- Open Access
Do three years make a difference? An updated review and analysis of self-initiated expatriation
© The Author(s) 2016
- Received: 9 November 2015
- Accepted: 3 August 2016
- Published: 11 August 2016
Self-initiated expatriates (SIEs) were initially described by Inkson et al. (J World Bus 32:351–368, 1997) as individuals who move abroad on their own volition, with personal funding, oriented towards development and career goals. After almost two decades of research, it is imperative to review the knowledge that has been developed and identify future areas of intervention. Doherty (Int J Manag Rev 15:447–469, 2013. doi:10.1111/ijmr.12005) initiated the review and this paper aims to update it and explore some unapproached aspects. Five different data bases were targeted and searched for peer-reviewed articles published in English, between 1997 and 2014, which recognized self-initiated expatriation as a distinguished form of mobility and used this terminology in the title and/or keywords list. A total of 94 articles met these inclusion criteria, 45 of which were published between 2012 and 2014. By systematically analyzing them, it was observed a surpassing growth in the number of published articles in the last 3 years. This signalizes an increase of the academic interest in studying the SIEs all over the world, involving bidirectional moves between developed and developing countries. The constructs identified by Doherty (2013) at the three different levels (micro, meso and macro) continued to be explored, using qualitative or quantitative approaches. Besides this, a multi-informant approach has been adopted in some studies, while others focused on concept clarification, taking into consideration some of Doherty’s (2013) suggestions for future research. Three years of research made an enormous contribution to the development of knowledge about SIEs, but some aspects can be further explored; hence they are identified and thoroughly discussed.
- Self-initiated expatriation
- Integrative review
Stages of integrative review proposed by Cooper (1998)
Stage of review
Formulate the research problem
Clear identification of the problem the review is addressing and its purpose
Define inclusion criteria and search the appropriate data bases in order to collect the literature which responds to the research problem
Determine if the collected literature meets the predefine inclusion criteria, and select the final literature sample
Analyze and interpret data
Examine and interpret the literature sample in such a way that it will respond to the research problem
Evaluate the state of knowledge of the phenomenon and present future directions for research
Determine all the knowledge developed around the research problem and identify what can be further explored
The research area of self-initiated expatriation is constantly evolving and in order to facilitate coherence in the development of future research, literature reviews should be conducted. They are very useful in clearly presenting existing research and identifying possible areas of future intervention. Doherty (2013) initiated this literature review, focusing on the research conducted between 1997 and 2011. However, due to the constant evolution of self-initiated expatriation research and the increase in the number of people living abroad, we consider that it is pertinent to conduct a new literature review which may update the previously conducted one. More specifically, the aims of our integrative literature review are two folded. First, we aim to compare and contrast the systematized research conducted between 1997 and 2011 with the research which has been carried out over the past 3 years (2012–2014). Second, regarding future areas of research, we aim to determine to what extend Doherty’s (2013) suggestions were met during the second research period and identify what else can be researched.
In order to reach the proposed aims, data were gathered by a series of searches undertaken using the following databases: PsycINFO, Web of Science, Emerald, ABI inform (Proquest) and Business Complete. “Self-initiated expatriat” was used as a keyword in the topic field, accompanied by the wildcard ‘*’, in order to assure that all the possible combinations of the keyword (e.g. self-initiated expatriates, self-initiated expatriation) were obtained. Once extracted, overlapping articles among the different databases were excluded, and the remaining articles were screened in order to guarantee that they specifically used the terminology of “self-initiated expatriation” as a distinguished form of mobility, appearing in the title and/or keywords list. At the same time, we checked for the document type, restricting it to peer-reviewed articles, in order to enhance quality control. English was the chosen language for the articles published between 1997 and 2014. We chose to limit the data of publication to these 17 years, in order to gather the articles reviewed by Doherty (2013) from 1997 until 2011 and the new ones published between 2012 and 2014.
For the 1997–2011 period, the retrieved articles were doubled checked in order to make sure that they corresponded to the ones found by Doherty (2013). In addition, for the 2012–2014 period, the articles were screened according to the predefined inclusion/exclusion criteria. As a result of this, twelve publications were excluded (three dissertations, one guest editorial article, three articles which did not address self-initiated expatriates independently, one conference abstract, two articles written in Portuguese, a corrigendum paper and an article which was published twice, in a special and normal issue). The final list offers a total of 94 articles, 45 of which were published between 2012 and 2014.
The reviewed articles were compared in terms of the research context, methodological approach and studied variables/constructs. In addition, since Doherty (2013) left some suggestions for future research, we explored the extent to which they were met during the second research period (2012–2014).
