Should I move for my partner's postdoc?
March 15, 2018 5:44 PM   Subscribe

Should I move from Canada to the US for my partner's 2 year-long postdoc? Will this screw up my career? What other things should I be factoring in to this decision?

My partner got a great 2-yr postdoc offer in a major US city. It's not the tenure-track position they were hoping for, but it's still a good career move. This would be their 3rd postdoc, so chances for getting a tenure track job will hopefully be good next round.

Currently we live in a major city in Canada (I am Canadian). I have a great job (outside academia) that I love and I'm fortunate to be earning a very comfortable salary. My partner doesn't HAVE to take the postdoc, but it's really their best career move available right now, by a pretty long shot.

My question is: should I be moving with my partner? (This is not a staying-together question; we are committed to each other.) I love my current city and don't particularly want to leave, but the new one also seems cool and interesting, and I think I could get at least a decent job there, and maybe even a great one. (I've only had one "real" job and the prospect of job hunting without my local network is nerve-wracking.) As much as I love my current workplace I do think it's probably time for a change.

If this were a tenure track job, it would be a no brainer -- we would just move. But it's just for 2 years. Will this be a big setback for my own career? What if my salary takes a substantial hit, how will that impact my future opportunities? Will companies in the US even hire a Canadian, who will almost certainly have to move again in 2 years? How do I even visa?

The new city is a 2.5hr flight from where I currently live. Theoretically we could do long-distance but I'd really rather not. We both want to get married and have kids, and are in our mid 30s so that would need to happen fairly soon. My partner would decline the postdoc if I insisted, but their options for staying here aren't very good. I was an academic myself before I defected, so I know how important this opportunity is. We have no kids or property or anything like that.

Have you been in this situation (on either side)? What did you do? Was it a good decision or did you regret it? How do you orchestrate a job search from another country? What other factors am I forgetting to think about?
posted by Sockmaster to Work & Money (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Very important: What's your visa situation if you go with partner? You say you can get a job, but can you? If you and your partner aren't married, this may be something to look into. I suspect that you wouldn't have any rights to work and that only if you had a super specialized skill could you get your own visa. Also you should find out if the university even provides spousal visas for postdocs. Most do, but you'll want to check. And you'll want to check if that spousal visa has employment authorization attached. In my third hand experience, postdoc spouse visas typically don't have employment authorization, but I admit that I've never gone through this myself. But when I was a new mother graduate student, tons of women in my baby groups were wives of postdocs with no eligibility to work.

Also, regarding the postdoc - Is this going to be a super intense postdoc with serious lab/hours requirements? If so, I suspect you'll never/rarely see your partner.
posted by k8t at 6:00 PM on March 15, 2018 [18 favorites]

What k8t says! This is a bad time to consider moving here without a firm job prospect/visa. By all means, look into visa requirements , but don't be too surprised if it takes two years just to get one. You might want to stick with visits while your partner is here.
posted by mollymillions at 6:14 PM on March 15, 2018

Do you fall into any of the TN visa catagories? If you do and you find a job it can be fairly easy to get and is aimed at temporary stays (up to three years). I would also consider the health care situation and the split of those responsibilities both logistical and financial.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 6:19 PM on March 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Google postdoc visa and the university name. See what visa they hire postdocs under. It is typically a J1 but not always. Then report back to us!
posted by k8t at 6:20 PM on March 15, 2018

yeah, on first read I didn't even think about the visa issue.

Assuming you're a Canadian citizen you can maybe get a TN to work in the US, depending on your field. Your partner is likely to get a J-1 which is basically useless for you. Even if they get an O-1 that won't be much use unless they manage to get a green card, something they may not even want to do unless they play to stay long-term. H-1B visa are hard to get these days and the lottery is usually in April so if they don't get one soon it'll be another year probably. Spouses of H-1B visa holders were able to work but Trump plans to end that - I'm not sure if those changes have gone in effect yet. The outlook is uncertain. In short, you're probably on your own for getting work authorization.

All that aside, the US is awash in Canadians and I doubt it will affect your ability to get a job assuming you can get a visa of some sort.

I don't know what field you work in, doing something different for two years might be no big deal, it might be a big setback. Hard to say without knowing your field.

You certainly can do long-distance for two years but... what happens at the end? If your partner gets a position there or elsewhere in the US you've just delayed the inevitable and you might have been better off moving in the first place.

