My husband loves his job. His colleagues, about half of whom are from abroad, are smart and engaged. His schedule is humane. His students are curious and hard-working. In addition to the generous pay, we get a housing stipend for rent and have great health insurance. Because of the United States’ foreign earned-income exclusion, we don’t have to pay U.S. taxes on most of our Hong Kong income. Hong Kong’s income tax is generally lower than that in the United States, and most expats in Asia have similarly favorable tax situations.
Without knowing Cantonese, considered one of the world’s hardest languages, we may never feel like locals. But now more than ever, “local” is hard to define. Our friends here are from all over — the United States, Britain, India, Italy, South Africa, Greece. A few came for the adventure. But most others came for the jobs.
To a large extent, this wave of overseas migration is simply part of life in an increasingly globalized economy — and that’s a good thing. That young people would look beyond the United States when considering job prospects is a sign of a maturing country and an increasingly open and multicultural world. There’s no reason that smart, talented people should stay in the country where they were born or where they grew up. Plus, working abroad means learning new skills to be brought back to the United States — assuming you choose to return.
But the fact that so many young Americans are moving abroad of out necessity, because U.S. companies and institutions aren’t paying decent salaries and benefits? That’s problematic. The fact that so many young Americans have lost faith in the United States as a place of innovation and possibility? That’s deeply worrying.
We need to invest in talent, in education. We need to offer benefits similar to those in other developed nations. We need to recognize that working longer hours and “doing more with less” doesn’t create better workers, only more burnt-out ones.
For now, living in a tiny high-rise apartment 8,000 miles from America is the best way we’ve found to achieve the American Dream.
Emily Matchar, author of “Homeward Bound: The New Cult of Domesticity,” is a freelance writer in Hong Kong.