The research on self-initiated expatriation started in Australia and New Zealand (Inkson et al. 1997), which were either home or host countries. In other words, the sample of this study comprised SIEs who relocated to Australia/New Zealand but it also included SIEs from Australia and New Zealand who relocated to other countries, such as the United Kingdom. Subsequently, research on self-initiated expatriation extended to some other host countries in Europe (e.g. France and Germany: Crowley-Henry 2007) and a limited number of countries in the Middle East (e.g. Saudi Arabia: Bhuian et al. 2001; Bozionelos 2009) and Asia (e.g. Japan: Peltokorpi 2008). During the period of 2012–2014, an increased number of studies have ranged across SIEs who relocated to Asia (e.g. China: Lauring and Selmer 2014; Muir et al. 2014; Selmer and Lauring 2014b; South Korea: Froese 2012; Macau: Lo et al. 2012; Japan: Froese and Peltokorpi 2013), Middle East (Saudi Arabia: Alshammari 2012; Qatar: Scurry et al. 2013) and Europe (Denmark: Bjerregaard 2014; Germany: Cao et al. 2013). In addition, a limited number of studies were conducted in North and South American countries (e.g. USA: Farndale et al. 2014; Canada: Richardson and McKenna 2014; Brasil: von Borell de Araujo et al. 2014). In terms of the studied SIEs’ move between home and host country, it can be observed that it mostly occurs between developed countries (e.g. New Zealand-Belgium: Ellis 2012), followed by developing to developed ones (e.g. China-Germany: Cao et al. 2013) and very few take place between developed to developing countries (e.g. USA-Brazil: von Borell de Araujo et al. 2014).
Both qualitative and quantitative approaches are methodological strategies used to study the self-initiated expatriation phenomenon. During the first period of time (1997–2011), studies mainly targeted the individuals who undertook this mobility pattern, while over the past 3 years (2012–2014) a multi-informant perspective was adopted, involving the perspective of the host country nationals (e.g. Ellis 2012), SIEs’ supervisors (e.g. Showail et al. 2013) or spouses (e.g. Bjerregaard 2014), as a complement to SIEs’ view regarding a determinant issue. The number of quantitative and qualitative studies which were conducted is almost equal during both time periods. However, longitudinal studies prevailed only in the first period (e.g. Hudson and Inkson 2006).
An inequality can be observed in the number of studies where a literature review was conducted. During the period of 2012–2014, 10 literature reviews were conducted, which corresponds to more than twice the number of literature reviews conducted in the previous period. It is important to mention that although the methodology coincided, the purpose and ultimate result of the literature reviews differed.
For example, two of the four literature reviews conducted during the first period, focused on the theoretical exploration of gender issues in SIE (Tharenou 2010) and HR implications of SIEs’ adjustment (Howe-Walsh and Schyns 2010), while the other two reviewed the existing literature with the aim of identifying alternative forms of international workers (McKenna and Richardson 2007) and developing a conceptual understanding of SIEs’ careers (Tams and Arthur 2007). These two topics along with the mere systematization of the conducted research were further explored in the ten literature reviews conducted during the past three years (2012–2014).
More precisely, the literature reviews conducted by Cao et al. (2012) and Whitman and Isakovic (2012) focused on developing a conceptual framework with propositions predicting career success for SIEs and the influence of personality and stress management on SIEs’ and AEs’ international experience success. This comparison between SIEs, AEs and other forms of mobility, along with the conceptual clarification of what it means to be a SIE was explored in six more reviews. Cerdin and Selmer (2014) provided a definition of who is a SIE based on four mutually satisfied criteria: self-initiated international relocation, regular employment, intentions of a temporary stay and skilled/professional qualifications. In addition, Tharenou (2013) identified several conditions where SIEs can be a suitable replacement of AEs (e.g. technical and middle/lower management positions), while Shaffer et al. (2012), Al Ariss and Crowley-Henry (2013), Doherty et al. (2013) elaborated a profile of SIEs based on different aspects (e.g. country of origin, gender, period of international mobility) which were contrasted with migrants, AEs, short term assignees, flexpatriates, international students and international business travelers. In order to simplify the reading of the criteria distinguishing the different mobility groups, Andresen et al. (2014) proposed a decision tree.
According to Doherty (2013), the produced knowledge about SIEs can be organized at three levels of analysis: micro, meso and macro. At the micro level, the variables involved concern the individual characteristics and experiences of SIEs (e.g. demography, motivational drivers, individual characteristics, adjustment, career anchors), while the meso-level variables involve work-related experiences of SIEs (e.g. performance measures, career development, organizational context). The third level of analysis takes into consideration the home and host context, focusing on variables associated with human capital and the talent flow magnitude.
By taking this information into consideration, first we present some empirical studies which compared SIEs to AEs in terms of variables situated at the three levels of analysis, with the micro and meso levels prevailing. Afterwards, the empirical studies which focused predominantly or solely on SIEs will be described in terms of the studied variables and encountered results at each one of the three levels.
