Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ask CJ: an immigration question

I recently received an e-mail from AS, who got a Ph.D. in chemistry in the US* and did a postdoc here as well, but through happenstance, is back in their home country in Eastern Europe. They're looking for ways to find industry jobs in the US or other countries. They have the following questions:
  • Is there and difference in the difficulty level of finding employment for foreigners between US and Canada? 
  • Alternatively, I can try to find another postdoc (which is something I am also working on). However, due to certain visa policies I can not return on the same academic visa I had previously. Do you happen to know if new or returning postdocs are admitted back in US on a temporary work visa? 
I confess to not being an science immigration expert, but I am sure there are some amongst my readers. It is my broad understanding that Canadian immigration is more biased towards skills-based (or $$-based) policies than those of the US, but I confess I don't really understand the issues.

Please comment, if you have expertise.

*At a very good department, not that it matters. 


  1. Sounds like a great question for the #sciencenomads out there.

  2. Me: US Birthright Citizen, Ph.D. Chemistry, postdoc NIH five years. I spent two years as institute basic science rep. to the fellows committee, and was first line of advice for my institutes visiting fellows on paths to citizenship. I am not a lawyer and my information is a few years dated. I also spent two years in Canada for graduate school.

    1st question: Yes, there are big differences and for this individual Canada is a much easier path to employment. First, you can easily enter into a postdoc/employment position in Canada right away because you will not have the same visa hurdles. Second, Canada allows for much cheaper paths for employment visas and greater numbers per capita. Since 9/11, the US has gotten stingy on the employment visas and they can cost a lot.

    2nd question: Depends on the visa you had previously. If you were on the J-1 visa for both student and postdoc then you're pretty stuck waiting out the mandatory two years. There's a chance for you to get the home residency requirement waived, but you would need to find an employer willing to pay for the H-1B visa and get your country to issue a no objection statement. It has been my experience that companies in the US will not pay for the H-1B visa process. There are too many qualified chemists and too few jobs and companies will always go for the free candidate. Best option in this case is to try for a government postdoc/staff scientist position where they will bring this candidate in as H-1B status (you might be able to find a Univ. postdoc that will support H-1B). They're hard to get but it can be done.
    If you were here on the H-1B status, you can get in as a J-1. But if you were here previously as H-1B, why didn't you get the job when a company would hire you, or why didn't you submit an immigrant petition?
    Either way has their difficulties.
    The most successful path visiting scientist have had follows this route: J-1 (student or postdoc) --> prior to ending first postdoc transfer to postdoc position where they will support H-1B status --> prior to finishing first H-1B position apply for employment and prior to fifth year as H-1B apply for immigrant status. Once the candidate has H-1B status he can transfer positions freely, this is not the case with a J-1 visa.

    If this candidate is set on the US, I recommend getting their CV put together and right an amazing letter to each government lab using their field of chemistry. For chemistry look at NIST, NIH (NCI, NIDA, NIMH, NIDDK will have the greatest number of chemists but there is a spattering in all institutes), NOAA, FDA, etc. This candidate should write a specific letter to each intramural faculty member s/he would like to work for specifically stating how they can help their program. While s/he can try for other postdoc positions, it has been my experience that US government position are able to cut through a lot of red tape and they have the money to cover visa expenses. Also, there is no cap for the H-1B visa for research Univ. and non-profits, which means government labs can bring in as many H-1B visa holders as they are willing to pay for (most laboratories are capped due to expense but it is amazing where they will find money if they want you).

    Canada will be easier. The candidate can just apply for a postdoc, and then use this as a chance to network for getting employed.

    Best of luck

  3. I woud like to offer another piece of advice. Based on my experience, if you are trying to find a job in the pharma/biotech sector, small companies and startups are more likely to sponsor your H1-B visa/green card compared to big companies. Of course that also translates to small companies finding you more valuable, but that's a topic for another discussion.

  4. As a canadian, i would say that Canada is easier in getting visa but harder to find a job. Just a text from this same blog exemplifies this :


    If you're not going for toronto or vancouver then it's analytical chemistry all the way with mining sector in the lead (and in hard to reach place)or the petrochemical sector (alberta)

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