I have been in a similar situation - I got a job in the US and dragged my wife and children along. There are a ton of differences on our situation, mostly that I had no expectation of this being temporary. My move was definitely as permanent as any move is. It took my wife a long time to get back to working (in addition to her having to go back to school to get a qualification).That said, she got a job at the very first career fair she went to, so depending on your field and the city job hunting may not be hard.

Overall it's really hard to say. To some extent it requires trying to predict the future. Where will partner end up after two years? What the job market like for you in destination city?

If you feel like you're willing to walk away from your current job then the worst case scenario for moving is that it goes terribly, you can't find a job and maybe you go back where you started. Would that be worse than being long-distance for a long time?
posted by GuyZero at 6:20 PM on March 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

If I knew what city I could give better counsel. Boston is not NYC is not San Diego is not Bismark.
posted by vrakatar at 6:22 PM on March 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind that if you want to have kids that choice is much better supported in Canada. So if you left for two years you would have to be working again in Canada for the minimum hours (approx four months) before you would be eligible for EI, but that would also mean potentially leaving on mat leave from a new employer before you have really built up your credibility with them. Map out the future you want, chronologically with dates and your age (eg married summer 2020, purchase house fall 2021, first child 2023 ... retired 2038) and see how this job fits/doesn't fit into your plans. Consider what your pension situation will be like as well, would you be okay if this ends up delaying your retirement by two years?
posted by saucysault at 6:33 PM on March 15, 2018 [12 favorites]

If your job and employer are amenable to you working remotely, you could continue to work a Canadian job while a tourist in the US. That might also be something to look into.
posted by suetanvil at 6:53 PM on March 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

First of all (IANAL, but I am the Canadian spouse of a Canadian H1B visa holder in the US), it's incorrect that H-4 (spouses of H1B visa holders) can work outright - you can only apply for an employment authorization document (EAD) after the H1B visa holder has received an immigrant petition form (which needs to be sponsored by the employer), which means adjusting status to a green card holder... so basically, as a spouse, you can't work for a goodly amount of time. That is, if the university would even sponsor a green card for a post-doc, which seems unlikely? Other people can comment on that.

Visas are complicated. I took the tack of coming here as a F-1 visa holder and completing a PhD. Maybe there's a clearer way for you to get a work visa, but I think you would need to talk to an immigration lawyer about that. As it is, I left a good job in Canada, and my potentially higher earnings from a PhD (*laughs/sobs*) won't make up for the money earned and raises I would have received during that time in my old vocation. I don't regret it per se, but I doubt it was the best move for my career.
posted by Paper rabies at 6:54 PM on March 15, 2018

Will companies in the US even hire a Canadian, who will almost certainly have to move again in 2 years?

There is absolutely no reason that you would tell a prospective employer this.

Take a look at this list of TN-eligible professions. If you fit into it, then you might want to start job searching and just wait until you get a job to follow your partner to the US.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:55 PM on March 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, on your update:

Can a Canadian web/ux/product designer get a TN Visa under Graphic Design?

It definitely looks possible enough to be worth talking to a specialist immigration lawyer.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:00 PM on March 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Honestly, the visa situation is likely going to make this decision for you. If you're not married, you won't be able to apply for a J2 authorisation on your partner's J1 visa. A TN could work, potentially, but you'd have to find the job, first.
posted by halation at 7:02 PM on March 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

If partner is on a J1, you'd have to be married for you to be eligible for the J2 visa. J2 does have work authorization though. Partner will need to demonstrate a lot of support documents though.
posted by k8t at 7:15 PM on March 15, 2018

I have to say if I could have gone and lived in Atlanta for a couple years at your age I'd have done it. It's a pretty cool and different city, it would a lot more like living "abroad" than say Boston or Houston. Atlanta has a great arts / music / design scene, lots of universities, great food, is cosmopolitan, has a southern enough climate to be a novelty for you and is close to lots of cool stuff. Yes the traffic sucks but it's 2 years. Atlanta is not a place I'd want to live forever because it's exhausting to me, but I'd totally do a couple years there. People are friendly too, if you partner is working a ton you'll meet all kinds of people easily.

If you were in a hot job I'd say stay but if you feel like it might be time to take a new position I'd at least look around Atlanta for jobs and give it a shot. It's a fun place till you burn out on the sprawl. It's got a similar vibe to LA or Miami in the "it's sunny and everything's possible" way but it's more laid back, friendly and affordable. At least that's always been my take on it.