Results from studies comparing SIEs and AEs
Differences between the two type of expatriates
Similarities between the two types of expatriates
Self-inititated expatriates (SIEs)
Assigned expatriates (AEs)
Interest in internationalism and poor employment situation
Suutari and Brewster (2000)
Location and host country reputation
Doherty et al. (2011)
More likely to move from peripheral to economically advanced countries
Move more easily to peripheral countries
Peiperl et al. (2014)
Move where conditions offer greater economic prospects
Move to less developed countries and support the company subsidiary there
Demographics and individual characteristics
Slightly younger, more females and singles, accompanied with spouses working abroad
Older, more males, married, accompanied with spouses not working abroad
More proficient in host country language
Less proficient in host country language
No significant difference were found in age, gender, marital status or education
Froese and Peltokorpi (2013)
SIE spend more time in host country
Have more international experience in working abroad
High open-mindedness, cultural empathy and social initiative
Lower levels of knowing whom
Higher levels of knowing whom
High levels of knowing how and knowing why
Jokinen et al. (2008)
More stable career orientation/personal investment in career and career progression sustained over time
Career orientation decreases with age
Biemann and Andresen (2010)
Cerdin and Le Pargneux (2010)
Inkson et al. (1997)
Employer, job and task variables
More often employed at lower organizational levels
Occupy high organizational level/managerial positions
Employment organizations are international or foreign private companies
Tend to work in home country companies and their respective subsidiaries
Undertake relatively unskilled, casual roles, often below their capabilities
Roles are broader and more challenging, according to their capabilities
Inkson et al. (1997)
Higher organizational mobility and intention to change organization
Lower organizational mobility and intention to change organization
Biemann and Andresen (2010)
Less satisfaction with job
Higher levels of job satisfaction
Froese and Peltokorpi (2013)
High variations in net salary levels
Less variation in salary
Suutari and Brewster (2000)
Less common or inexistent additional competitive compensation packages (assignment insurance, overseas premiums, house and education allowances)
Very common additional competitive compensation packages (assignment insurance, overseas premiums, house and education allowances)
Less critical and more willing to emulate typical host country behaviors for resolving problems related to adaptation to the country
Negative interpretation of the entire
cultural system and dissatisfied
von Borell de Araujo et al. (2014)
Interact with local populations, understand better the language and culture, adjusting more easily
Do not interact as much with host country nationals, and have more difficulties to adjust
Challenges to adjustment related to obtaining a visa, renting a house, contracting for utilities and paying taxes
von Borell de Araujo et al. (2014)
No repatriation agreement is made prior to departure, and are more willingly to accept another working period abroad
Usually move abroad with a definite timeframe and repatriation agreement
Suutari and Brewster (2000)
Micro, meso and macro level research comparing SIEs and AEs
The similarities between SIEs and AEs are focused on individual characteristics, career and adjustment. In terms of individual characteristics, Froese and Peltokorpi (2013) found out that the studied expatriates (SIEs and AEs) who were living and working in Tokyo, scored high on the multicultural personality questionnaire, in terms of open-mindedness, cultural empathy and social initiative. At the same time, the career capital of the Finish expatriates (SIEs and AEs) studied by Jokinen et al. (2008) was similar in terms of the knowing how (explicit work-related knowledge required for performance) and knowing why (motivation and identification with the work world) dimensions, while the lifestyle anchor was the most valued one by the French expatriates who participated in the study conducted by Cerdin and Le Pargneux (2010). Additionally, the SIEs and AEs in Brazil (von Borell de Araujo et al. 2014) faced similar challenges to adjustment, concerning legal (obtaining visa, paying taxes) and practical aspects (renting a house, contracting for utilities).
However, SIEs differ from AEs in the way they overcome these challenges and adjust to the host country. More precisely, SIEs are less critical than AEs, and more willing to emulate typical host country behaviors for resolving adjustment problems (von Borell de Araujo et al. 2014). This might be one of the reasons why several studies consider SIEs to adjust more easily, along with the fact that they are more predisposed to interact with local populations and understand better the host country’s language and culture (Sargent 2002; Peltokorpi and Froese 2009; Froese and Peltokorpi 2013). The motivational driver can be another reason for SIEs’ adjustment being easier than AEs’, since SIEs move abroad on their own volition, while AEs are chosen by the employer (Suutari and Brewster 2000). Most often, SIEs choose the host country, and are more likely to move from peripheral to economically advanced countries, where conditions offer greater economic prospects. This does not happen with AEs, who can move to less developed countries, supporting the company subsidiary which is located there (Peiperl et al. 2014; Froese and Peltokorpi 2013). Therefore, AEs are more likely to occupy high organizational level/managerial positions and have broader and more challenging (i.e. high level responsibilities) roles than SIEs, with stimulating salary and compensation packages (Inkson et al. 1997; Suutari and Brewster 2000). In addition, AEs tend to have more international experience of working abroad than SIEs (Froese and Peltokorpi 2013). In comparison to SIEs, they also tend to be older, predominately male, married and usually accompanied by spouses who do not work abroad (Suutari and Brewster 2000; Peiperl et al. 2014). It is important to mention that these demographic differences were not found in the study conducted by Froese and Peltokorpi (2013); hence they should be carefully interpreted.
