See you later, USA!

US and Canada flags flying in the sky, with caption: "Moving back to Canada"

(Image source: US Embassy & Consulate in Canada)

I recently left the US to move back to Canada. In this article, I share my thoughts and reasoning on this move.

I came to the US at the end of 2019 on an H1B visa, which I got on my 3rd attempt towards the H1B “lottery”. Microsoft sponsored my H1B visa and was so excited to be able to work in the US (Seattle). 8 months later, I moved back to Canada, joining a local team in Microsoft Vancouver.

Why did I move

Let me first explain why did I move from Canada to the US in the first place, given the many similarities between lifestyles in the two countries.

  • First, I wanted to be close to my team, with whom I had been remotely collaborating for almost two years.
  • Second, the opportunities. Even within Microsoft, the number of opportunities in Redmond WA was an order of magnitude higher than that in Vancouver BC. Let alone the opportunities outside of the company that an H1B could potentially bring you in Seattle, New York and Sillicon Valley.
  • Third, the pay — in the same position, I’d be compensated on a higher basis in US than in Canada.

Now, why did I move back to Canada?

The first reason is that I realized some reasons driving me to the US were not as strong as I expected.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic was eliminating the advantage of collaborating in-person by being in Seattle.
  • I learned that H1B has quite some restrictions on role changes because it is job-specific. Transferring to a different team in Microsoft might be easier but to explore any intra-company opportunities would mean another long wait for immigration paperwork.

The second and more important reason is the immigration restrictions the H1B status brings.

  • Bumpy path towards permanent status. A Green Card is roughly 6-7 years down the road for me, and that is provided I continue to work in the same line of work, don’t go unemployed and no mistake is ever made by anyone in my application. I personally felt like it is too long a wait period and too much restrictions on my life.
  • International travel is a big problem. H1B visa stamps expires every year for me, which means at least every year I need to leave the US to renew it abroad. Besides, since the pandemic started the US has introduced new travel restrictions at an unprecedented rate, and I simply can’t go visit family and loved ones — none of them are in the US — without fearing not being able to return to my normal life in the US.
  • In H1B status, I am not allowed to perform any other gig that is normally paid. For example, I recently considered writing something for a media organization, but I couldn’t because their writers are usually paid (which means even volunteering as a writer could potentially violate the terms of my H1B and get me into trouble).

Impact on my career

In terms of future opportunities, my view is twofold: on the one hand, the total number of opportunities in Canada is probably lower than in the US; on the other hand, all opportunities in Canada are immediately available to me, whereas all US opportunities are weeks/months of paperwork away before being reachable.

Settling in Canada, where immigration is so much easier to deal with, means a huge weight off of my mind in terms of H1B-related immigration hoops to jump through, which contributes to my well-being. I believe I will feel more settled and be more sustainably productive in the long run.

With regarding to pay level difference, I view this as a price I simply have to pay for making this choice.

Some suggestions for people thinking about doing this

After sharing the personal update with a few people, I discovered that I’m not alone in contemplating a move like this in my communities. Here are my suggestions:

  • Don’t make any rushed decisions. Especially if you are not a US citizen, the opportunity to work in the US does not come easily, and leaving the US is much easier than possibly coming back one day.
  • Consequently, I don’t recommend moving only due to the current COVID-19 situation in the US. While the US data is not great right now, I still believe COVID-19 is something that can be dealt within a few years — a relatively short-term factor, comparing to the long-term career you may be deciding on.
  • Consider other short-term mitigations. If you are considering moving, it may be due to a number of reasons related to current situation. Especially in tech world, there is increasingly opportunities to work remotely for a prolonged period, even abroad. These could give you what you need without closing that star-spangled door!