Don't blame Trump for the visa sitch. It's always been super hard for Canadians to get unrestricted work visas here.
posted by fshgrl at 7:37 PM on March 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’ve moved for my spouse’s postdoc, and vice versa. It worked out well for us, but...
Having lived all over the USA, I really dislike the south. The heat, the regressive politics, the racism, etc. YMMV.

I was going to recommend you go for it, but Atlanta makes me hesitant, and UX is a really crowded field.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:25 PM on March 15, 2018

I would think twice before quitting a job I loved that paid well to move temporarily, especially if you think you and your partner can manage a long-distance relationship.

For me, those don't come along every day. YMMV, of course.
posted by dancing_angel at 8:47 PM on March 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

Are you kidding me? GET MARRIED.

Look. I feel you. But if you want some sort of visa stability, I'm pretty sure your immigration lawyer will tell you to get married.

That said, I also would not quit a well paying job for an uncertain move to a partner I was not married to. If you're not ready to marry, enjoy the thrill of long distance and visiting the US often, it sounds fun and romantic, TBH. Parts of the South are really lovely in some ways.
posted by jbenben at 10:17 PM on March 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

Lateral to your question: I don't know his field, but are you sure a third postdoc will help? My impression is that after ~five years of postdoc (in my niche) you're out of chances. And you say the move would be for two years - he is going on the job market every year, right? I would talk candidly to your partner and do your own research about his chances at a TT job.
posted by momus_window at 10:50 PM on March 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

I can speak to some of the non-visa-related aspects of this that you might be thinking about.

My now-husband and I were in a similar situation a few years ago, but within the U.S. I was offered a two-year fellowship on the opposite side of the country (like, almost as far away as you could get without leaving the lower forty-eight states). It was unquestionably in my best professional interest to take it, but he had recently begun to feel well established at his job, which had taken some time to find. We were committed to staying together, as we had practically just gotten engaged, so that wasn't a question for us, either. We ultimately decided that I would accept the fellowship and he would stay in Together City and just continue his work there for two years, for a couple of reasons.

First, we had no idea what I would find after the fellowship, but it was probably going to involve another move (similar to what you've said). It made more sense for my husband to gain a couple more years of experience and some seniority at his job than to move, job hunt in Fellowship City (anticipating a short stint there that would get even shorter the longer the job hunt took), and then have to look for a new job again wherever we went next. If you do move with him for this postdoc, it sounds like you're signing up for two job hunts within the next couple of years, not just the one, and if yours is a field where spending less than two years in a position raises eyebrows, that might be an issue (aside from any visa-related complications).

Along similar lines, the financial stability that his job gave us was especially important because we couldn't be sure what opportunities would be available to me after the fellowship ended. As it turned out, I did come right back to Together City while I completed my next round of applications/interviews. Maybe he would have found work in Fellowship City that could have supported us both if I wasn't working, but we both felt like it was best not to take that risk since there was an expiration date on the fellowship and no guarantee that I would find work or funding right away afterward.

So, that's what we were thinking about. In hindsight, it turned out to be the right choice for us for almost exactly the reasons that we had predicted.
posted by Anita Bath at 10:53 PM on March 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I regret having made multiple moves for my partner's career. (This may not be your situation -- note the multiple! -- though I imagine this would turn into more moves.) It is really hard to settle in a new place and find a job and make friends, esp. in a short time-frame where you don't feel "committed." I really feel like I lost out on so many career/friend/personal options by moving so much and wish we'd done long-distance for one or more of those stretches instead. This caused a lot of stress and introduced resentment into our relationship.

That said, I have an amazing relationship with my partner; he is the best thing that ever happened to me and we have amazing kids now too. I cannot imagine life without him. Maybe staying together helped fuel this? But I honestly think we would've made it, and both been better off in the long-term, if we'd contemplated time apart for work reasons.

YMMV obviously, and yes, visa!
posted by caoimhe at 12:06 AM on March 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Random thought and this is way intrusive so I apologize, but I was just reading on my local mom's group where one of the local moms is a Canadian doing a PhD in the US. Her husband is here too, on a 45 week, 96% pay leave from his job. Would something similar be a possibility for you? I wouldn't mention it but you do say you're in your mid 30s and want to get married and have kids so I wanted you to realize this was an option. Then if you can't work in the US anyway one year of that leave could look like standard maternity leave and you would be paid.
posted by peacheater at 12:21 AM on March 16, 2018

My instinct is that your relationship would not survive two years of LDR. They're hard and they suck even at the best of times and if you're mid 30s and wanting a family, being alone while the last of your friends that haven't married and started having kids do so en mass can be really frustrating. You're hitting the point that time is not on your side if the relationship doesn't work out and you want to have biological children with someone.

