6

As it's mentioned in the title. I am going to receive a formal letter this week. During my meeting with HR, they told me the visa will take 12 weeks so we can agree on the start-date at the point. My question is this: I really want to be successful in my postdoc and I want to do research as soon as possible, can I email tell the PI about this? (to get information about their current research step, etc.) or I should keep doing research and reading on my own and wait until everything is official?

2
  • 4
    You certainly could go to a University library and start reading papers related to your postdoc. If your postdoc don't happen, you just have lost some time... Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 5:22
  • In some cases the university may be required to employ someone who is physically present in the country. Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 11:33

5 Answers 5

4

You can act active and send an email with suggestions to start working remotely. What does that mean in terms of the salary? Do you expect to get paid for that work? That point perhaps should be clarified.

12
  • 3
    Your case is not just "some people who want to work for free". You are going to be a part of the group soon, and that is YOUR research, and you are the one who is the most interested in getting results as soon as you can. So I don't see any objection to emailing the PI Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 15:11
  • 9
    -1. This answer obscures important information about it often being illegal to work with or without pay without a visa, and that's without even touching on the ethical problems of offering to work for free. Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 23:38
  • 3
    @AzorAhai-him- As long as OP is not an employee, he doesn't work for them, but with them--it's a collaboration. Collaborations are usually not compensated (who would pay whom anyways?), not subject to labor laws and also not seen as ethically problematic. Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 8:17
  • 3
    @lighthousekeeper If it was a collaboration in the true sense of the word, then the OP wouldn't be asking these questions at all. Having dealt with similar visa issues, the authorities are smart enough to know what a "collaboration" is vs. "starting work early for free" is. The host university's legal department will tell the supervisor not to let them do anything. The OP could for-realsies collaborate in their current position (if any). The relevant authorities probably also don't care much if the host sends a reading list. Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 14:27
  • 3
    @lighthousekeeper You cannot work for an employer in your host country without a visa. If you are employed in your home country, you could call it a collaboration. If you are not employed, you cannot and should not work for free. If the OP is not employed in their home country and tries to work for free in their host country, they are endangering their visa. This answer does not mention that. Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 16:11
12

[Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice]

As Thomas mentioned in his comment, generally, without a visa you cannot be legally employed in the country of the university, this includes remote work from abroad. In addition to that, at least in some countries, it is illegal to do work that is normally paid, even if you are not getting paid for it, unless you have a proper work permit. I guess, the logic is that you enter the labour market by doing work and not by getting paid.

So be careful and precise in your requests. Starting working on the project remotely, before your visa is ready and valid, is probably against the law (and your future boss will share some responsibility for this). However, simply asking for suggested reading before you started working on the project itself is probably okay. I suppose your PI would be happy to give those suggestions even if your visa fell through or you hadn't signed the contract to begin with.

17
  • 3
    @U.User I do not see any problems from the academic research point of view: a reasonable PI is also interested in faster progress of their project. The discussion seems to drift towards the visa and legality issues, because for many these are red flags and caution is warranted. This is why if you email "Can I start doing some work while my visa is being processed?" you can receive a negative answer. You mentioned "assisting seminars" - it sounds like a being responsible for coordination, which is something an employee would normally do. Also not clear how it benefits your research. Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 23:04
  • 2
    I wouldn't be surprised if "assisting" were intended to mean "attending" (because of French "assister"). Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 23:11
  • 1
    I believe that the premise of @thomas's comment is wrong. You do not need to have a visa for country X if you work in country Y, even if the employer is in country X. That would be absurd: No company could, in that case, contract with self-employed individuals in other countries for certain services. Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 2:27
  • 1
    @WolfgangBangerth Here we are talking about a standard postdoc contract, which is a contract of employment between a university (the employer) and a postdoc (the employee). I conclude this from OP mentioning HR, who deal or assist them with their visa. I personally would be interested in hearing your (or anyone else's) account of a university hiring a research as an individual contractor or self-employed. Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 4:34
  • 1
    @lighthousekeeper "As long as OP is not employed, he does not work for the PI" - I will respond to your truism with one of mine: OP should not be employed before they are allowed to. The important point is that the difference between "OP is not employed" and "OP is employed without proper paperwork (illegally)" is defined not by one's imagination, but by factual circumstances. Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 8:44
5

A visa allows you to live in a country and (for the visa I assume you are getting) to be gainfully employed in that country -- that is, to draw a salary.

You do not need a visa to work on things while you are in your home country (working in your spare time, or in fact in a paid position). In other words, you can work on whatever project you'd like even before you get the visa. You just can't move to the target country yet, and you would have a separate conversion with your PI about getting paid if that's what you'd like.

11
  • 3
    Generally, getting paid requires a visa. The way to work around this is if your employer has a legal presence in another country and can employ you there. Generally, universities don't have such arrangements.
    – Thomas
    Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 18:13
  • 3
    @Thomas: Neither of these are true. Universities are free to pay whomever they want abroad. They do not need a visa. They can simply be a contractor, and the university also does not have to have a legal presence in that country: the university only has to obey the labor rules in the country of the person being paid, but it doesn't not have to have a presence there. --- Separately, during the current pandemic, most universities have formed relationships with outsourcing companies that ensure adherence to local laws (health insurance, retirement contributions, tax deductions, etc.). Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 2:24
  • 5
    If only employment law were so simple...
    – Thomas
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 4:07
  • 3
    @MSalters Employment law is complex and neither of us is qualified to make definitive statements about it. We haven't even specified which country (and state) this is in -- even a professional employment lawyer wouldn't comment in such generality. However, I have never heard of postdocs being classed as contractors, rather than employees. In the US, contractors must pay their own taxes and health insurance (only employees get taxes withheld and and employer-sponsored healthcare) -- I'm sure I would hear complaints from postdocs if this were the case.
    – Thomas
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 16:20
  • 2
    @Thomas I believe it's complicated re: things like payroll tax, but not re: visa. And your comment is being used by other answers to justify saying that the OP will need a visa to work for a company from Y while living in X as a citizen of X (wtf). I already checked yesterday and there are already a couple of duplicates on Law (I will come back and post them later, no time now) but unfortunately no answers on the best duplicate. (Some bad duplicates w/answers, like "I've been overstaying in the US for five years, can I return to my home country and keep working with the same US company?") Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 12:23
1

This sounds like a case where legally and officially, you cannot be working as a postdoc before you receive the visa. Unofficially, no one is stopping you from working on a specific topic, or with unpaid collaboration, assuming you want to do this. If your aim is to continue research, such as to boost your publication record, most PIs would be willing to offer advice for getting started.

However, any work you do should be purely voluntary on your side (you can always say no to work until you are officially employed).

0

Please note one point: a visa is required to perform work (paid or not is not that relevant) in a certain location in the world.

Contrary to what the majority seems to think, if you are working remotely, you still need a visa, depending on where you are based and NOT on where your employer / client is located.

In other words, you can work remotely from the US for a Chinese company, as long as you have an US visa. Similarly, you can work from India for an US company, as long as you have an indian visa ... come on guys (&girls), the whole outsourcing business is based on this cornerstone!

2
  • 1
    In the outsourcing business, it's a common practice that a company A (for example in the US) will contract a company B (for example, in India) to do the work. In this case, visa considerations are irrelevant, because nobody works remotely for a foreign company. Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 13:28
  • 1
    @lighthousekeeper visa considerations are not irrelevant at all. To work for company B you need to have a valid permit to work from wherever you are in the world. Usually, people has the right to work in the whole of their own country (not always applicable, see the old Soviet Union or current modern China).
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 13:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .