Introduction to the old “Moving to Canada” blog, originally posted 20 June, 2005:
Why are we moving? Why Canada?
The simple answer is, we needed jobs. Professors are like soldiers and priests, sitting on their bags, waiting for their next billet. Less so in North America than in Germany, where you do 15 years of postgraduate training, and then cluck about in the university coop until a job opens up. Between us, we applied for about 60 jobs, were invited for 11 interviews, and received two offers, one from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and one from Louvain-la-Neuve, in Belgium. About two thirds of the jobs were in the US, but we only had three interviews. Two of these were at Yale, where they told us they found us quite interesting, but they didn’t really have jobs open, and weren’t quite sure why they had invited us. We had heard that Canadian universities often have very generous policies for supporting academic couples, a crucial point when considering how many couples we know who work hundreds or thousands of miles apart, or where one or the other has abandoned all career ambitions. Queen’s attracted our attention very early for its very generous policy, clearly stated on its website. They were as good as their word: After offering me a position as associate professor in the mathematics/statistics department, they created a special five-year position for Julia, half in math/stat, half in community health/epidemiology.
While many left-wing Americans like myself have prattled about moving to Canada as a protest against the Bush regime, or to have a field where progressive politics are not forelorn, they pretty much all stayed put in the end. We have no illusions of Canada as a progressive Shangri-La, but we are going. Sutter’s Mill pulled more pioneers out west than a dozen idealistic Horace Greeleys.
This account of a purely practical decision to emigrate is oversimplified. While we applied to only the most attractive US job openings, we applied for anything plausible in Canada and in Europe. In the end, we had invitations from the best research universities in Canada. I was interviewed at Queen’s, Julia at Toronto. McGill and UBC, the others clearly in the top rank among the large research universities, didn’t have job openings. Less renowned institutions like Dalhousie, Quebec and Victoria didn’t give us a second look. Strange are the ways of faculty search committees, and unknowable to mortals. Even stranger is that most of my invitations came from England, where three out of four applications garnered interviews, including at Cambridge and Oxford. The one that didn’t invite me was Southampton, suggesting that some invitations didn’t come because of the intricate dance where universities avoid offering jobs to those who they expect won’t accept them. At the same time, even at Cambridge I found myself having to answer the question, “Why would you be interested in coming here?” Despite the celebrated Canadian inferiority complex, neither of us was asked a question like this at any of our Canadian interviews. Instead, I was treated to a slightly protest-too-much catalogue of the virtues of Kingston and Queen’s, comparing it not to the US, but to the 500-pound-gorilla of Canadian research, Toronto.
Why Canada, then? After four years in the US, Julia had had enough of the American Way of Life, at least in its Californian variant. Life in Berkeley is fast-paced, sharp-elbows, schedules. Part of it is a consequence of economic stress, but there is also a characteristically Californian censorship of neutral and negative dispositions. Everyone, and particularly children, is supposed to be happy and excited to the maximum extent possible. (This is not so much of an issue among the university faculty, who are, by and large, foreign born, with only a miniscule admixture, of California natives.) Experiences other than “fun” are misfortunes, like chicken pox, which modern prophylaxis should prevent. Stay-at-home mothers with just one child can’t make a playdate without 4 weeks lead time, because there’s the “Music Together” this day, gymnastics that day, and then the weekly French lesson. Even once the appointment is made, you cannot simply meet: you need to call three times to confirm. (Interestingly, despite this being a liberal bastion, we have encountered no stay-at-home fathers, and no couples other than ourselves that divide childcare time equally between the parents. Outside the university, the mothers we know work not at all or only part time, even when their training would seem to hold the higher income in prospect. Particularly with a small child, it quickly gets tiresome, and you can’t take full advantage of the compensating active cultural life in Berkeley. We have no idea whether things are better in Canada, but we’re eager to have a try.
Similarly, the social politics. The sharp boundaries between rich and poor cause a lot of stress for people striving to keep away from the frontier. It’s not just about crime — though violent crime rates are several times lower in Ontario than in California. We don’t drive, and California is designed for people with their own cars. (Almost any city in Germany is much better in this respect.) My impression is that Kingston is worse than Berkeley, though far better than the Californian average, for pedestrians and bicyclists. Public transportation is close to nil, and there are few bicycle paths. On the other hand, it may be that traffic conditions there don’t really require bicycle paths. According to census statistics, in the old city of Kingston (a municipal definition which was dissolved into a larger metropolitan area a few years back) about 7% take public transportation to work, 25% walk or bicycle, and 65% ride in a car or truck. (In the larger metropolitan region, about 80% go to work in a private automobile.) The corresponding statistics for Berkeley are 19% public transport, 22% walk or bicycle, and 53% car or truck. (For comparison, in Alameda County, California, 10% took public transport, 5% walked or bicycled, and 83% drove to work, while in Frontenac County, Ontario, 4% took public transport, 13% walked or bicycled, and 81% drove to work.) There is an ambitious 25-year transportation plan for Kingston that calls for significant improvements to bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure, and expansion of public transport. It would probably be unwise to pin great hopes on this plan, though, since it does not include any specifics on realization. In particular, no funds have been allotted.
