So, Your Spouse Wants to Accept a Job State Side?
An Open Letter to All Canadian Women
by Linda Deck
To My Canadian Sisters,
So, your spouse wants to accept a job State Side? What should you know ahead of time? How could the decision to accompany your spouse affect you and the kids? Moving as a non-immigrant under the free trade agreement is not for the faint of heart. You must be prepared for many surprises.
In the past few years, American recruiters have been "flocking" to the Canadian universities, job fairs and open houses, offering Canadian professionals "the moon" if the professional would please relocate to the States. Currently, the unemployment rate in most of the US is very low and it is a challenge for many of these recruiters to find the right candidate in the US. Many of these recruiters recognize the relative ease of recruiting Canadian talented professionals into the US under the free trade agreement. Rarely will there be any mention of the issues confronting the professional's family after an international move to the US.
There are many myths circulating among Canadians at home right now. Some think that the US taxes are significantly lower. (If the secondary taxes like Social Security and Medicare are taken into account the tax rates are not as low as initially thought). Others think that Canadians will receive special treatment and will not be treated like common aliens. (Untrue!) Still others believe that the American way of life is somehow better. The Canadian media helps promote these myths by selecting only certain stories to share with the general public.
One of the greatest myths of all is that the American system will recognize a Canadian person's skills and that person will easily gain their own work authorization. Most traditionally female occupations – even a small business owner – will be excluded from gaining work authorization. According to the American immigration laws, only people with a four-year university degree or equivalent are skilled workers. Anyone with any less of an education is considered an unskilled worker, only qualifying for seasonal, temporary and traditionally migrant work.
Under the free trade agreement that Canada and the United States have shared since 1989, 63 types of professionals are allowed to relocate on a year to year basis. Most of the 63 professions are highly male dominated, scientific or academic categories, resulting in approximately 90% of the recruited professionals being male. The wives of these professionals will often not qualify in their own right in one of the allowed professions. The minor sons and daughters of these same professionals will never qualify.
After an international move from Canada to the United States (or vice versa), the professional is called a Trade National (TN). The spouse and children are called Trade Dependents (TDs). A very overlooked and often trivialized fact of the free trade regulations is that the rest of the family will not be allowed employment in the USA – no matter how dire the circumstance – unless they also happen to be one of the professionals on the NAFTA list. The Trade Dependent issues have been so overlooked that even the most senior of Trade Experts who helped to design the free trade agreement tell us that we do not exist. Period.
Modern Canadian families, used to living in a democratic country, do not know what to do when they are suddenly subjected to the imbalance of power that a single income household generates. Most of the families being recruited have no idea what the ramifications of unemployment and the imbalance of financial power will be to the other members of the family.
Through the imbalance of financial power and the unemployment (that is often unexpected), hundreds of families have suffered in their own unique ways. Incidents of domestic abuse increase. Family units have fractured when one or more of the family members have had all that they can take of this obsolete lifestyle thrust upon them. The family members must often cope with clinical depression for the first time in their lives. In severe cases, the circumstances may lead to suicidal thoughts. (I have been able to, in the past two years, help five Canadians re-think suicide through the networking my web site offers). On a single salary, sometimes less than initially promised, many of these families – as much as they would like to come home – have little choice but to stay while they save money towards the moving bill.
If anything happens to the family unit (abuse, divorce, abandonment, illness or death of the breadwinner), do not expect any help from the Canadian Embassy. Even though the Embassy is mandated to help Canadians in distress, the help will consist of dialing up all your family and friends to "pass the hat" for transportation money home. If your circle of family and friends cannot or will not help, the Embassy will issue a one way bus ticket home. This even applies in cases where the bread-winning spouse abandoned the family for another mate, leaving the family destitute and at the mercy of his continued goodwill. The dependent spouse will not have the resources or legal status to stay in the state long enough to even ask the judge whether she may legally take the children with her when she returns home.
If the couple has teenaged kids, they can expect the teenagers to return to Canada at a very young age to live with extended family while they attend high school or university. As these young people will never have the opportunity to even legally flip a burger alongside their new American friends, the only way that they will achieve semi-independence (a natural part of human development) is if they return to Canada with or without their parents.
Some of the more astute families have chosen to have the professional person in the family commute on a weekly basis to the job in the USA, leaving the family unit in Canada and returning each weekend for a visit. This allows the spouse to continue working in their job, the children to continue attending their local schools and the family to stay in a familiar environment in their own home. This option eliminates the problem of unemployment for the rest of the family and often results in the employment position of the professional to be a truly temporary one – as the NAFTA meant the jobs to be.
The TN and TD statuses are supposed to be temporary ones, renewable each year. As a result, the families must be prepared for the fact that the renewals are not always approved. If the applications are done at the border, you and yours may be on the other side of the border from all your worldly possessions.
My main goal while writing, publishing and promoting my two books and hosting my web site has been to allow Canadian families the opportunity of making an informed and educated decision of whether or not to accept the wonderful offers being made to them. Each and every North American family should have this right. Our politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers in both countries have not been forthcoming with the vital information.
As a result of my work, many Canadians have thought twice or three times about moving to the USA under the NAFTA. The ones who have chosen to relocate afterwards are armed with the power of knowledge to prepare themselves for some of the potential problems. A few of these families have followed my advice and signed a pre-NAFTA contract between themselves and with the company in the event that things go awry.
My work is my public service to Americans and Canadians alike. Just like Canadians, Americans are not thrilled to have American jobs go to foreigners – even Canadian ones during times of very low unemployment rates. Canadians must be aware of the issues so that their decision is the right one for their particular family.
©1999 by Linda Deck. All rights reserved.
Linda Deck is a Canadian author who has written and published two books about cross border mobility under NAFTA: "NAFTA Trade Dependency: The Ramifications, Solutions and Guidebook for NAFTA Family Members" and "Job Mobility Across the 49th: The FAQs". She has become an advocate and leader in the field of Trade Dependency. Her web site is: http://www.naftafyi.com/