Micro level research
Comparing micro level research between two research periods (1997–2011 vs. 2012–2014)
A desire for exploration and excitement, a positive predisposition to the experience prompted by family and social connections, to escape from a current way of life or job situation (Inkson et al. 1997; Inkson and Myers 2003)
Economic factors, better opportunities/income, career-vocational opportunities, family, life-style, cultural distance and political environment. Pull Factors: life style and family considerations; Push Factors: career, culture and economics (Jackson et al. 2005)
Chance rather than a result of a specific plan, desire for adventure, life change and benefit to the family (Richardson and Mallon 2005)
Several sub-motives underlie the motivation to go abroad, related to career, cultural/travel opportunities, economic/personal relationships. These vary with gender, location and life stage (Thorn 2009)
The motives to expatriate (adventure/travel, career, family, financial incentives and life change/escape) differ in terms of acquired personal characteristics: marital status, nationality, previous expatriate experience and seniority (Selmer and Lauring 2011b)
The advances in education and careers, escape mandate of military service (Beitin 2012)
A desire for international experience, attractive job conditions, family ties, and poor labor markets in home countries (Froese 2012)
Motivational drivers were grouped in four sets of reasons: refugee, mercenary, explorer and architect (Selmer and Lauring 2012)
Cultural and travel opportunities, career, economics, affiliations, political environment, and quality of life (Thorn 2013)
Tourism-oriented and work-related motivations were stronger among academic SIEs who are younger, non-married, non-EU and with short experience. Non-EU SIEs arriving in the EU have stronger financial and seeking motivations (Lauring et al. 2014)
Demographics (gender, marital status, age)
Women chose less risky environments, which can offer them international career opportunities and more career benefit than men (Myers and Pringle 2005)
Women are less motivated to go abroad by financial gain and life change (Selmer and Lauring 2010)
Positive relationship between marital status and work effectiveness/performance is not moderated by gender (Selmer and Lauring 2011a)
Female SIEs have better job performance than male SIEs (Lauring and Selmer 2014)
Married SIEs have better time to proficiency and job performance than unmarried SIEs (Lauring and Selmer 2014)
Self-reliant, autonomous, exhibiting diffuse individual developmental goals and valuing the cultural experience and opportunity for personal learning, as opposed to purely work experiences (Inkson et al. 1997)
Individualistic, non-conformist, self-reliant, self-directed and proactive, operating with a degree of personal agency and giving personal motives precedence in determining their psychological and physical mobility (Sullivan and Arthur 2006)
The metaphor “river” is proposed to describe career development (Crowley-Henry 2012)
Career agency is impacted by both individual (e.g. personal control, proactivity, self-determination) and contextual factors, which provide support for Tams and Arthur’s (2010) six dimensions of career agency (Guo et al. 2013)
Careerist attitude and career fit explain international mobility success, while the influence of protean and boundaryless career attitude is not very clear. Careerist orientation is the individual career characteristic which better explains international mobility success (Cerdin and Le Pargneux 2014)
Four career patterns are identified: reinventors, reinvigorators, reversers and rejecters (Muir et al. 2014)
Language proficiency, personality traits, cultural empathy and type of expatriation experience (SIE vs. AE) have a positive effect on work and non-work adjustment; SIEs adjust better than AEs (Peltokorpi 2008)
Positive framing and proactive socialization enable more effective coping and adjustment (Fu et al. 2005)
Previous international experience and marital status have no influence on adjustment (Alshammari 2012)
Previous overseas experience has a positive relationship with SIEs’ adjustment, while culture novelty has a negative one. Contrary to what was predicted, foreign language ability was not positively related to adjustment (Isakovic and Whitman 2013)
Positive cross-cultural adjustment mediates the positive relations between protean career attitude and SIEs’ experienced outcomes: career satisfaction, intentions to stay in the host country and life satisfaction (Cao et al. 2013)
Beneficial associations between positive affectivity and adjustment (Selmer and Lauring 2014a)
Adult third-culture kids have a greater extent of general adjustment, but not interaction or work adjustment, when compared with adult mono-culture kids (Selmer and Lauring 2014b)
Relationship with home and host country/repatriation
The propensity of moving was explored through allegiance, a dynamic and fluid bond that influences both the desire to remain in the host country and the desire to return to home country. Family and social connections have a great impact on the intention to stay or return (Richardson and McKenna 2006; Schoepp and Forstenlechner 2010)
Weak host country pull and strong home country pull, along with shocks motivate repatriation (Tharenou and Caulfield 2010)
After repatriation, adjustment to work is a stressful experience, since SIEs do not return to a role within an organization and have to reacquire local experience and rebuild networks (Begley et al. 2008)
Relationship with home and host country are fluid and subject to change due to adjustment and ease of communication (Beitin 2012)
Desire for cultural and travel opportunities was the best predictor of cessation of mobility and development level in the host country. Career motives predicted duration of mobility and cultural difference of the destination (Thorn et al. 2013)
This variable continued to receive great attention in the second time period (2012–2014), with a particular interest in directly identifying the key stimuli factors in moving abroad for specific populations, determining the influence of motivational factors on other variables and testing the previously encountered results.
For example, Froese (2012) identified that the motivational drivers of SIEs in South Korea consist of poor labor markets in home countries versus attractive job conditions in the host countries, and a desire for international experience. Similarly, the Syrian SIEs studied by Beitin (2012) identified motivational factors related with the home (escape from the military service mandate) and host countries (possibility of advancing in education and careers). This similarity in the motivational drivers among two different populations sparked some interest in identifying if there is a relationship between motives, mobility patterns and demographics. Thorn et al. (2013) grouped the identified motives in six different categories: cultural and travel opportunities, career, economics, affiliations, political environment and quality of life. The influence of these motives on the mobility pattern showed that the desire for cultural and travel opportunities is the best predictor for mobility cessation and developmental level in the host country, while career motives predicted mobility duration.
Lauring et al. (2014) proposed another grouping order for the motivational drivers, by taking into consideration the extent to which they relate to work (career and financial reasons) or are more tourism-oriented (seeking and escape reasons). These latter motivations are strongest among SIE academics who are young, non-married and originally from a non-EU country. The SIEs from a non-EU country moving to the EU are motivated by financial and seeking motivations. According to Selmer and Lauring (2012), these motivations would fit under the refugee or mercenary categorization of motivational drivers, based on the behavioral intentions and outcome control matrix. This matrix takes into consideration affective and evaluative behavioral intentions along with the easiness or difficulty of SIEs’ outcome control. Therefore, by combining these four dimensions, the equivalent number of categories emerges, indicating that SIEs can be classified as a refugee (motivated by life change and escape reasons), a mercenary (motivated by financial incentives), an explorer (motivated by a desire for adventure and travelling) or an architect (motivated by career considerations).
