UK BREXIT: "The Settled Order" is Over -- Now, Where Does the Dust Settle?
June 25, 2016
Digital Nomads in France
December 15, 2015
In Celebration of the 2016 Summer Olympics & Luminary's Anniversary
August 2, 2016
Talent Mobility in the Arctic Circle
May 28, 2014
Whether you intend to visit, live or work there, or simply read about it, the Arctic Circle is the new frontier for all of humanity.
Over the past few years, global climatologists raised awareness of how increased ice melt will affect not only the Arctic region, but also the lower latitudes of Earth in terms of new weather patterns, rising sea levels and increased desalinization of our oceans that may affect us all.
On a human migration level, there is an intense new interest in this sparsely inhabited and little understood area of the world. What’s behind the buzz?
New shipping lanes are being opened;
Arctic fishing rights are being established;
Corporate interest is increasing in the region’s mineral wealth;
Increased talk of “harvesting” glaciers for much-needed fresh water; and
For the first time in recorded human history, new areas of potentially habitable land is emerging as glacial melt occurs apace.
While not an exhaustive list, these are major factors in the Arctic being a new frontier in eco-migration and, predictably, over the next 20-30 years, some global companies will choose to send foreign talent to explore new, commercial opportunities.
New Lands, New Sea Routes and New Ports of Call-At What Cost?
The global interest in the Arctic Circle has, for the most part, been limited to romanticized stories of human endurance, documentaries about undiscovered alien landscapes, and shipping lore. Within the last decade, however, different attention has been focused on warnings by global climatologists that glacier melt in the North is occurring much faster and more profoundly than previously predicted.
The environmental impact of rapidly receding glaciers and ice sheets is of great concern to many within the scientific community.
In an April 2014 University of Vermont study, scientists performed studies of ancient tundra under the Greenland Ice Sheet – an ice sheet the size of Alaska and second only to Antarctica. According to the university’s geologist Paul Bierman, global temperatures are on a path to be, “far warmer than the warmest interglacials in millions of years. There is a 2.7-million-year-old soil sitting under Greenland. The ice sheet on top of it has not disappeared in the time in which humans became a species. But if we keep on our current trajectory, the ice sheet will not survive. And once you clear it off, it's really hard to put it back on."
There is also another consequence. As ice melt is occurring over a longer and more sustained period of time, this becomes a potential game-changer for the global economy.
For example, in August 2012, China’s Antarctic research icebreaker, the “Snow Dragon”, was the first documented vessel to navigate the Arctic Ocean from China to Iceland. As a result of this “ice-breaking” event between China and a European Union country, many countries far-removed from the Arctic region are eyeing the commercial viability of this new route in their global transport system.
While the melting of glaciers and sea ice is a foremost environmental concern, it is inevitable that this untapped region of the world will be integrated into the global economy.
Scientific research has been a mainstay of foreign presence in the Arctic Circle. However, as discussed in a June 2012 article in The Economist’s “The Melting North”, as almost all Arctic glaciers have receded, Greenland, Northern Alaska, Northern Canada, Northern Scandinavia and Siberia have exposed the potential for geothermal, hydroelectric, and wind power, and exploration and mining of oil, gas, and mineral resources.
In 2014, these lands and waters are no longer considered to be peripherally interesting to the rest of the world. With many billions of dollars of potential revenue at stake, the issues of maritime laws, sovereignty over territory, and the impact of human capital to an already dangerously fragile area of the world presents an interesting picture of what are the laws of these new lands.
In 1996, the Arctic Council was created to be the primary negotiating body for drafting and implementing constructive policy amongst countries with existing territorial claims in the Arctic Circle. The current members of the Council include Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. Six international organizations represent the Arctic Indigenous Peoples that also have permanent participant status. (While it makes sense that those countries that are contiguous to the Arctic Circle should have a seat at the table, it’s of interest that the United States is also included due to Northern Alaska being a part of the Arctic region.) Canada, Denmark and Russia are considered to have largest territorial claims in the region.
Since it’s inception, it’s been difficult for the council to fashion clear understandings and policies to govern the economic development of the region. With climate change now creating new urgency for the Council to create and implement internationally recognized and legally binding treaties, the commercial future is uncertain.
As there is not yet a clear mandate on how non-Arctic Council countries would be prevented or allowed to make their own maritime and territorial claims, future border enforcement and delivery of immigration benefit for working in Arctic territories outside already-established boundaries will be an interesting area of sovereignty law.
The Council may find itself having to invite the United Nations to intervene or simply defer to UN policies, such as the UN’s Commission Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) and Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to make initial policy. Beyond this, natural resource management, assertion of land claims, and maritime rights will either be determined by Council member countries executing such instruments as treaties and trade agreements, or the forcing of everyone’s hands by other countries making claims through military or economic threat.