And I agree with momus_window - it might be time for your partner to accept that being a professor is not going to happen and execute Plan B. Age discrimination is very real and the longer they stay out of the non-academic workforce, the harder it will be to get and stay in it, especially if they're in tech as well.

Also, in case your use of pronouns indicates a gay relationship, while Atlanta is fairly progressive on homosexuality, you would be entering into a quiet conservative state with some ... problematic government as far as progressive issues.
posted by Candleman at 1:44 AM on March 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I asked a related question a few years ago when my husband took a post doc in MA while I had a job in NY.

I felt like the denizens of Metafilter were a bit on the negative side about long distance relationships. I’d like to add that there are many many people who live in different locations as their partners based on job-related stuff. And there are many people who travel extensively for their jobs as well.

It isn’t easy but you can find ways of making things work. Figuring out your ideal visit interval, regular check ins, FaceTime, ... it will take time to figure out what works for you guys if you decide to live apart.

It is a hard decision to make. Good luck and I hope whatever you guys choose, you find a way to make it work.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:16 AM on March 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hello, academiafilter! Chiming in because I married my boyfriend for a visa and moved to Fellowship City where I was searching for work for three years straight and then moved again to Place Where We Both Miraculously Got Jobs.

If you have any hope of returning to Current City or even Canada, do not leave. If you are not OK with job hunting being your fulltime life, do not leave. If you are not willing to pack all your shit in boxes and weepingly say goodbye to your community then unpack and make new friends and find a new favorite couch and then, 20 months later, toss all your stuff and say goodbye to your friends and do the whole damn rinse and repeat in the best case scenario that your partner gets another offer at the end, do not leave. Itinerant international junior academic life is heartbreak.

But you can only really salute the ghost ship that didn't carry you, right?
I have a ton of regrets but also none.
posted by athirstforsalt at 3:21 AM on March 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

If you are able to get a visa but are just doing a coat analysis, don’t forget about the cost of health care! When we moved from Canada to the Bay Area, we assumed my husband’s work health care would cover us. Which it did, but we still end up paying about $850 a month for our family. Our taxes are on par with what we paid in Canada too. This was something we didn’t account for, so I just wanted to bring it up! Good luck!
posted by andreapandrea at 7:12 AM on March 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I know nothing about post-docs, or academia and don't have much to weigh in on that aspect. But I do know about having a baby in the US. If one of you want to get pregnant in the next two years, do know that Canada is a much, much, much better place to have a baby. The US sucks at maternal health care, maternity leave, infant mortality isn't great, and it's really, really freaking expensive to get pregnant, deliver the baby, and then have childcare afterwards. I am assuming you would be the babyhaver (because having a baby soon & doing a two-year post-doc don't seem compatible? or is it your partner, and they want to wait till after?) and I would really suggest you have the baby in Canada.
posted by john_snow at 8:04 AM on March 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

My partner and I spent two years apart while he did a postdoc in another country and it turned out just fine. I wouldn’t leave a good-paying job I liked to follow someone for a temporary position. You need to think about your own future security too. Continuing to earn money and establish seniority at your job now may be important in establishing the financial underpinnings for the rest of your life, especially if you anticipate leaving the workforce to care for kids later. I would not disrupt that without a compelling personal desire to change careers, travel, etc. for my own fulfillment.
posted by bluebird at 8:08 AM on March 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you can get in on TN, go. It’s America, you get paid more and everything costs less. US companies look fantastic on Canadian resumes in tech.

Talk to an immigration lawyer on your options. You could get married, enter the US, job search, exit the US when you’ve found a job, return on TN. You should be able to sell the idea of temporary at the border since your partner is also on a temporary visa.

Your other alternative is to take up employment at a Canadian subsidiary of a US company based in Atlanta, then transfer on L1 after a year. Too bad Amazon is not a lock for that city otherwise I would say target Amazon Vancouver.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:49 AM on March 16, 2018

I am a dual citizen who wishes we lived in Canada right now. My partner is an academic in the late stages of the job search (not post-doc, visiting assistant professor). We are discussing whether to plan to move to Canada after this year, assuming a TT offer doesn't happen for him. A big piece of my urgent low level anxiety about this has to do with our amazing toddler, who deserves better than the US has to offer her, and I think you should stay put. A job you love, a place you love, and a fixed term long distance situation all add up to staying home and visiting.