Schools in Berkeley are competitive. Admission to schools, starting at kindergarten, is competitive, and the pedagogy is competitive. The latter, at least, seems to be typical of the US as a whole. Two-year-olds are drilled on ABCs, five-year-olds have exacting reading lists and arithmetic worksheets from kindergarten, and by the time they are six or seven they have to fill in bubbles on high-stakes standardized exams. (The hope seems to be that, by the time they retire, at age 75, they will be a full three years ahead of their age in reading level.) The obsession with testing children belies the oft-repeated claim that American schools used to do a better job of teaching the “basics” (before drug-addled radicals took over the education establishment): if parents actually had acquired even a passable command of mathematics, history, science and literature, they would not have to rely on dubious tests to tell them if their children were learning. Of course, part of it is the bizarre verquickung of education and real-estate: Even if you’re a sterilized member in good standing of the Zero-Population Society, you may have cause to be concerned about the test scores in your local schools, since a few distracted readers or misaligned bubble-fillers could sink your home equity.
The competition for admission to schools is a significant source of parental stress. One colleague commented that the multiple interviews for admission to the kindergarten they had chosen for their five-year-old was more rigorous than his tenure review. As mentioned above, it exacerbates the other primary source of Bay-Area stress, real estate, since it inflates prices and increases competition for housing in the few enclaves reputed to have decent schools. Primarily, though, it is a natural response to the alpinization of the reward structure in the US: winner-take-all and devil-take-the-hindmost. Even as research finds the career advantages of elite schools declining, parents of what used to be called the grand bourgeois strive desperately to find any spell or ritual that can increase the chances for their offspring to land on the right side of the continental divide of class, flowing down into the warm seas of affluence.
Moving from the US to Canada feels slightly odd, slightly archaic. If you learned history in a US public school, the last you may have heard of Canada was when loyalists scoundrels scampered across the border to still-British North America. One has the feeling of entering a refugee camp, joining the sullen revanchists huddled along the border. (90% of the meagre 33 million Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border.) At the very latest, one heard of the US forces razing York (now Toronto) in the War of 1812, which the British avenged by sacking Washington and torching the White House. Dolly Madison barely escaped with her ice cream intact.
More recently, if you followed the news in the US, you might think that Canada was the name of a drugstore chain. And then the US offered to shoot down US-bound Korean ICBMs so they would fall on Canada, garnering remarkably little gratitude.
The general tone of the Canadian immigration and Citizenship (CIC) website is rather different than that of its US counterpart. Particularly striking are the words of encouragement on the website to people considering immigration:
Every year, Canada welcomes thousands of new residents. Coming to Canada as an immigrant is an exciting opportunity, but also a great challenge.
If you are interested in immigrating to Canada, you have a number of options when applying for permanent residence status. Read about these programs and decide which class suits you and your family best.
The tone of the US website, as of the US border agents, is a good deal more hard-edged. Part of US American self-definition is that there are only three kinds of people: Americans, potential Americans, and huddled masses yearning to be Americans, but who just don’t have the right stuff. For the US to advertise for immigrants would be as inconceivable as for Saint Peter to hang out a sign “If you were among the blessed you’d be home now” on the pearly gates. One might trace the overarching failure of US foreign policy in the 20th century, and certainly much of the admiration and hatred that are its twinned INCOME to the inability to imagine creatures living their own lives in other parts of the world, barely touched by their prospects for emigrating to America. States that carry on relationships with their neighboring states, with nary a thought for how these might influence their triangular connections to the distant mighty USA. People for whom English is as foreign as Chinese or Cherokee. At least twice I have heard remarks from Americans on the order of “You know that when these people go home at night and take off their shoes, they speak English.” This is a joke, of course, but a revealing one. For all that Otto Sixpack may wish that more of the help spoke better German when he is on vacation in Mallorca, it would never occur to him that they naturally do. He considers them lazy, not perverse. This is a frame of mind more at home in the 16th and 17th Century, when such thinkers as the Dutch Simon Stevin put forward the case that their own language (e.g., Dutch) was the natural language of humanity, for purely inherent linguistic reasons, and in all likelihood the prelapsarian tongue of Eden. I presume that anglophone Canadians, confronted with an assertive and robust francophone minority, could not imagine this joke either, though a few might laugh at it.