Talent Mobility Issues in the Arctic
What will be of interest in the next few years is the effect of increased human presence in the Arctic region.
For instance, some Arctic Council countries are already executing trade agreements for Arctic area development. Consideration by companies wishing to exploit these agreements by bringing in diverse talent from all over the world to this region may have unforeseen issues.
From a talent management perspective, because much of the Arctic region is greatly underserved in many ways, considering placing talent in the area requires careful consideration of employee safety, compliance with the host country’s laws and regulations, and the overall well being of the employee while working in a remote and difficult area of the world.
For those companies that are considering a first foray into the Arctic region, many will typically consider entering into a project as a subcontractor with an entity already operating in the region. Should this be the case, subcontracting companies should exercise their due diligence to understand the primary contracting entity’s responsibility to sponsor subcontracted workers for entry visas and/or work and residence permits.
Companies that are establishing their own operations should ensure that they review with a qualified immigration supplier in the host country(ies) that the sponsoring company is qualified to petition for overseas workers.
As the Arctic region is truly a “last frontier”, talent recruitment and identifying qualified employee candidates for Arctic assignments will require special assessment and, to some degree, trial and error for companies new to the region.
Some things for companies to consider when sending employees on visits or assignments in the Arctic region are as follows:
As indicated above, human activity in any area of the Arctic region that is not under recognized sovereignty could place employees under a very grey area of international law. Monitoring employee whereabouts and understanding where they are permitted will help to reduce potential immigration compliance problems where there is unclear sovereignty.
The Arctic region is home to an estimated four million indigenous peoples. The protection of indigenous culture and their way of life is paramount for every employee to understand and observe when working in or around these communities.
The region is home to some of the most pristine ecosystems and fragile environments in the world. Companies should undertake proper guidance on instructing employees that “subsistence is the highest and best use” to protect both indigenous peoples and species (see U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Guide to Arctic Refuge at http://www.fws.gov/refuge/arctic/faqs.html).
For work on oil platforms and rigs, some countries may require additional licenses or permissions to be obtained/submitted prior to issuing work authorization.
For companies engaged in commercial shipping, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is currently drafting an international code of safety for ships operating in polar waters, known as the Polar Code. The code is to cover the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue, and environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in the inhospitable waters surrounding the two poles.
Lack of communications infrastructure to transmit data and/or access to reliable mobile phone service can significantly limit communication in these areas. Companies and employees should be prepared for high-cost services (if available) with no promise of consistent reliability.
Lengthy and difficult travel requirements to travel to or depart from remote locations. Private or chartered air service may prove expensive and weather conditions may create lengthy and unexpected delays in service.
Air cargo or container shipments may limit the type of food and “creature comforts” most employees would expect while on assignment.
Extremely cold weather conditions, along with prolonged periods of darkness, will determine the types of assignments (two weeks-two weeks off, 90 day per each 180-day period) that would be viable to offer assignees.
For Arctic Council member countries that currently have low migration in their far northern regions, there will be a question of how to accommodate increased economic migration against future environmental concerns and pressure on indigenous cultures.
Medical care in the Arctic region should be a consideration for candidates that have conditions requiring ongoing treatment.
Emergency medical care options should be carefully assessed for all employees.
Limited housing opportunities and possible lack of education infrastructure could discourage family members from accompanying an assignee. Working with DSP’s that have familiarity with a particular region’s challenges would help in making a more informed decision as to family accompanying.
Preparing and drilling on evacuation protocols in the event of a natural disaster or extreme weather should be required of each employee.
Beyond the potential logistics issues of placing workers in the Arctic, is also the articulation by the global corporate community that there must be a coordinated international governance on these new lands literally appearing from under the ice and regulating the impact on fragile tundra, indigenous peoples and wildlife.
Global mobility professionals may wish to inquire with some of their Oil & Gas industry or mining clients to acquaint their plans as to future movement into these areas. As the Arctic Circle is obviously an exceptionally difficult area to place humans, this is an instance where the natural environment alone will truly shape any assignment policy strategy and implementation at all levels.
Disclaimer: The LGI news library postings are of a general nature and for informational purposes only. Information posted does not constitute legal advice, nor should it be construed to serve as a substitute for legal advice. LGI Library postings are based upon information obtained through various public news resources, industry affiliates, and through LGI’s global alliance network. Content may be reused or reproduced either with posted credit to both LGI and authors, or through written permission granted by LGI and/or parties holding copyright or other intellectual property rights for specific content. For more information, please contact LGI at firstname.lastname@example.org.