Friday, February 13, 2009

Foreign financial crises - job loss abroad

There was an interesting international news article in the New York Times yesterday about the droves of foreign workers leaving Dubai, which, like many other countries, is in the midst of an economic depression. Abandoning their cars and mortgaged houses, these unemployed or underemployed workers have been fleeing the country to escape from their massive, criminal debt that they have no way to pay off.

First, as a caveat and bit of a personal story: this article highlights how lucky I feel to have stable employment. In my last semester at law school when I was planning to practice in Michigan, I started applying to hundreds of jobs. Each job, hundreds of other highly qualified candidates would apply as well (I am not exaggerating these numbers - after a while, the whole process became too defeating to continue). I soon realized that with many law students and seasoned attorneys in the same predicament, I would be better off looking in a jurisdictions where my skills would be a unique asset. I applied for a job in Istanbul and here I am, while many of my classmates struggle, nine months after graduation, to find a job. In a way, my flight was from Michigan, where my being a native English, US-trained, jobless just-graduated-law-student would never set me apart from the hundreds of others vying for the same job.

But this article raises unique questions and challenges that I have little experience with for the expatriate employee. How deep are your ties to a country? How deep is your debt? It also highlights one of the benefits (and more unethical aspects) of expatriate living: sometimes, it’s easier to just cut and run and go back home, or somewhere else, than dealing with the impacts of your financial woes. This is obviously not to advocate that, but is certainly how many have reacted to the deepening global financial crisis.

If you are thinking of taking on debt in a foreign country, do you know the debtors’ laws? In Dubai, for instance, failure to pay bills is punishable by jail. I’m not planning on acquiring any large debt like a mortgage or house payment any time soon, but this really does highlight the need to speak to a qualified, educated individual before taking on any sort of major debt in the country. I would never have guessed not paying bills could land me in jail, and I would hate to have to face the book-it or be-booked dilemma that many in Dubai are now facing.

Finally, it also, of course, highlights the need to have an adequate financial cushion to help ride out the bad times. This is something that I myself am still working on, thinking that problems like this will never happen to me. It’s easy for me to think my job is secure; I could go anywhere. And, though the people in this story were in the wrong place at the wrong time, hopefully other workers, foreign or domestic, can learn from their unfortunate stories. I've always planned to build up a safety net sometime in the 'future', but articles like this drive home that future should be now.

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