On the other hand, I have no reason as yet to believe that the Canadian immigration officials are any less officious than their US counterparts. Anyone with any contact to foreign residents in the US knows stories of the arbitrary abuse of power that sprouts in the thickets of intricate rules.
Many Americans do not understand how far US immigration policies depart from what are considered minimum standards in what we like to call developed countries, for instance in the treatment of families. Most Western European countries recognize a nearly absolute right for spouses or parents of citizens to reside and work, with difficulties only in the case of prior illegal entry or criminal behavior. (I found it interesting, in this context, that the Canadian Interior Minister just recently announced that current immigration status would no longer be considered in granting permanent residency to spouses.) In the US, there is no presumption of a right, and no possibility of temporary residency for the spouse of a citizen, only the right to apply for permanent residency. If you are poor or unemployed, you can’t marry a foreigner and live together in the US. If your beloved is in poor health, you had better throw her or him over and find a healthy American. I know a US citizen who was 7 months pregnant when her Haitian husband had to leave, under threat of deportation, because a form had been filed late. Parents of US-citizen children are deported, as are widows and widowers of US citizens who had the cheek to die before the green card was approved.
There is also no possibility of temporary residency for spouses. If you are a US citizen who wants to come just for a year or two with your non-US-citizen family to the US, you’re out of luck. You could go through the cumbersome green-card process, get a temporary work permit, and be barred from leaving the US until the green card is approved (which probably will not happen before your year or two is up. Even if you do get the green card, you will have to give it up, unless you are committed to visiting the US every six months. Unofficially, one hears that future dealings with BCIS are more fraught for someone who, in the past, has relinquished a green card.
As it happens, Julia and I are not married, though we would have gone through the process if it had been practically relevant. Since we did not plan to stay in the US for the long term, it did not seem advisable to apply for permanent residency, and, despite the much-vaunted thousand or so rights and responsibilities determined by marriage, we couldn’t see any that were relevant to us. The right to make medical decisions for an incapacitated spouse is an exception, so we signed the relevant forms — a lot less hassle than making an appointment at City Hall. Joint tax returns would be a bit less paperwork, but would not save us any money (the last time I checked). From all I can tell (this is one thing that will be tested when we show up tomorrow at the border post) this is a moot point in Canada, since common-law partnerships seem to be accorded equivalent status to marriages for most purposes — in particular, for immigration — following a 1997 decision of the Canadian Supreme Court. (Is this just theory or are they really indifferent to marriage certificates? We shall see.)
I would like to show up with all my papers in order, with no decisions required by the officials. As it happened, though, Queen’s University was slow in processing my papers, so that I only got the HRDC (Human Resources Development Commission) approval, a required step before the job offer can officially be used to secure a work permit. I received the confirmation two weeks ago; Julia’s contract was processed later still, and has not been submitted to HRDC. For me this is not too late, because US citizens are allowed (perhaps as a consequence of NAFTA) to apply for work permits at any border post. Julia, however, is a German citizen. We have been told, by the Queen’s principal’s office, that she can receive a work permit as a common-law partner with me at the border, and without HRDC approval. While the latter exemption is clearly mentioned on the CIC website, I have not found any hint that spouses are exempt from the rule that only US citizens can get work permits at the border. Again, we will just have to go and see.
One extra concern is whether there are US immigration controls, on one side or the other.
Here is a list of the documents I am carrying:
For my work permit
Job offer from Queen’s
HRSDC confirmation letter
Copy of my employment contract at UC Berkeley
Copy of my postdoctoral employment contract at TU Berlin
Several sample earnings slips
Undergraduate and graduate transcripts
Copy of PhD diploma
Filled-out application form
For entering Canada
Recent bank statements (to show funds)
Documentation of travel insurance. (Our university-based health insurance won’t start until we arrive in Ontario.)
Last three years tax returns.
For demonstrating common-law partnership
Form for claiming common-law partnership. (In an effort to be complete, we rushed to get this notarized before we left Portland.) This asks what evidence one can provide of long-standing domestic partnership. The only specifics it asks about are financial: Life insurance, joint property, joint bank account. One would think that having a child together is less of a commitment than having a bank account together, but that is not mentioned in any of the official documents.
Joint bank account statements.
Life insurance certificate.
Statement from joint renter’s insurance.
Julia’s divorce certificate.
Social security card
Job offer from Queen’s