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Are Professional Immigrants Great Leaders?

As someone who immigrated 3 times in my life, I am part of a group that I call professional immigrants. Meaning, I am really good at navigating the steps needed to pick up my life and move to another country where I don’t know anyone, and build a professional career. I can also call myself a professional immigrant because I am considered to be highly skilled and highly educated. I worked at top consulting companies in the world, where I received accelerated promotions. I was a corporate finance director at a top-3 Canadian bank where I managed a portfolio of over 1 billion dollars and received an accelerated promotion. I run a very successful business that influences strategy thinking and management consulting around the world.

What makes professional immigrants exceptional leaders

We are often highly trained and highly motivated, and highly educated professionals who leave behind everything, to take huge risks to have a better life, bigger opportunities, and earn more for ourselves and our families. We make the journey alone. We are not kids following our parents who protect us. We have no protection. We were not born in the countries we end up calling our homes. We often are from poorer countries. We leave behind our families, often not seeing them for a decade or more. At the time of writing, I have seen my parents and brothers only twice in 20 years and my sister 3 times in 20 years.

We leave our friends. We leave all the comforts of home: our language, our reputations, sometimes our credentials, our food, our culture, and our safety net. We have dependents, our extended families, before we have children. Some of us decide not to have children or have only one while we would love to have more, because the level of responsibility we already have for our extended family makes it very hard for us to add another dependent.

We are often the most talented and hardworking members of our family. Millions of us are stuck in limbo around immigration rules.

My immigration journey

I moved for a better life four times. I first moved to Moscow, which is hard to do without the right residency permit even though I am Russian. That was not a successful trip at all but I kept at it. In fact, it was harder than any of my 3 moves to another country. I then moved to Africa. I moved to North America. And within North America from Canada to the USA. And I also moved between cities within some of those countries. For example, in the US I lived in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

I had no relatives in any of those countries, no mentorship or guidance. I had no friends to meet me at the airport and no community on which to rely. When I first immigrated my pianist diploma was not even recognized and could not even be found in the educational certification database. It was as if I did not have any education and I had to start from scratch.

Even the paid legal help was often a nightmare which ended up costing me time and money to fix. Yet, I had to do it because I had to take care of several family members. When I started my journey, there were times when I did not eat lunch to save money and wore older clothing with holes, including shoes. I still remember the burgundy shoes I had in Africa with holes in the sole. No one could see the holes, but I could feel them.

H1B / green card

Quitting is often not any easier. Moving back to our home countries is often a difficult option. Many immigrants study in the West, like me, and often take on expensive student loans. They need to stay and work in the West to pay down these student loans since their employment prospects in their home countries do not pay enough.

In the US, the H1B visa is a lottery. It’s a competitive process where most will not get a visa. Those who do get it often need to stay with their employer. Their employer may or may not file a green card application. The green card approval may take up to twenty years. I read that 200,000 Indians will die of natural causes before their green cards are approved.

Think about that. 200,000 talented and generous professionals who are very hardworking, and making tremendous sacrifices to care for their immediate and extended family, will not live their full lives.

Many cannot buy homes for fear of having a firesale so that they can leave the country within the time limit, should they lose their jobs, to avoid being banned. For this reason, I rented for a long time. By renting, and not buying, we give up the primary method to build wealth: equity growth in a home. We have to build wealth with the best option often out of our reach for a very long time. Children may age out of the process. Spouses often cannot work. It’s tragic that most H1B holders who lose their jobs did not do so due to poor performance. Technology companies, for example, simply changed their strategies and decided to cut costs in the face of rising interest rates.

Recruitment for professional immigrants

In Canada, I was told I needed professional Canadian work experience to join the best firms for the best roles. Yet, very few wanted to give applicants this experience. I had to get an MBA from a top school, with distinction on the deans’ list, to break into the top bank, and then a major consulting firm. In two separate countries, I had to study again just to break into the professional ranks.

Most professional immigrants cannot afford to study again or have their previous degrees and credentials accredited. As I mentioned earlier, at one point an accreditation body could not find my Russian school in their database. I gave up that process and studied again. I know taxi drivers who were doctors, lawyers, and architects in their home countries who cannot afford the re-certification process. They drive a car to care for their spouse and children, and families in their home countries.

Credit scores are not transferable between countries. Not even between Canada and the US. Even Canadian checks are often not cashable in the USA. I found that out the hard way. Buying a car and home is difficult, especially if you do not know when you will be asked to leave. Travel is very hard. There is always the lingering fear that some administrative error will lock you out or the laws may change while you are traveling. Some professional immigrants, like those on the H1B, are stuck to one employer and often for the same role. They cannot try new things nor can they accept promotions to better, but different, roles. The mind frays when it is not challenged. Often, in our peak years, most immigrants are stuck in the same careers.

A mountain of paperwork

We become knowledge management experts as we have to keep a mountain of paperwork and original documents to support our movement. Our entire lives are archived and indexed in color-coded folders. We keep meticulous notes on all our travels. We keep all passports, travel tickets, and even hundreds of pages of utility bills to prove we were where we said we were.

