Tough Choice: Uproot (Again) For Career?

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Wall Street's ruptured job market is posing life challenges for some professionals you might think have the best of both worlds: U.S. residents with strong ties to Asia.

Recently I spoke with a first-generation Chinese-American who was laid off by a U.S. bulge-bracket institution nearly a year ago. He first returned to China, where the financial landscape was noticeably brighter than the U.S. In mid-September - right before Lehman Brothers sought bankruptcy protection - he interviewed at Goldman Sachs China. Soon after, Goldman told him it was suspending global hiring, so he didn't get a second round.

He returned to New York in November. With no significant interview activity since, he's thinking about going to China again. That would be a big decision, he says, because the move would probably end up being permanent.

Unlike his many Chinese friends who returned to their native land after just a couple of years, this professional has planted roots here. He's lived in the country for more than a decade, gained U.S. citizenship, and his family is here, to boot. Still, economics may force his hand. He's running through his savings, and says he will go back if he hasn't landed a job in a few months.

The Big Picture

His dilemma intersects several recent trends in international relocation.

On the one hand, fast-growing markets (China in particular) have long been magnets. Although these markets still offer job opportunities for U.S.-trained finance pros, relocating now can feel more like a retreat from dwindling opportunities in New York and London rather than an ambitious leap toward brighter horizons.

Secondly, as financial institutions everywhere pull in their horns, many expatriates in relatively senior positions in the U.S. and Europe are being transferred back to their home countries. In turn, many in junior roles are repatriating themselves after getting laid off. Finally, for a variety of reasons, some observers see banks tilting in favor of local talent in each national market.

The bottom line: If you are ready and able to work in more than one part of the world, you're still better off than if you can't. But, don't expect to have the power to choose where you'll work.

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