11

I am finishing up my undergraduate degree in mathematics in my home country and expect to apply for PhD studies in statistics in the US (I am also willing to consider Canadian options but more on this later). My wife will also have finished her bachelor's degree in statistics by then and we intend to travel together. It seems to me that we have the following options:

  1. Spouse does not work or study in the US.

In this case, I am aware that we would have to subsist on my PhD stipend since F-2 visa holders (my wife) are not offered employment. I am unsure whether this could be sustained for an indefinite amount of time (we will get some financial support from our families at home though).

  1. Spouse works in the US right away.

This would be ideal but I do not know whether US employers would be willing to sponsor a work visa for someone who has a bachelor's degree from a relatively unknown university from outside the US. She will have very good grades though and some professional experience in auditing.

  1. Spouse pursues a MSc program (in statistics or a related field) with the intention of finding work immediately afterwards.

In this case, we thought of two issues. One is that the MSc would have to be at my own university or somewhere preferably in the same city. Would it be possible for such an arrangement to be made after we arrive in the US and how could funding be secured? The other is related to 2) in the sense of whether she could land a job a short time after her US MSc.

  1. Spouse pursues a PhD program (in statistics or a related field).

In this case, financial concerns would be minimal since we both would get independent stipends. However, she does not have a genuine academic interest in doing a PhD and would be mainly doing it to chip in with the finances. Another concern is whether we would have time to take care of a baby as PhD students (we are not currently expecting a child, but this could happen before we finish grad school).

As for options outside the US, I am aware that Canada provides an open work permit for international student spouses but have no information on how easy it would be for a foreign graduate to actually land a job in preferably a tech company.

Is this list comprehensive? We would be very grateful for any advice you could provide on any of the above. Personal anecdotes would also be most welcome since they are absent in most generic information pages on this topic. On a more positive note, my wife is considerate and super supportive so we are both willing to bear with any tough times for a better future :)

UPDATE: Thank you for all your suggestions! Would love to hear from an international student who has been in similar circumstances. Any advice on the above career prospects from a Canadian perspective would be welcome too

4
  • 1
    With #2, there might be a possibility of unofficial work, say in the home country or in the US. I am thinking here about tutoring, although I have also seen a spouse work remotely in a more highly skilled job in the home country — although I am not sure of the legalities.
    – Dawn
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 16:02
  • @Dawn Thanks for the suggestion. A friend of mine's spouse works remotely for her job in her home country while in the US. This is certainly within legal bounds in my home country and will be an option we look into.
    – Krupiy
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 19:29
  • 1
    Note that we do not have "PMs"; just answers, comments, and chat.
    – cag51
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 1:52
  • 2
    @Dawn: I'm fairly certain that paid tutoring in the U.S. would put the spouse into violation of her F-2 status. I'm not saying that it doesn't happen, but F-2 means "you're allowed to be here; that's all." Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 2:24

4 Answers 4

3

In my current experience, the (median) PhD stipends in the US would certainly make it challenging for you to support yourself, your spouse and your baby without outside financial help.

Of course this varies with the cost-of-living in the area you intend to reside in, but usually the programs will anyway adjust stipend amounts accordingly. I would recommend getting this information — cost-of-living and the expected stipend amounts — as you are beginning to apply to various programs.

Now, it appears that your most ideal situation would be #2, but aside from that, I think #3 and #4 are your next most plausible options.

In fact, there may be a way to combine the two. It is not entirely uncommon for students to enroll in a PhD program and drop-out after receiving a Master's degree, people do this for a variety of reasons. The ethics of this are debatable, since in your particular instance, the intention is known in advance; nevertheless, I would try to see it as an opportunity — if your spouse ends up enjoying being in the academia, she has the option of staying. Since PhD programs are funded, this may be a good option. In this case, your spouse would also need to check if the programs she applies to have the option of getting a Master's "along the way". Note that some may charge a fee for doing this. This is likely to pose some challenges to her visa status later, but being a graduate degree holder in the US would certainly give her a better shot at landing a job locally; and with a degree in hand, she would still be eligible for OPT + STEM extension.

It is not my intention to suggest that your spouse misrepresent her academic interests. Transparency is important in the academia, and if she can genuinely not see herself possibly working towards a PhD, then I would strongly advise against applying to a PhD program. In that case (again, barring #2), perhaps option #3 with some combination of financial-aid, loans and scholarships is the better choice. There are several one-year programs in Statistics and Statistics-adjacent areas that are worth considering. Here again, I believe she has the option of an OPT + STEM extension after graduating.

I should add that it is not certain that you will both be accepted into the same program. Few things are ever certain. You have been presented with a tricky situation, hopefully it works out favourably. Wishing your family the best!

5
  • You mention "loans" and financial aid for masters programs. Are loans generally available for students from outside the US? Also, since I will be applying for a PhD program in statistics, would it be possible to make an arrangement with the professor/coordinator of the corresponding masters program to accept a spouse as a candidate? I understand that this seems informal/irregular but heard from forums, etc. that such arrangements are not uncommon if the slots of a program are not filled. Again, I have no reliable information on this. Thanks for your wishes!
    – Krupiy
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 19:53
  • As you may be aware that an essential part of the F1 visa process is to provide a proof of funds to your graduate program -- in which you list your dependents, and list sources of your funding up to the required amount -- it is only after evaluating this that they will issue an I-20. All of this happens only after you have accepted the offer, of course. So in any event, you will need to have your financial situation figured out by then. Now [...] Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 23:17
  • [...] when I say loans, I mean both informal loans from family member(s) and bank loans such as an education loan. As far as I know, education loans also cover your cost-of-living expenses. With that said, taking on debt is a major financial (and indeed, life-) decision, and a one that only you and your spouse can make. Unfortunately, I can not answer your second question with any certainty. How and if one should approach such a subject with a potential research advisor is, perhaps, a separate question entirely. Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 23:27
  • @Krupiy: Education loans for international students are, in most cases, de facto impossible. With a few exceptions, they require a resident cosigner; so if you don't happen to have a U.S. uncle willing to guarantee your loan, you're unfortunately out of luck. The exceptions are programs at highly ranked schools which are considered to have high income potential; typically Law Schools and Business Schools. My information is dated, but I think this hasn't changed much. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 2:03
  • It is still possible to obtain an education loan in one's home country to fund their studies abroad. Many have done it before. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 3:59
7

If I understand your post correctly your family has a small baby or is expecting one soon, congratulations. Unfortunately this means option one is the only feasible one for the near future. Taking care of a newborn is not compatible with both parents having full time jobs and external child care in the US is expensive. You would both need a well paying job to be financially better off compared to one of you staying at home and a PhD stipend is not well paying and your wife is highly unlikely to get such a job.

If you have an offer at a fairly high ranking university money is going to be quite tight but should be managable. Note that the cost of living in the greater Boston, NY and San Francisco Bay area is very high, so ideally you would want a university not in one of these three places. Financial support from your home country will be very welcome.

Otherwise I'm sorry to say but it seems to me the combination of a) moving to a new country b) studying for degree and c) taking care of a newborn all at the same time does not seem feasible to me with any consideration of work-life-balance and general happyness for all three involved.

4
  • 4
    Might I suggest you expand this to include that all costs in the US are often much more than new folks expect, as well as financial support much less. Food, transportation, housing, and the US health system are very expensive, the last one shockingly so. Financial support from the university often does not cover all your living expenses, even for one person, and it is vital to ask exactly what it includes. In addition to "tuition", US universities have "fees" as well as health insurance costs which can be thousands of dollars and often not paid for you.
    – Mike M
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 15:17
  • 2
    In the past, many universities provided inexpensive housing for families and also inexpensive health insurance, making it attractive for foreign students who could get good stipends in a highly funded field of study. But today cheap insurance is very hard to find and inexpensive university housing also fading.
    – Mike M
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 15:24
  • Thanks for the advice. I apologize for any misunderstanding caused by the wording of my question; we are not expecting a baby yet. I included the possibility of having a baby in grad school since we would both be relatively old by the time grad studies finish.
    – Krupiy
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 19:39
  • 1
    @Krupiy 25 isn't too old to have a baby. 30 still isn't, unless you're planning on having 3+ eventually. Some people push it all the way to 35-40, although it is far from ideal. It is a very valid thing to consider of course, but the whole situation about the child support is very different depending on whether you (and/or your spouse) are still studying, have job security, savings etc. And yes, everything to do with health is extremely expensive in the US, part of the motivation about higher salaries compared to say Canada might not apply to your situation unless you're on the track to 100k+.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 15:15
6

This is a US only response due to the differences in visa requirements.

Of the four, the last is probably best if you can both get accepted and either or, preferably, both can get a Teaching Assistantship. The same university is probably best, though there are places in the US with a lot of nearby universities and some (NYC) have good public transportation. But housing in such places is expensive. And, some enthusiasm for the program is necessary to achieve both success and satisfaction.

Note, however, that you are unlikely to get a "stipend" (scholarship), but rather a teaching assistantship which comes with a modest income and no tuition charges. Some places deal with medical insurance as well. And, there are duties attached in assisting in a course, usually undergraduate.

The third is probably financial infeasible unless you are already wealthy, as masters level students pay tuition (could be very high) and don't get funding. Switching to a work visa later will also be an issue.

Most people do the first option and live frugally on a teaching assistantship. I'd think that the visa issue would be minimal. Doctoral students with a TA don't, normally, pay tuition, which is otherwise expensive.

The second option might also be infeasible for reasons of visa. Not necessarily impossible, but it requires a sponsoring employer IIRC and you will need to worry about co-location and transportation issues.

I'm going to guess that TAs in math departments are readily available and somewhat less so in statistics. So, a combined department might be the best option.

You will need advice from someone else about Canada, though.


If you aren't yet expecting a baby, it might be wise to wait. Dealing with a newborn can be pretty intense. Even the first two years require a lot of care and attention. If one parent can dedicate themself to childcare it can work out (my history), but very hard otherwise. And, if you are in the same program, then you will probably be taking some of the same courses at the same time. That might even be true if one was in a masters program and the other in a doctoral program.

2
  • I was under the impression that no US grad program (in stat or math) would accept a student if there wasn't a TA/RA position to offer them. You mention that switching to a work visa would be an issue after a masters. Would this be different if she pursued a PhD instead?
    – Krupiy
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 19:35
  • 1
    There are a few (very) students who pay their own way and don't have a TA/RA. But it is very expensive to do so. Some might not be eligible for some reason (a 14 year old, say - yes, it happens). Others might be very wealthy. The work visa issue is independent of the degree. There is nothing automatic about getting a work visa even if you hold a US degree. It is an issue, but not necessarily disqualifying.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 19:44
3

Pursuing a Master degree causes an extra financial burden regarding tuition fees if your spouse does not get a scholarship. If they do get a scholarship, however, finding a job after graduation might be easier than without a degree from a US institution.

I would strongly advice against your spouse pursuing a PhD for 2 reasons: 1) if you are not completely passionate about the idea of doing a PhD, gradschool will be extremely tough and your chances of succeeding will be significantly low. 2) you would be taking away a spot in gradschool from someone who might be more passionate about this career path.

There is, however, another route you can take if your institution supports it, which is that of going for a J1 VISA instead of F1. With a J1 VISA, your spouse will get a J2. On a J2 VISA you can actually apply for a work permit. However, this process can take long and it does not guarantee that your spouse will actually find a job (in their field). Another downside is that there is a 5 year limit on your J1 VISA, meaning you will need to graduate within that time period.

In short, I would take the following approach: while you finish up your gradschool application, let your spouse apply directly for jobs in the US, and ask whether the company wants to sponsor her a VISA. If so, great! Your problem seems to be solved. If that does not work, your spouse can go for a Master degree, provided she is interested in that and will get a scholarship to cover the costs. After graduation, finding a job should be easier. If none of those options work, ask your institution whether you can go for a J1 VISA instead of a F1, but then commit to finishing your degree within 5 years. In general, I would advice against raising a child in gradschool.

Best of luck to you and your family!

5
  • Scholarships are very rare for graduate study in the US and funding seldom available at the masters level. Probably worse for international students unless the funding is from the home country in some way. There are too many students and too few funds.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 18:05
  • Very true, not to mention how competitive they are. But, OP might want to look at scholarships from their homecountry. I know that for example in Europe, many countries provide full scholarships for pursuing a degree abroad (though, again, competition will be high).
    – Stijn
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 18:09
  • Thank you for the succinct advice!
    – Krupiy
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 20:07
  • 1
    It's extremely difficult for someone with only a bachelor's degree to apply for a work visa in the US. Normally a graduate degree is required. Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 20:27
  • 1
    @BrianBorchers Yes. However, the J2 VISA is just a dependent VISA of the J1, and through the J2 you can apply for a work permit, which has lesser requirements than a work VISA :) The permit is called Employment Authorization Document, or EAD for short. This should not be meant for financially supporting the J1 VISA holder though.
    – Stijn
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 2:43

You must log in to answer this question.

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