In just about every professional immigrant’s home there is a cupboard filled with legal documentation. This is often more valuable than their retirement accounts. It’s hard to open and keep retirement accounts knowing you could be forced to leave at any time, often selling at the wrong time. Planning is hard. It is based on the renewal of documents and visas.

Supporting extended family

Children often never meet their grandparents in person. I have seen my nephew only once in my life.

Most Western countries have rules, benefits, and perks that are not designed for cultures with extended families. I have seen many colleagues with kids allowed to leave early, while those without kids have to carry the weight. Yet, I also have many dependents, even if I do not have kids. Even bonuses and retrenchments take into consideration if employees have a partner and children. It almost never takes into consideration if you support numerous family members in your home country. Payments into your 401K are tax-deferred or tax-free for a Roth IRA account. Yet, the money I send home monthly often has the highest fees, going up to 30% in some cases. A professional immigrant’s definition of a family is much larger than the Western definition.

Anxiety & sacrifices

Lack of certainty causes anxiety. Knowing we have so little control over our ability to care for ourselves and our families has negative health effects. Fear of losing our jobs and having to leave forces us to not rock the boat at work. I would come to work early and leave very late to constantly prove my worth. Professional immigrants often see their talented spouses staying at home and missing their peak earnings years. Simple things like getting and keeping a driver’s license are difficult.

There is little financial freedom.
There is little future stability.
There is little flexibility.

The professional immigrant experience is a special experience. It is painful, and sometimes tragic, and it’s often our families who gain the most from our efforts. We sacrifice parts of ourselves to give them something better. We rent, so our parents can buy a house. We delay children, so our nieces and nephews can afford the experiences we want for our children. I do not think many people in the West can understand this. We are expected to fight so hard on so many tiring fronts, yet come to the office and excel.

Taking care of so many people is hard and expensive. In both banking and consulting, I would have had to have been a senior person at the top end of the pay scale to care for my family. And it would have taken years to achieve with little guarantee of it happening. Did I really want to work so hard for so many years hoping to make enough to support my family? And that is not even having a good life. It would have meant working flat out just to stay afloat and maybe get a Sunday off.

Succeeding as an immigrant with an authority-based business

I believe my life was painful and I do not want others to go through that. What changed everything for me was picking a skill, becoming an authority in that skill, and building a series of businesses around that skill, with the right business model. In my case, it was business strategy and leadership. Just this year I was recognized as one of the top 30 business thinkers in the world alongside the likes of Gary Hamel, Tom Peters, John Kotter, etc. My books are used all over the world, including as prescribed reading at universities. I am a Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Amazon bestselling author. My articles have been featured pieces in journals. My videos and podcasts are streamed in over 150 countries. People seek me out.

I am the business. It’s not like I own a restaurant and someone else could run the restaurant, and cut me out. The value of the business is my name and this is a significant advantage. I am the brand. I am the product.

Since my business is built around me and my primary skill, it is highly mobile. This makes me highly mobile. I could live anywhere in the world. I can travel anywhere in the world. I can give my family the support they need. When my father lost his job, my mom needed special expensive treatment and pills, and my brothers and sister needed care, it was not difficult for me to support them. I even invested in my fathers’ business and could afford to take that loss. I take care of my extended family monthly to ensure they can afford good food and other things to make their life comfortable and more enjoyable.

As an immigrant, I will always have some worries. I have lived in a world where everything collapsed or when a currency plunged overnight. So, I know what is possible. A dystopian world for me is not what I experience when I watch an HBO show. I lived in a dystopian world when the Soviet Union collapsed. I can never forget that. Yet, I now have the ability to plan for this and be prepared. I am not tied to an employer and I am not spending my weekends trying to understand if a performance review committee is going to promote me. I do not hope for a bonus or salary. I have control over my time and what I earn. I can, and often, turn away clients. I could never do this with an employer. I work where I want to work and how I want to work.

Most importantly, many professional immigrants told me they are making all these sacrifices so that their kids and future generations have a better life, and their families at home have a better life. It is tragic to think that millions of the most ambitious and talented people who took the risk of moving are willing to effectively put their dreams on hold for others.

Building an Authority-Based Business (a business built around one’s expertise) has allowed me to both pursue my dreams while giving my family stability. Many clients have expressed an interest in building an Authority Based Business similar to FIRMSconsulting & StrategyTraining.com and breaking the immigrant cycle of pain and suffering. We are taking a select group of clients to help them build an Authority Based Business. Secure a chance to build a business like I did, alongside me. Email [email protected] to apply.

Take care,

Kris Safarova

P.S. Not ready yet to build your own business? Enroll as an Insider or Legacy member on StrategyTraining.com (scroll down to membership options) to give yourself a competitive edge when it comes to business strategy, problem-solving, and leadership skills.
P.S.S. Need access to our consulting knowledge management system? Take advantage of the monthly SCR-Advanced pilot which allows you to gain access with only a monthly commitment. This is a pilot and monthly option can be removed at any time but will be locked in for all members who enroll before the pilot is over.

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