This categorization was initially proposed by Richardson and McKenna (2002), and its empirical proof and effect on work outcomes (work performance, work effectiveness and job satisfaction) was tested by Selmer and Lauring (2012). The categorization of SIEs’ reasons to expatriate was partially confirmed, since the participants in this study considered that what influenced their decision to expatriate was mainly the desire for adventure, financial gains and career opportunities. Therefore, they did not identify as much with the refugee reason which refers to the escape from previous life situations. However, this was the best predictor for work outcomes. A strong negative association was found between the refugee reasons to expatriate and the three work outcomes, namely work performance, work effectiveness and job satisfaction. Selmer and Lauring (2012) considered this a striking finding, because one may speculate that refugee reasons to relocate result in negative work outcomes. Nonetheless, they argue that the interpretation of these results may not be straightforward, since the studied group of SIEs was not homogeneous and SIEs who relocated from developing countries to developed ones might have escaped from undesirable living conditions in their home countries; hence relocated more by necessity than by choice. Consequently, these SIEs may have experienced discrimination in the organizational context of developed countries, due to ethnic traits such as language, religion or clothing habits, just as other studies pointed out (e.g. Al Ariss 2010; Al Ariss and Özbilgin 2010). Regarding the mercenary reasons to expatriate, Selmer and Lauring (2012) did not identify any relations with the work outcomes. This may indicate that financial reasons are not as important for SIEs as they might be for AEs (Richardson and Mallon 2005). On the other hand, just as predicted, the explorer reasons to expatriate are strongly related to job satisfaction, while architect reasons facilitate work performance and work effectiveness.
Besides motives’ effect on work outcomes, demographical variables were also explored during both time periods. More specifically, the relationship between gender, marital status and job performance was studied during both time periods and similar results were encountered. Selmer and Lauring (2011a) along with Lauring and Selmer (2014) identified that married SIEs have better job performance than unmarried SIEs. However, the results found by these authors differ regarding gender. On the one hand, Selmer and Lauring (2011a) identified that the positive relationship between marital status and job performance was not moderated by gender. Also, when gender was entered alone in the moderation model, it did not result in any significant effect on the job performance. On the other hand, Lauring and Selmer (2014) determined that female SIEs have better job performance than male SIEs. Also, married SIEs have better job performance and are more satisfied with their job than unmarried SIEs.
The influence of gender was further explored exclusively during the first time period, through an association with the motivational drivers. The results indicate that when comparing men with women in terms of their willingness to go abroad, women are more affected by family/relationships and less motivated by financial gain and life change (Myers and Pringle 2005; Tharenou 2008; Selmer and Lauring 2010). In addition, women chose less risky and more secure environments, which offer them international career opportunities (Myers and Pringle 2005).
During the second period of time, researchers devoted a lot of attention to SIEs’ careers, with the aim of characterizing careers and identifying what type of career contributes the most to a successful international experience. In order to characterize the SIEs’ careers, four different patterns were identified and a new metaphor was proposed to describe career development. The chosen metaphor was a river, referring to “high or low starts, different tributaries (opportunities and challenges) flowing in and out of the career river at different stages; some rivers growing large, while others fading away and perhaps then following and growing again along a different path” (Crowley-Henry 2012, p. 134). In addition, the four patterns identified by Muir et al. (2014) were reinventors (reinvent self and career), reinvigorators (adapt the existent possessed skills to the new working environment), reversers (unable to pursue the desired career path, since it has stalled or gone backwards) and rejecters (overwhelmed by the challenges faced in the work context). In order to identify what type of career contributes the most to a successful international experience, Cerdin and Le Pargneux (2014) used three variables that characterize an individual’s internal career: protean career attitude, boundaryless career attitude and careerist orientation. Results indicated that the success of international mobility, in terms of job satisfaction, career satisfaction and intentions to leave, was best explained by a careerist orientation.
However, besides career orientation, there are other variables which can predict SIEs’ international mobility success, such as cross-cultural adjustment. During both time periods, researchers attempted to determine the factors which positively and negatively contributed to SIEs’ adjustment in the host country. The results are inconclusive with respect to the influence of previous international experience and language proficiency, since either positive, negative or no effects on SIEs’ adjustment were found (Peltokorpi 2008; Alshammari 2012; Isakovic and Whitman 2013). But, it is well known that culture novelty (unfamiliar host country culture or a high degree of difference between the host and home country’s cultures) influences SIEs’ adjustment negatively, while the personality trait, cultural empathy has a positive influence (Peltokorpi 2008; Isakovic and Whitman 2013).
Mal-adjustment or even lack of adjustment have been reported as prompting factors of early repatriation among AEs (Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al. 2005), while family and social connections have a great impact on SIEs’ intentions to stay or return (Richardson and McKenna 2006; Schoepp and Forstenlechner 2010). In addition, by relating the motivational drivers to SIEs’ repatriation, Thorn et al. (2013) found out that the desire for culture and travel opportunities was the best predictor of mobility cessation, while career motives predicted duration of mobility and cultural distance between home and host country.
