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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Employment Poker in the Destination Country

Many migrants leave their country of origin to go off to play employment poker in the destination country.  You have a hand to play and in order to win (or just keep from losing big) you need to have a good understanding of  how your hand plays in the larger game that is the national job market.

Today let's look at a few things to think about before you go if you intend to seek employment on a distant shore.

Credentials:  What do you have?  High school diploma, associate degree, BA, MA or PhD?  In what fields?  Do you belong to a professional association that certifies certain professions?  Take a hard look at how those credentials "translate" on the other side.

Will your foreign credentials be recognized in the destination country?   A French going to Quebec or a Quebecois going to France will benefit from mutual recognition agreements (MRAs).  In the EU, see this site for information on how EU countries regulate access to certain professions.   If you are an engineer, look for countries that have signed the Washington Accord.

If there are no MRAs, what's next?  Look into what kind of retraining you would need to re-certify. How many years would you have to study?  How much will it cost?  Beware of  schemes that lure migrants in with the promise of certification in a few years.  Some foreign nurses are still waiting to become certified nurses in Japan.  Find out just how far industry certifications like Microsoft or Oracle (IT) or a TEFL or CELTA (English Language Training) certificate will take you. One high-tech French company I worked for only took IT people with engineering/computer science degrees, even for relatively simple tech work.  

What if none of your credentials are recognized and it's extremely difficult to recertify?  This is where you need to do some deep thinking.  How important is your profession to you?  Are you OK with the idea that you may not ever be able to work in that profession in the host country?  Would you be satisfied doing something else?  Something that may not be commensurate with your professional status, education, and experience in the home country (called "deskilling").  If your spouse is a citizen of that country how will this affect your relationship if you can't find work?  Perhaps you will find different work or full-time parenting to be a refreshing change, but perhaps not.  The time to negotiate these things is now, not after you've arrived and settled.

Language(s):  Start learning before you go.  Get as much experience with the language as you can.  Join the local Alliance Francaise, the Japan Foundation, or the Goethe Institut.   Contact consulates,  sister city associations, or local associations where you can find competent speakers of the target language willing to teach for a reasonable price.  Globalization means that there is probably a language community near you.  There is a  Japanese community in Versailles, for example.

In addition to basic communication skills, learn how to read and write.  How far do the illiterate go in your home country?  Not very.  Don't expect it to be any different in the host country.  I applied for one job in France, where to my surprise they gave me a handout describing a difficult situation with a client.  I was then given 30 minutes to write a response in French, using verb tenses not used in the spoken language and formal language and syntax that one would normally use with a client.  This was not a managerial job;  it was a very low-level IT consulting position. Literacy, literacy, literacy.

Connections:  If you have any connections to the destination country, use them.  It can be anything:  alumni associations, churches, a friend who was an au pair in that country, a family member who lives there, a co-worker who worked there.  Get into a network and see where it takes you.  There are places where a connection will land you a job much faster than fancy credentials and experience. It's not who you are, but who you know....

Money:  Down and Out in Paris and London (or Tokyo, Buenos Aires, or Shanghai) sounds so romantic.  It isn't.  Being poor isn't fun anywhere.  When I arrived in France I had almost no money and what little I had was sucked up with transportation fees, decent inexpensive clothes for job interviews, and language training.  I was not ready when I went looking but there was rent to pay.  And what I found was poorly paid secretarial work.  Money means options. Have something as a cushion just in case.  And don't assume you will be able to pay down your home country debts in the host country. It might happen, it might not.

Work Visas:  Given your situation, what visa categories are available to you?    Different countries have multiple work visa categories with different requirements and more or less beneficial conditions. If the visa is a short-term one (1 to 3 years) find out how hard it is to renew.  A spousal visa might be an option but it comes with its own issues; your ability to stay in the country and work may depend on your relationship with your spouse.  Never forget that you can be fired from that job, too.

Can you switch easily from one visa category to another?  Are you required to stay with an employer (H1-B in the US) or can you quit and find another employer without having to reapply to be able to stay?  Will the employer help with the visa process?  What about student visas?  Some countries allow students to work part-time.  Other countries allow international students to stay in the country after graduation and look for work.

Ghettoization:  The job market in the destination country is structured in particular ways.  Be aware of them.  Are certain nationalities mostly hired for certain kinds of jobs?  For example, it is reported that the Portuguese have a lock on the apartment manager jobs in Paris. Anglophones from certain countries are hired to teach English.  Silicon Valley seems to like French engineers.  A friend of mine who is an engineer from Mexico arrived in Europe where people suggested that she look for work teaching Spanish.  Eastern Europeans in some countries are associated with skilled trades.  In other places an Asian nationality may be associated with entrepreneurship.   Not to mention all the national stereotypes about migrant criminality, women and the sex trade, perceived failure of your nationality to integrate, and things like that.  Is that discrimination on the basis of national-origin?  You bet your ass it is.  And yet, it happens all the time and you can find yourself being herded into what the natives think is the "right" position for you based on the color of your passport.  And once you are there, they may never let you out.

Discrimination:  In addition to discrimination on the basis of national origin there can also be racial, sexual orientation, or gender-based discrimination in the host country.  If you are going to work in any country find out what your rights are (or if you even have any).  You are going into a world where you are most likely not a native-born citizen.  Perhaps there are local laws and protections but don't count on being able to use them because you are a migrant/immigrant/naturalized citizen.    Have a look at this EU publication, Migrants, Minorities and Employment-Exclusion and Discrimination in the 27 Member States.  Or this working paper on discrimination in Canada.

It's one hell of a game.  There are so many different possibilities that my head swims and I had trouble keeping this list short.  The thing to remember is that you have good cards and not so good ones that play differently in different countries.  Some of them you can throw away if you wish, others you are just plain stuck holding or giving them up is unthinkable.  I would argue that your chances of successful play are greatly improved with a little research and lot of thought.  I hope this helps.


LarryC said...

Something we forget yet comes along for the ride as a silent partner is...age. Here in the Wild Side, I can easily and successfully tout my 40+ yrs of engineering experience in half dozen industry sectors. Not so in Europe. Age, age, age. To the credit of family genetics, I appear much younger than my 6+ decades of global existence. But the birthdate is the damning evidence.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

LarryC, We must have a psychic connection because I realized right after I published this post that I left out age discrimination. That led me to do some research about migrants and ageing. I will be doing some post about that one soon. Because you're right, life in the host country is very different for the older migrant.