Atlanta sounds super fun for visits!
posted by Lawn Beaver at 12:32 PM on March 16, 2018

Thank you all, very much, for your feedback so far. It's giving me and my partner a lot to think about. Please do keep 'em coming if you have 'em, I feel like every comment throws a slightly different shade of light on this tricky situation.

One follow up question:
@athirstforsalt: If you have any hope of returning to Current City or even Canada, do not leave.
Do you mean because of some of the baby-having/raising reasons mentioned in other replies? Or any other reasons? We would love to end up in Current City (or Canada in general) in the long run, and certainly wouldn't rule out applying to Canadian schools for TT jobs.
posted by Sockmaster at 12:46 PM on March 16, 2018

If you have a great job that you love, a comfortable salary, and a desire to raise your children in Canada, you should stay put and do the long-distance thing. Especially if you plan to raise your children in the city where you are currently located. Having a strong support network is critically important to women with younger children. You can work on strengthening that network over the next two years. Many other countries are better places to raise their children than the United States because those countries are more supportive of families in a variety of ways, including access to healthcare. Plan accordingly. When I was raising my kid, I did not have family nearby and none of my friends had any children. It was miserable because the nuclear family can be a lonely island. Sure, you might find an exciting fun new job. But you would eventually have to leave it anyway. I once changed countries for a partner and it was really hard. You say you love your job. That is a big deal. Do not take that for granted. Two years will zip by surprisingly quickly. You can use this time to invest in yourself when you’re not visiting your partner and they are not visiting you. Whatever you decide, best of luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:16 PM on March 16, 2018

Hi! I can only really speak from my experience, but it sounds a lot like your experience so I only hope it is helpful. These are tough tough tough decisions (that I know my husband and I will have to make again sooner or later which I dread) and my heart goes out to you: seriously.

The reason I said that is because people just don't tend to return to the places they leave. Is Current City also Ph.D. City? Another reason I said that is because people don't tend to find employment in Ph.D. City or long-term employment in Postdoc City. Our ex-Current City was in Southern CA and basically paradise, but once we both pulled up our roots there we knew there was basically no going back. Where would we work? The local universities are totally saturated with Ph.Ds who needed to stay local for family reasons and obviously our grad departments were out. How would we rebuild a community / network after being gone for a few years? Would we even be able to afford our old neighborhood? It seems to me like if you like your current city and plan on making a home there longterm, you should stay and continue to build a life with Current City as your partnerships HQ. Otherwise the job market will choose your next home for you. Life with no HQ can feel really rootless and lonely. I don't know if it is tougher to feel homeless and at the whims of the job market or to be in a long-distance relationship (I love the ghost ship image for this!) but for me the moving around took a major toll on my mental health and our relationship. And our finances! Another thing no one above has mentioned is that moving is SO EXPENSIVE. Two international moves in 3 years tore through our savings in a major way-- which is a bummer as we too are in our thirties and want to have kids soon. But, my Canadian twin, life did work out fine. Memail me if you want to chat. I am sure what you decide will be right for you.
posted by athirstforsalt at 10:24 PM on March 16, 2018

The TN-1 status (it's not technically a visa, Canadians don't get American visas) requires you to have a job offer and is a relatively straightforward process if your undergrad degree or licensure, job title and TN-1 category line up. Most smaller US companies will have no idea what the TN-1 is, they will need to provide you with the offer letter but you can basically do everything else and get the status when crossing the border. You should definitely rely on your own research and read the USCIS website and be your own expert on this versus relying on the company (unless it's a large institution that deals with a lot of foreign nationals) for dealing with working status. I would not recommend asking a company to file an I-129 for you as this will cost the employer both $ and time.

I know several couples who have made it through time limited long distance (e.g. medical residency) where they knew that in the future that one person would move to wherever the other would end up, I think this really depends on the relationship. If your partner's post doc is going to be one of those intense high hours in the lab, maybe this is the time where you would want to be there to help support them through that time.

Also note that mat leave in Canada is 1 year, in the US at my local major academic institution it's 8 weeks of short term disability plus whatever vacation you have saved up. Post docs at my school aren't employees so they don't get vacation time, one of my friends had a baby while post docing and the PI let her take 8 weeks but didn't have to.

What citizenship does your partner have? If American or dual, do your research and get your immigration ducks in a row before getting engaged/married so that you know how it affects your travel into the US.
posted by tangaroo at 10:31 AM on March 17, 2018

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