United States of America: The Land of Opportunity for Tamil Professionals

By Vinoth Vykunthanathan

The United States is the land of opportunity for highly driven professionals. With an economy ten times the size of Canada, a culture centered around capitalism and free markets, and headquarters to many of the largest corporations in the world, the opportunities are vast. Canadians are uniquely positioned to drive their career aspirations forward in our neighbouring country. Many Canadian Tamils, have moved to the United States over the years, including Markham native, Sulaksan Uruthiramoorthy, who has spent the last seven years down south working for multiple companies.

The Canadian Advantage and Visas

The close proximity to many of their major economic hubs (New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, DC), similar culture, intertwined economic interests, and large existing Canadian community, gives us an advantage when seeking opportunities in the United States. In addition, there are many pathways to securing visas to work in the US as Canadians.

Sulaksan’s first job in the US was in 2015. His prospective employer, Verizon, sponsored his move to New York City on a TN visa. The TN Visa, established under the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement, provides Canadians the benefit of finding work opportunities in the US. Sulaksan acknowledges the TN visa is the easiest to obtain but it does have limitations like employment mobility, where each new employer will have to file a new petition and receive a new TN visa to hire you.

For working professionals, seeking a job at a transborder corporation with a history of internal transfers to the United States is another great option. Many corporations operate in both countries, and once you secure an internal job offer, the employer can apply for an L-1 Visa. The downside of this strategy is that it may take more time before you land in the US. Alternatively, an H1-B visa is available for individuals with highly specialized skills. Under a H1-B visa, Sulaksan was able to join the strategy team at the technology giant, Meta. The TN visa, L-1 Visa and H1-B are all temporary visas, which can range from 3 to 7 years. For those seeking to stay longer, individuals can apply for permanent residency or a green card.

More Diverse Opportunities and Accelerated Career Progression

The allure of working in the US extends beyond the relative ease of accessing work visas, there are also more opportunities and far more diverse roles for financial professionals. The financial services sector employs over 6 million people versus just over 700,000 in Canada. The diversity and vibrancy of their economy relative to Canada creates opportunities that may be hard to find elsewhere. For example, 67% of active hedge funds are based out of the US (25% in NYC alone) compared to just 2% in Canada.  There are a lot more investment styles and risk appetite, which can only be deployed in a deep financial market like in the United States. In addition, our southern neighbor is home to 59 of the 100 top firms, with developed industries like technology, consumer products, and health care, which are unmatched globally. Even for traditional accounting roles in the Big 4, the experiences can be very different due to the diverse set of clients that are absent in Canada.

The United States may provide more entry points for motivated individuals due to the size of the labour market, competitive nature of firms and higher willingness to take a chance on non-traditional candidates.

What’s more, the smaller job market in Canada makes it difficult to make quick career transitions due to the limited number of seats available in many fields. Sulaksan found that his career accelerated since moving to the United States due to the work culture, competitive labor market dynamics and deep pool of job opportunities.  

Higher Compensation versus Canada

With these unique opportunities come lucrative compensation packages. Wall Street firms and big technology firms, tend to be more generous than other sectors in the economy due to their outsized profits and competition to retain talent. Wall Street bonus can vary year to year, but in some fields the rewards could be two times what you can earn in Canada for a similar role. For example, first-year associates at a Canadian investment banking firm operating in the US could make over US$350k (~C$440k) annually in NYC, versus compensation of over C$200k in Toronto. At big technology firms, Sulaksan found they paid 2-3x higher than for similar roles found in Canada. The highly competitive labour market provides greater opportunities to move up the ladder and make more money, which might not always be available in less competitive markets.

Regional Differences

There are also many options for where you can live and work. The United States in many respects remains strongly regional. Most Canadians, gravitate towards the large metros in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, and Seattle. Sulaksan spent his first three years in New York City before moving to Seattle. “I find there are very few places in the world that are comparable to NYC when it comes to diverse food, arts, entertainment, and nightlife,” says Sulaksan, “It’s a very social city where there’s a constant influx of fresh new faces drawn to its bright lights. If you’re an extrovert, looking to make new friends, NYC is the city for you. Seattle is a bit more laid back in comparison. There’s a great food and entertainment scene in Seattle, but on a much smaller scale. The Seattle Freeze, a widely held belief that it can be a challenge to make new friends in the city is definitely a thing! If you love the outdoors and are looking for a place to settle long-term, then you might prefer Seattle to NYC.” The history and climate of each region produces its own economy and character, so it pays to research before you choose where to settle.

Trade Offs

While there are many pros to seeking opportunities in the US, there are also drawbacks. The primary one is the difficulty of moving away from family and friends. It may take time to build up relationships in your new location, finding a sense of community may be challenging and starting a family may be harder. In addition, Americans generally work longer hours, have less annual paid days off and face higher healthcare costs. The US also doesn’t guarantee paid leave to new parents, instead leaving it up to individual employers. Many new parents in the States feel pressured to return to work earlier than they’d prefer to avoid being seen as uncommitted to their jobs. Lastly, despite the higher compensation, the cost of living and temporary work status may limit your ability to build strong roots. Overall, it’s still worth exploring for any finance professional, as the rewards may significantly outweigh the costs.

Vinoth Vykunthanathan is Vice President at TD Asset Management.

This article is re-published from the Spring 2022 issue of “Street Talk”, TiF’s flagship publication. Interested in writing for us? Click here for our submission guidelines.