Meso level research
Comparing meso level research between two research periods (1997–2011 vs. 2012–2014)
A more holistic approach should be adopted in the recruitment process, incorporating realistic job previews and living conditions (Richardson et al. 2008)
Proactive socialization and positive framing (Fu et al. 2005)
Income is a significant motivator to work in the international context (Bhuian et al. 2001)
Job satisfaction and job variety are predictors of organizational commitment, while job autonomy is negatively related to it (Bhuian et al. 2001)
Peer support is related to job satisfaction, while mentor support relates to job satisfaction and turnover intentions (Bozionelos 2009)
Antecedents of underemployment: lack of job autonomy, job suitability, job variety and fit to psychological contract. Consequences of underemployment: negative effect on job satisfaction, leading to higher levels of work alienation and lower career satisfaction (Lee 2005)
Performance management (PM) preferences of SIEs: goal-setting, performance measurement and appraisal, and a performance-based pay component. The Belgians preferences for PM incorporate professional and distant relationship (Ellis 2012)
On average, SIEs in the public sector present a higher degree of performance and effectiveness than SIEs in the private sector. Contrary to what was predicted, this doesn’t happen with job satisfaction. For SIEs in the private sector vs. the public sector, there is a stronger positive association between creativity and performance, creativity and effectiveness, but not between creativity and job satisfaction (Lauring and Selmer 2013)
The relationship between role ambiguity and job performance was significant. This relationship was mediated by organizational identification and moderated by information seeking and perceived organizational support (Showail et al. 2013)
Work adjustment is explained by self-efficacy beliefs among global employees. Job satisfaction is explained by job factors (role discretion and role conflict) and organizational or job context factors (supervisory support and perceived organizational support). Both work role adjustment and job satisfaction are not influenced by whether or not the global employee is company assigned or self-initiated. (Supangco and Mayhofer 2014)
Family and social relationships have a significant impact on the intention to stay in the host country or return to the home country, hence a possible management strategy could involve providing return trips (Richardson and McKenna 2006)
Underemployment in the host country and not returning to a role within an organization in the home country, increases the level of stress (Begley et al. 2008)
Host country push–pull factors, home country pull factors and shocks can contribute to repatriation (Tharenou and Caulfield 2010)
A direct positive effect between perceived organizational support (POS) and intention to stay was found. However, there was a significant negative indirect effect between POS and intention to stay when the career network of home country nationals was large. POS has a positive effect on SIEs’ career satisfaction and intention to stay in the host country (Cao et al. 2014)
During the second period, talent management and repatriation continued to receive much of researchers’ attention. In terms of the strategic management of SIEs, new insights were proposed regarding their performance management preferences, work adjustment and effectiveness. When compared with the host country nationals, whose preferences incorporate professional and distant relationships, SIEs’ performance management preferences in Belgium include goal-setting, performance measurement and appraisal, as well as a performance-based pay component (Ellis 2012). These results reinforce the ones encountered in the first period, in terms of the income motivator to work (Bhuian et al. 2001). At the same time, the preference for goal-setting is further explained by taking into consideration the negative relationship which exists between role ambiguity and job performance. In fact, SIEs prefer to know exactly what behavior is expected from them; otherwise their performance is not at its highest potential. Nonetheless, the relationship between role ambiguity and job performance is mediated by organizational identification, and moderated by information seeking and perceived organizational support (Showail et al. 2013).
Perceived organizational support along with supervisory support, role discretion and role conflict, were the job context factors which explained SIEs’ job satisfaction better than self-efficacy belief or status of expatriation (Supangco and Mayhofer 2014). Moreover, when comparing SIEs in the public sector with SIEs in the private sector, it was observed that SIEs in the public sector presented a higher degree of performance and effectiveness than SIEs in the private sector (Lauring and Selmer 2013).
In terms of repatriation intentions, intentions to stay in the host country were explored in an innovative way, by directly linking them with organizational aspects. In other words, while in the first period (1997–2011), family, social relations and host/home country push–pull factors, were explored, Cao et al. (2014) focused on perceived organizational support. They determined that the intention to stay in the host country was positively related to perceived organizational support. However, the inverse relationship occurred when SIEs had a large career network of home country nationals in the host country. This result is congruent with the findings of Richardson and McKenna (2006), lending support to the claim that social networks play an important role in SIEs’ international relocation experiences. In addition, several factors positively predict for pre-migration adaptation, such as previous international work experience, perceived organizational prestige, satisfaction with time, information and assistance to prepare for relocation and quality contact with host country nationals during recruitment (Yijälä et al. 2012).
Macro level research
During the first research period (1997–2011), SIEs emerged and were soon recognized as a potential resource in the rapidly growing global economy. Carr et al. (2005), pointed out the creation of virtual networks where SIEs could share their experience and expertise with home country nationals, as one way of SIEs benefiting organizations and home countries. In addition, SIEs were considered to be a valuable asset for organizations since they are present and contribute to the global economic workforce, possessing skills, knowledge and abilities which position them advantageously in international employment contexts. This is greatly due to the fact that they are intrinsically motivated to move abroad without any organizational support, which distinguishes them from the AEs. Several studies compared SIEs to AEs, and although SIEs are seen as a potential asset for organizations, there is lack of empirical data on the flow, scope and magnitude of self-initiated expatriation. In other words, SIEs are difficult to locate and there is little evidence of how organizations acquire SIEs and which skills contribute the most to the organizational context. Therefore, it was suggested that a contribution to the macro level research on SIEs would be the exploration of the individual-organizational relationship.
