Friday, January 18, 2013

A non-profit in Florida firing all postdocs with 1 mo notice?

I've just heard that allegedly a Torrey Pines Insistitute in Florida is firing all their postdocs with 1 month notice. Well, all postdocs that don't have a funding on their own (but apparently not many of them have it).

And it's really weird actually, as a friend of mine was just hired there as a postdoc about half a year ago! Didn't they anticipate the funding going dry? Why did they hire them to begin with?

The drama gets even more intense because my friend is on the H visa, and thus doesn't have a grace period: the hour they lose their job they become illegal immigrants in the US, violating all possible laws. In practice that means that they can gamble, and desperately look for a job, but if they don't find one, they spoil their relationships with the US visa machinery for a long time. Alternatively they can buy tickets for their entire family to their respective country, but with 1 mo leadtime these tickets would be quite expensive. So essentially that's a trap.

Not that other people suffer less. As a person from Europe, I was really puzzled by the fact that here in the US, from the majority of jobs, you can fire a person immediately, without a warning, without any explanations at all. In my country it would be unthinkable. But anyway, a one month warning probably doesn't sound that bad in the Unites States. Still, when foreigners are concerned, a one month warning is a disaster, because you can easily screw somebody's career this way, even from purely financial point of view! For a family of 4 it would mean spending ~4 $M on the tickets back home, getting rid of all their belongings, selling a car at a loss, loosing the rental deposit... Probably about $10 000 of instantaneous loss. Even with careful budgeting, not every household living on a ~45 $k/y income would have a cushion to easily survive unforeseen expenses like that.


  1. Oh that sucks. It's really my worst nightmare, that you loose your job and have to leave the country.

  2. If I loose my job today I'm screwed even more, as my baby doesn't have the other country citizenship yet. While I wouldn't be able to legally stay, he wouldn't be able to legally leave!

    I will get him a double-citizenship eventually, of course, but my point is that principally one can be ground by the gears of this giant State Paperwork mill pretty much to nothing.

  3. This would be the time to gamble and get a job working nights at a gas station. Or not get that kind of visa at all. Isn't there a student visa or something available for the postdocs?

  4. This is... just... I'm not sure there's an appropriate word here.

    At my institution, postdocs can be terminated without cause or due to loss of funding, but the organization expects PIs to give a minimum of 90 days notice - which as you point out, you should know there's inadequate funding within that period of time.

    Good luck to your friend... and all the other postdocs there :\

  5. @Liana: It isn't possible to work on a gas station with H2 visa. To keep a foreigner on a H2 visa the employer should prove certain things to the government. A university, or a place like Microsoft or Google would do that for certain people. Any "normal employer" - wold not.

    And foreigners don't "choose" the kind of visa they are getting. You have to spend 5 years on a J visa (which has its own quirks, like some J-scholars cannot go home for a vacation even if they have money), and then you switch to H visa. At this point most people also apply for a green card, but it takes time to get it. All that time your life is hung on a thin thread, and there are dozens of people around with scissors in their hands, sharp and open. Looking at you. Sending you creepy smiles.

  6. Your friend should contact an immigration lawyer to find out what his options are. My guess is his best hope is to find another postdoc super quick, but I have heard of cases where someone was granted a temporary visa to stay in situations like this.

    1 month notice is better than standard here. Standard in industry is 2 weeks. However, if you get laid off in industry, there is usually a lay off package which can sometimes include time in which you remain technically employed for visa reasons (unless the money has just flat out run out, in which case everyone is just out of luck).

    Also, FWIW, your baby can legally leave the US at anytime, since your baby is a full US citizen. You would just need to get the baby a passport. How long your baby could stay in another country would be up to the laws in that country- the US would have nothing to do with it. On the plus side, US citizens can travel to most places without a visa (China being a notable exception).

    Also, for the record the J visa is an education visa and can only be granted to universities. I do not think you "have" to start on a J, but most people employed by universities and research institutes do because it is much, much easier to get than an H.

    I will not try to defend US immigration law- it has a lot of problems. But I think you will probably find that the situation you describe could actually occur in many countries. The US is not the only country that ties work visas to employers, so this is not a problem unique to the US. It is one of the reasons I prefer the "points based" schemes used in some places.

  7. @Cloud: I'm not saying US is worse than other countries. I'm saying that any interaction between you (a little vulnerable person of flesh and blood) and The State (a giant inhumane machine of steel and paperwork) is scary. Being a foreignt postdoc in the US is just one of the ways to feel this fear =)

    And about my baby leaving - I meant that not being the citizen of my home country he won't be able to enter it. So he would be able to leave the US, and even land there, but then we would have to live in the terminal. The leadtime for getting my homecountry citizenship for him is more than a month; the leadtime for a US citizen to get an entry visa there is also about 2 months, so if I'm fired with 1 months notice, I am screwed.

    Again that's just an example. But theoretically things like that can happen to real people somewhere.

  8. Honestly, all of the interactions with the agency now called ICE that we've had (my husband is not a US citizen) or that our friends have had have been pretty good. I think there are some serious double standards going on, but from what I can tell, people with PhDs tend to fare pretty well. I hope your friend will at least try contacting either an immigration lawyer or his local ICE office to see what his options are.

    The institute you linked to is an unusual one. It is not a university, so not bound by the rules leading to accreditation. I suspect what happened is that they decided that their Florida venture wasn't working out and are scaling it back. Several San Diego institutes expanded to Florida in the boom times, and the scuttlebutt around town is that all are regretting it now that money is tighter.

    None of which helps your friend one bit, of course. But it is a good warning for non-US people considering postdocs to check out the host institution a bit.

    I hope your friend can find a solution.

  9. WOW this situation is insane!!! And absolutely horrible. I hope your friend is able to talk to an immigration lawyer for advice, as there are usually (complicated) systems to avoid the kicked-out-of-country-the-day-your-visa-ends trap.

    I believe the employer is (supposed to be) responsible for purchase of tickets for laid off H1B workers and dependents to return to home country.

    Also, while H1 status ends the day the employment ends, there is usually a window within which is is legal to stay but not legal to work... (but okay to look for work) or something. But knowing DHS and ICE, these things probably have caveats for country of origin, type of institution etc.

    Of course none of this helps with the entire rest of the extreme shittiness the situation - but I hope there is *some* way for your friend to be able to have some transition time.

  10. @NatC and Cloud: thank you for your advice! I'll make them read this thread; hopefully they'll be able to use this information somehow... Thanks!

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