following techniques to help you create effective relocation policies:

Learn from your mistakes
Ask current international employees to list the hardships they faced when they first came to the country. Have them split their list into company-related issues and general issues. Encourage them to make a comprehensive list. Ask them what they think the company could have done to help them deal with each problem.

Understand unique cultural differences
Identify the issues that you think all recruits will confront. Then, look for concerns unique to certain groups of foreign workers. Often, workers from different regions face different cultural problems, and those from the same countries will share similar issues.

Describe the benefits in detail
Decide how you can help alleviate relocation problems, and make it clear what you are willing to pay for. For example, you could address the accommodation issue by offering to pay for a search service—but you may not be willing to pay the rent or the security deposit. Be clear. A package claiming to offer “accommodation assistance” could easily be misconstrued. Obviously, a written policy helps avoid misunderstandings.

Update your policies
Go through the entire process each time a new international recruit joins the company. You will be able to see which issues crop up most often, and you can keep updating your policy by identifying areas of concern that have not been adequately addressed.

The personal touch
Ramchandran believes that most issues can be addressed with a caring attitude rather than cash. It is critical for the IT manager to remember that what seems like a nonissue—such as finding a place to live or buying a car—is often a huge hurdle for the foreign worker.

In India, for example, it can often be very difficult for children to gain admission to quality schools in grades K-12. Many Indian workers assume that they will face the same problems in the U.S. You may lose out on a technically excellent hire by brushing the concern aside without adequate explanation.

Take the time to address each concern, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to you. In the IT industry, trained professionals are assets—and assets require an investment.
What’s the most effective way to recruit experienced IT pros? Offer a signing bonus? Provide more vacation time? Post a comment below or send us a letter.