Much of the macro level research conducted during the second research period (2012–2014) focused on filling some of the gaps identified in the previous research period. Specifically, Tharenou (2013) focused on the identification of the situations where SIEs could replace AEs (e.g. roles requiring cross-cultural and host location specific competencies), while the home and host country relationships were a priority in several studies. For example Lo et al. (2012), identified that host country organization embeddedness mediates the relationship between home country community embeddedness and SIEs’ turnover intentions. In addition, Yijälä et al. (2012) determined that SIEs’ European identification mediated the relationship between previous international work experience and organizational identification. An increase in the cross-border mobility of highly skilled individuals is observed during this period, but precise data on the intra-European mobility are limited because these assignments do not necessarily require a work permit. Therefore, just as pointed out by Doherty (2013), the development of standardized instruments to measure the scope and magnitude of self-initiated expatriation, remains a suggestions for future research.
Suggestions for future research
The proposed future research suggestions by Doherty (2013) and the extent they were met during the 2012–2014 period
Doherty’s (2013) proposed future research suggestion
Met/unmet during the 2012–2014 research period
Example of conducted study during the 2012–2014 research period
“Explore the shifts that SIEs may make between self-initiated, company supported and migrant status.” (p. 450)
“The gendered nature of some facets of the experience is an important issue worthy of further study.” (p. 451)
“There is little evidence of how organizations acquire SIEs or the extent to which the skills contributed by SIEs are matched to the organizational context.” (p. 456)
“Further research is needed in order to gauge the magnitude of the population to provide evidence of the scale of SIEs as a potential global resource.” (p. 458)
“Further research could explore issues such as intra and inter home and host country comparisons affecting the intention to become SIEs, exploration of the factors that affect intended and actual repatriation behavior and the many facets of employment such as job satisfaction, organizational identification and commitment.” (p. 458)
Cao et al. (2014)
“Further research could usefully be done to validate constructs such as career anchors of SIEs.” (p. 458)
“There is a need to address research questions relating to the utility of SIEs to corporations and meso-level issues about the employee-employer relationship.” (p. 458)
“Further research could poll managers’ perceptions of SIEs to provide data on how SIEs are perceived within the organizational context.” (p. 458)
Showail et al. (2013)
“There is a need to explore how individual-level variables can relate to the organizational level, further researching, for example, how the adjustment patterns among SIEs can connect to organizational performance.” (p. 459)
“A further step in theoretical development is required to demonstrate whether and how the individual level career capital of SIEs can contribute to an organizational-level competitive advantage.” (p. 459)
Cerdin and Le Pargneux (2014)
As suggested by Doherty, Cao et al. (2014) explored some facets of employment (e.g. career satisfaction, perceived organizational support) associated with SIEs’ intention to stay in the host country. Regarding the utility of SIEs to corporations and meso-level issues, Tharenou (2013) explored the situations where SIEs could replace AEs. As a complementary perspective, managers’ perceptions were included in a study that tested the relation between role ambiguity, organization identification and job performance (Showail et al. 2013). The influence of individual career capital on SIEs’ international mobility success was explored in a study conducted by Cerdin and Le Pargneux (2014).
Stage 5: Evaluate the state of knowledge of the phenomenon and present future directions for research
By directly answering the question presented in the title of this article, it can be affirmed that 3 years make a lot of difference. While updating and synthesizing the literature review of the published articles on the self-initiated expatriation topic from 2012 until the end of 2014, we observed a massive interest and exponential growth in this topic. This bourgeoning interest in the topic of self-initiated expatriation can be related to the statistical data provided by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Population Division (2011), which accounts for 214 million individuals living and working outside their country of origin in 2010. This represents an increase of 58 million since 1990 and about 3 percent of the total world population. At the same time, SIEs are considered to be valuable individuals for international human resource management, benefiting organizations and economies (Dickmann and Baruch 2011). Therefore, academic scholars, businesses and policy-makers have been manifesting their interest in knowing more about these individuals living and working abroad on their own volition.
This affirmation is corroborated by the 45 peer-reviewed published articles over a period of 3 years (2012–2014), which is almost equal to the number of published works (49) during the preceding 14 years (1997–2011). By comparing the two research periods (1997–2011 vs. 2012–2014) in terms of the research context, we observed an expansion of the countries where research has been conducted. In other words, the research on SIEs started in Australia and New Zealand, involving some European countries and a limited number of countries from the Middle East and Asia. During the second research period, an effort was made to fill in the gap, by expanding the research on SIEs to the countries in which self-initiated expatiation was limitedly explored. Therefore, much of the research conducted during 2012–2014 ranged across SIEs in Asia, Middle East and Europe, while a limited number of studies were also conducted in North and South American countries. By analyzing the SIEs’ move between home and host countries, it could be observed that it mainly occurred between developed countries, followed by developing to developed ones, while very few took place from developed to developing countries. Future research could explore SIEs’ move between developed and developing countries, such as, but not limited to, the move from Portugal to Brazil or Angola, since the statistical data indicate that these two host countries are among the top destinations of the contemporary wave of Portuguese migration. In addition, in terms of cultural distance and adjustment these two countries are of potential interest since they were Portuguese colonies, and some cultural similarities might be explored in order to determine if they facilitate the SIEs’ adjustment process. More precisely, the results of several studies point out host country language proficiency as a predictor of SIEs’ adjustment. By taking into consideration that Portuguese is the official language of Portugal and Brazil, then an assumption could be made and further explored concerning a Portuguese SIE’ s facilitated adjustment process.
