Third Country National Expatriate Management in Dubai from the Resource-based View Perspective: A Case Study of Third Country Nationals Working For MNCs in a Dubai Free Zone

Lawrence Chen

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The research seeks a fit between MNCs' competitive advantage and the use of third-country nationals (TCNs). There is little literature paying attention to why TCNs are used and managed strategically to help create MNCs' competitive advantages. The issue is further complicated by the knowledge of TCNs remaining limited due to ambiguous and poorly considered definitions in global staffing literature. TCNs have been inadequately conceptualised as individuals who do not possess as much knowledge as parent-country nationals (PCNs) and host-country nationals (HCNs) towards the home country and the headquarters as well as the host country and the focal subsidiary respectively.

Therefore, the overarching research questions are ‘Do TCNs, as a group, possess defining characteristics?’, ‘How do MNCs in the higher education sector in the MENA region utilise TCNs in their staffing?’, ‘To what extent can such MNCs better use TCNs to improve competitive advantage?’. The research uses an integrative perspective drawing on the resource-based view (RBV), international human resource management and institutional theory literature and case-study research on two British MNCs in a Dubai free zone. The study first clarified our view towards who TCNs should be and at what levels. TCNs’ characteristics and transferability were then redefined with comparison to PCNs’ and HCNs’ from the perspectives of management control and RBV. Subsequently, refined staffing archetypes were constructed as a basis to differentiate possible types and levels of TCNs, leading to TCNs with three orientations, namely central, local and worldwide orientation. Last, the light was shed on how and why the characteristics and management of TCNs, leading to both MNCs' competitive advantages, could be justified and made strategic with the factors identified at subsidiary, organisation and host country level.

The findings have answered the research questions by demonstrating concrete support to the linkage between TCNs' characteristics and management and MNCs' competitive advantages whilst taking factors at organisational, subsidiary and host Emirate level into account. The research finds that TCNs are not a homogeneous group and cannot be segmented based on 'nationality' from PCNs and HCNs. TCNs could have their distinctive characteristics and transferability. Moreover, MNCs cannot only secure competitive advantages from TCNs’ characteristics and transferability, but also through managing TCNs in a way to create additional competitive advantages. However, the linkage between TCNs’ characteristics/management and competitive advantages needs to be justified by the factors identified in the subsidiary, organisation and host Emirate/country level.

This research advances Human Resource Management on expatriation by interrogating the use of TCNs from the perspective of RBV. Besides this, this study extends expatriate study on the position and function of TCNs though accessing in detail their previously undermined use in a staffing strategy. This research also deepens insight of RBV by offering detailed evidence developed MNCs’ use of expatriate human resources. Most importantly, this study tackled both needs of the literature of International Business and International Human Resource Management, that is, reintegrating the use and management of expatriates from the drive of financial incentives and company performance. This research also adds a fuller picture to existing expatriation literature in MENA emerging markets.

The practical contribution is that the study helps MNCs in Dubai free zones to understand the reason for TCNs' large numbers, and their transferability for greater central knowledge and control as well as more excellent local knowledge together with their potential characteristics. Based on the understanding, MNCs can obtain competitive advantages by deploying unique human resource management on TCNs and their staffing strategy accordingly.

This exploratory research used two case studies centred on British MNCs that have subsidiaries in Dubai. The methodology employed involves the collection and analysis of primary and secondary data. Primary data was obtained from participant observation, telephone, and online as well as face-to-face interviews with both employees of the two MNCs’ headquarters and their subsidiaries in Dubai. Besides, historical company documents and brochures in either hard copies or electronic versions were used as secondary data.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Smith, Chris, Supervisor
  • Zheng, Yu, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Nov 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020


  • Lawrence Chen
  • human resource management
  • HRM
  • IHRM
  • TCNs
  • Third Country Nationals
  • Expatriate
  • Management
  • The Resource-Based View
  • Royal Holloway
  • Organisational Studies
  • MNCs
  • Multi-national Companies

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