Ever Thought About Moving Back?

In response to my recent entry about my fourth anniversary of moving to Thailand, Jason asked a pointed question: “Ever thought about moving back?”

From such a question is born a good blog entry, so here is my answer.

Why am I here?

Before I can think about moving back, I should explain why I’m here in Krungthep in the first place.  Tawn received his Master’s degree at University of San Francisco in 2003.  As part of the educational visas the US government provides, students are usually allowed to work for one year following the completion of their degree in order to get some practical experience.  After that year, though, the student needs to apply for a non-resident visa, usually an H-1B.

Without going into a lot of detail, H-1B visas are difficult to come by, especially in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 when the quantity of these visas was reduced to 65,000 a year, down from around 150,000 previously.  Because of their scarcity, only people with highly specialized skills are generally able to get employee sponsorship for the visa.  In this case, Tawn’s skills didn’t meet that threshold.

Because of that, Tawn faced the choice of either overstaying his visa or returning to Thailand.  He chose to follow the legal path and, not wanting to end the relationship, I chose to follow him here.

The Big Mango: Love It or Leave It?

They say that expats in Krungthep usually either love or hate living here.  I find myself somewhere in between, but closer to the loving it side.  There are many benefits to living here beyond the fact that Tawn is here.  From a cost of living standpoint, for example, we live significantly better off than we would if were living in the US, especially if we were still back in the San Francisco Bay Area.

There are things about life in the US, though, that I miss.  Most of all, I miss being near my family.  My grandparents both turn 90 next year and my nieces turn four and seven.  Everyone is getting older and seeing them once every nine months or so isn’t often enough.  Time is short and the opportunities to spend time with loved ones are fleeting.

At the same time, we have ties here, too.  Tawn is an only child and his parents are more demanding of his time and attention than mine are.  While it is hard for me to be far away from my family, I think it would be harder for Tawn to be away from his.

Would I?  Could I?

Even if we wanted to move back to the US, could we?  Tawn and I were married this summer in Iowa, one of only five states that currently allow same-sex marriage.  Here’s the bad news – news that most Americans (even gay ones!) don’t realize:

We can’t move back as a couple.

Thanks to the poorly named Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the US federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages.  Immigration is a federal matter, so as long as DOMA is the law of the land Tawn and I cannot move back as a married couple.  Tawn could only move to the US as either a student or by applying for one of those hard-to-get H-1B visas.  Even if he did get in, we would be facing a ticking clock with little prospect of him being able to remain in the US over the long term.

[Update: In June 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down the section of DOMA that is referenced above. Read about the impact of that decision on us here.]

Where Do You See Yourself in the Future?

I am asked this question each year during my annual performance appraisal, not so much because my boss expects the answer to change but because it is part of the Human Resources-designed appraisal process.  If I had to pull out my crystal ball, where do I see myself in the future?

In the near future – say the next three to five years – I see myself still here in Krungthep.  Even if Congress repealed DOMA, Tawn remains an only child and so I don’t see us moving back to the US anytime soon.

Looking beyond the five-year horizon, I think a lot of the future will depend upon events that happen, particularly regarding the health of both sets of our parents.  Changing circumstances may dictate where one or the other of us spends more of our time, be it here or back in the US.

As we get to about ten years, I think we will likely look for options outside of Krungthep.  Maybe that means having a country house where we can spend most of our time.  Maybe that means living outside of Thailand (not necessarily in the US) for a portion of the year.  If we could split our time between Paris and Krungthep, that would be great!  Of course, this all depends upon developing jobs where we can move about readily.  I already have that job.  Tawn doesn’t, yet.

Yes, but would you move back to the US?

In a way, I’m dancing around that question.  As much as I miss people (and a few restaurants) in the US, I don’t particularly miss life in the US for several reasons:

There is a lot of arrogance bred of insularity and ignorance.  Too many Americans not only have never traveled abroad, they don’t care to inform themselves of the perspectives and values of other countries and cultures.  Witness the horror with which Americans react to the suggestion that Canadians, French or Japanese might have something to teach us about how to run a health care system.

Discourse is increasingly shrill and intolerant.  Thanks to the splintering of the media, people increasingly seek out and find channels that serve only to reinforce their already-held beliefs and perspectives.  I don’t see how that serves democracy well and it certainly hasn’t improved the level of discourse within the US, either on political or social issues.  I want to be able to communicate with others, not be shouted at by them.

Finally, the influence of corporations on public life and politics in the US continues to expand to dangerous levels.  Many other countries have done a better job putting limits on the legal rights of corporations, deferring instead to the rights of individuals.  Many other countries have also done a better job of limiting corporations’ involvement in politics.

To answer your question, Jason, I have thought about it.  But even if the legal barriers to moving back were to fall away and even if there were no family ties holding us here in Thailand, I don’t think we would move back to the US, at least not full-time.