In the past, Americans often took foreign jobs for the adventure or because their career field demanded overseas work. Today, these young people are leaving because they can’t find jobs in the United States. They’re leaving because the jobs they do find often don’t offer benefits such as health insurance. They’re leaving because the gloomy atmosphere of the American economy makes it hard to break through with a new innovative idea or business model. “This is a huge movement,” says Bob Adams, president and chief executive of America Wave, an organization that studies overseas relocation.
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When Liz Jackson, 31, earned her PhD in educational policy from the University of Illinois, she hoped to find a job as an assistant professor. She applied for about 50 jobs in 2010. But U.S. colleges and universities were shrinking; layoffs and hiring freezes were rampant. Jackson’s only nibbles of interest came from the Middle East and Asia.
She ended up taking a position as an administrator at a university in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. There, in addition to a tax-free salary of $45,000, she was given a three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment to live in rent-free, plane tickets for her and her husband to visit the United States every year, 44 annual paid vacation days, an $8,000 moving allowance, and a promise to help find a job for her husband, who’s a physicist. Plus, there was great health insurance, with no co-pays, dirt-cheap drugs and free dental coverage. This was a major draw for many of Jackson’s friends, almost all of whom are fellow Americans.
“We can pay off our student loans in the next six years,” Jackson says. Together, she and her husband owe about $200,000. “That would be impossible in the United States.”
Jackson estimates that half of her graduate school classmates in the United States are underemployed or employed in jobs far different fromprofessions they trained for. Still, her family has a hard time understanding why she and her husband chose to live abroad. “They didn’t believe us when we said we can’t get a job” in the United States that’s competitive, she says. “Not only can we not get jobs in the U.S., but even if we did, we’d be taking a serious pay cut.”