Staffing Accountants (“SAPRO”) announced that it has safely expatriated over three dozen South African accountants, ranging in age from mid-20s to early 30s from New York back to South Africa. After weeks of uncertainty the young accountants have been reunited with their families on home soil, thanks to the efforts of both SAPRO and Trip Concierge.
This expatriation was far from the smooth conclusion these accounting professionals had of the U.S. experience they had envisioned when they arrived there in early January 2020. Under SAPRO’s auspices, each individual had flown across the Atlantic full of optimism about a terrific work opportunity; to fulfil a short-term work commitment with a respected U.S. accounting firm, whilst enjoying the cultural experience of living abroad in some of the world’s most vibrant economic and financial hubs scattered across the US.
When the coronavirus began slamming into communities across the United States back in mid-March, members of the group found themselves suddenly without work, as the companies they were working with abruptly cut back on expenses in the face of the looming economic crisis. Subsequently, the South African Government announced that, as of March 26, it was closing its borders to anyone trying to enter the country. In a swift third blow, every commercial flight schedule to arrive in South Africa was cancelled until June.
SAPRO’s leadership team, which had been closely monitoring pandemic-related developments and their impacts on their consultants’ situations, moved swiftly. SAPRO’s first challenge had been to ensure the group’s safety by informing the consultants about best practices in terms of self-isolation, social distancing, hygiene procedures etc. Their second challenge was to manage the logistics of moving all the candidates to a major transport hub and stepping in to help with accommodations and meals during this ‘limbo’ period. The group was scattered across the continent in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, Tampa, and Washington DC. “It was crisis management all round,” says COO James Wiles. “We had to jump into action to ensure their safety and well-being. Thereafter, we embarked on the mammoth task of bringing together multiple corporates, government departments and airlines to arrange unprecedented repatriation flights. The scale of the obstacles were large and the situation kept evolving on a daily and sometimes hourly basis, but we pulled through and managed to not only help our people, but fellow South Africans dropped by their sponsors in the US at the final hour.”
“We were checking in with each of our consultants daily,” says SAPRO co-founder and co-CEO Dario Grassini. “We wanted to make sure they were safe; physically, mentally, and emotionally. At the same time, we were calling on the assistance of Trip Concierge, whose CEO Thomas Schneider coordinated the transportation of all our people from across the country and housed them in various Marriott Hotels and Airbnb properties, while we worked tirelessly to find them a way home to South Africa.”
Eventually, through the combined efforts of SAPRO and Workaway – a large employer of young South Africans working in the hospitality industry in Florida, a private charter flight was arranged with Ethiopian Airlines. After a health screening at Miami International Airport, all passengers embarked on their flight and landed safely in Johannesburg and Cape Town on Friday, 30 April 2020. “SAPRO have been outstanding since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic,” says Nicholas Kuhn, a member of the group. “They have gone above and beyond for each one of us. They did everything they could to ensure we were taken care of until we got home. We never felt out of the loop. I would like to thank SAPRO for working around the clock to get us home safely and for making their consultants their priority.”
Another group member, Shonagh Talbot, said: “SAPRO is an example of a company whose core ethics shone brightly during the pandemic. Time after time their number one priority was us, their consultants. They went way out of their way to keep us safe, healthy, and looked after, whatever the cost might be. I am extremely grateful for my decision to sign onto SAPRO’s program, as I firmly believe that few other companies would have made the effort that SAPRO made to get us home safe.”