By taking into consideration the fact that cross-cultural adjustment is a process and not just a state, further longitudinal research is needed. This would greatly contribute to a thorough understanding of the past, present and future of SIEs’ international relocation experiences. In fact, during the second research period (2012–2014) a lack of longitudinal studies could be observed. The conducted studies focused on aspects related to the period before leaving the home country or after arriving in the host country, where participants were asked to think about current aspects or reflect back on their experience.
In order to obtain a more complete understanding of SIEs’ relocation experiences, the multi-informant perspective was introduced in some studies conducted during the second research period, where the spouses’, supervisors’ or host country nationals’ perspective was involved as a complement to SIEs’ view regarding a determinant issue. This complementary perspective is a very important asset of many studies and whenever possible it should be included in future SIE research. In addition, the pre-departure period, which includes expectations, family dynamics, personality and motivations, should be taken into consideration in future studies, since it seems to greatly impact the cross-cultural adjustment process and it has been rarely examined (an exception is Tabor and Milfont 2011).
Another aspect which could be further examined is the conceptual coherence of the SIE concept and its distinction from the other types of mobility patterns. So far, some of the conducted studies during the second research period reviewed the existing literature focused on SIEs. As a result of this, Cerdin and Selmer (2014) proposed four groups of screening questions related to the international relocation (e.g. Have you initiated your expatriation yourself?), regular employment (e.g. Do you have a regular job in the host country?), intention of a temporary stay in the host country (e.g. Was it your original intention to repatriate after a certain time?) and professional qualifications (e.g. Do you have skilled/professional qualifications?). These questions have to be affirmatively answered in order to consider an individual a SIE. Another way of determining if an individual is an SIE is by following the screening criteria proposed by Andresen et al. (2014). They proposed seven demarcation criteria which were claimed to be sufficient for plain differentiation between assigned expatriates, self-initiated expatriates and migrants. However, future research could empirically test these demarcation criteria, as well as the one proposed by Cerdin and Selmer (2014). The sample of such an empirical study should be carefully chosen, in order to guarantee that the different mobility groups (e.g. SIEs, AEs and skilled/unskilled migrants) can be compared. Therefore, some variables should be controlled, such as the participant’s host country and the time spent there. This would contribute to obtaining more precise results, contrary to what happened with some demographic data encountered during the two research periods. In other words, some studies indicate that SIEs are younger than AEs (e.g. Suutari and Brewster 2000; Peiperl et al. 2014) while others do not present any significant results regarding age, gender or marital status (e.g. Froese and Peltokorpi 2013). Most likely these discrepant results are due to the studies being conducted in different contexts, with distinct samples. Therefore, the profile of AEs or SIEs, using variables from the different levels of analysis (micro, meso and macro) should be carefully interpreted, since results across studies may not be cumulative.
Nonetheless, if SIEs would actually prove to be younger than AEs, we should not forget an important age related aspect that could be further explored. We are referring to emerging adults, i.e. individuals aged between 18 and 29 years, who may relocate as SIEs. According to Arnett (2000), during this period individuals prepare for adulthood by undergoing experimentation in love, work and worldview. Many may choose to move abroad in search for these experiences; hence it would be interesting to identify emerging adults’ relocation experiences as SIEs, in terms of their functioning in the new environment, while coping with the challenges associated with the developmental period they are undergoing.
By taking into account similarities and differences between the experiences of expatriates and other mobility groups, an additional aspect which could be explored in future research is expatriate identity. We consider that a more holistic approach to expatriate identity is lacking in the literature, and future studies should explore it because “expatriates who are able to negotiate their identities successfully within the host environment are able to manage the uncertainty associated with that environment more clearly” (Adams and van de Vijver 2015, p. 7).
Besides these suggestions for future research, it should be highlighted that, as mentioned in Table 5, some of the suggestions left by Doherty (2013) were not met so far during the second research period, and they can be taken into consideration in the forthcoming studies. Also, in the table in “Appendix” there is one column dedicated to the authors of some of the reviewed studies, who identified gaps and suggestions for future research. We consider that these are also important suggestions for the evolving knowledge in the area of self-initiated expatriation.
The identification of the met and unmet suggestions for future research can be seen as a contribution of this paper, since it presents, in a simple way, the conducted research and points out some possible areas of future research intervention. Another contribution of this paper is the updated literature review of the published articles on the self-initiated expatriation topic and systemization of the main findings. This enabled determining that research at different levels of analysis (micro, meso, macro) is rapidly growing and expanding to areas which were previously unexplored. There are new methodologies being used and new contexts chosen for the exploration of the SIE topic. This points out that SIE research is evolving. Although several authors attempted to define what constitutes SIEs and distinguished them from other mobility groups, it is crucial to empirically test the proposed scales. In doing so, sociological and psychological approaches may be adopted, since they are considered to be marginal in the expatriation field, which is dominated by business research (Dabic et al. 2013). Additionally, this rapidly evolving research area would greatly benefit from the conduction of a meta-analysis, since it would complement the present study. In other words, this study compared and contrasted the encountered results in two research periods, while a meta-analysis could combine all the encountered results, identifying patterns and relationships in them.
DF and MG conceived the design of this paper. DF acquired the data, analyzed and interpret it, drafted the manuscript and MG revised it critically for important intellectual content and gave the final approval of the submitted version. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
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