Jacqueline White uprooted her life in England in January and moved across the North Atlantic to Mount Desert Island.

The idea of moving to the small, remote community in Maine gave her pause, and so did the prospect of leaving her partner, her home and her job.

But the opportunity presented to White was worth it – a chance to head up a brand-new genetic research facility at The Jackson Laboratory, a big move for her career.

“The Jackson Lab is absolutely the place you want to go when you are in my line of work,” White said. “It was such an incredible opportunity and such a huge privilege.”


Federally certified H-1B job positions from Maine employers, by federal fiscal year

H-1B visas are given to highly skilled professionals hired to work temporarily in the United States. Here is the number of jobs that Maine-based employers got permission to fill using H-1B visas. No data was available about how many international workers were actually hired to fill these certified positions. H-1B workers hired by Maine-based employers earned an average of $99,090 in 2016.
Note: Federal fiscal years run from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

White, 47, is Scottish, a citizen of the United Kingdom, and an expert in mouse genetics and disease resistance. Her expertise and laboratory management experience made White a prime choice for The Jackson Laboratory, even though it meant securing her legal status with an H-1B visa, a non-immigrant designation for skilled, specialty occupations such as engineers and medical doctors.

Maine employers get federal permission to hire more than 1,000 highly skilled foreign workers each year through the H-1B program, although the number living in the state now was not available. More than 180,000 of the visas were issued nationwide in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of State. The top occupations for H-1B workers in Maine are software developers, computer analysts, scientists and physicians.


Leading employers for H-1B workers in Maine, 2016

Notes: “Certified positions” indicates the number of jobs each employer has certified as eligible for employing H-1B visa holding workers. No data is available on how many visa holders actually filled these positions.

Employer
Certified positions
Rite Pros
92
The Jackson Laboratory
35
Eastern Maine Medical Center
31
Tyler Technologies
26
University of Maine
22
Idexx Laboratories
15
Pines Health Services
14
MaineGeneral Medical Center
8

Jackson Laboratory’s remote location belies its importance in the world of mouse genetics and disease research. The laboratory’s Bar Harbor campus is a global leader in mammalian genetics and human genomic study, and it attracts international talent to help unlock scientific and therapeutic breakthroughs.

There are about 70 H-1B employees at the company’s three locations in Maine, Connecticut and California. Approximately 25 of those workers are in Bar Harbor, said employee relations director Eileen Phillips.

The Jackson Laboratory “does not focus on the nationality or the country of origin when hiring staff in support of our mission. …” Phillips said. “We look for the best candidates to support our research efforts – period.”

Since moving to Maine, White has been exposed to punishing snowstorms and “mosquitoes the size of bazookas.” The frenetic pace of Bar Harbor in summer was a surprise and so was the warmth she’s received from locals.

“As a community, Jackson Laboratory and Bar Harbor is incredibly welcoming,” White said.

“You think, ‘this is going to fade,’ but that is absolutely not the case.”

White started her career at Cambridge University, studying molecular parasitology and genetic resistance to disease. After earning a doctoral degree in 1994 she moved to Boston and spent three years studying neurogenetics at Massachusetts General Hospital with a fellowship from Harvard University. It was her first time living in the U.S., on a three-year student visa.

Back in the U.K., White took a position at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, a globally recognized genetic research center in Cambridge.

“It is quite similar to Jackson Lab. It doesn’t shy away from great big, ambitious projects,” White said. She spent more than a decade at the Sanger Institute, moving up to be a principal manager for its mouse genetics program.

Then last year, White was approached by the head of scientific research at The Jackson Laboratory: Would she be interested in taking charge of its newest project?

The Center for Biometric Analysis, which broke ground last year, is a $21 million facility focused on measuring a range of physical and behavioral characteristics in laboratory mice. That includes cutting-edge imaging and analytical tools aimed at detecting tiny signs of disease at the cellular level.


Leading job categories for H-1B workers in Maine, 2016

Notes: “Certified positions” indicates the number of jobs certified by Maine employers as eligible for employing H-1B visa holding workers. No data is available on how many visa holders actually filled these positions.

Employer
Certified positions
Software developers
109
General internists
30
Biological scientists
29
Surgeons
21
Computer systems analysts
20
Other physicians and surgeons
19

White knew it was an incredible opportunity, but it was a change she had to weigh carefully. Moving to Maine would mean leaving her partner, Rhiannon, for as long as three years – the length of her visa – and possibly longer.

But it was also a chance to continue the work she started as a doctoral student – searching for the tiny genetic key that made the difference between resistance and susceptibility to such maladies as Huntington’s disease.

“I feel that we are just at the beginning of the pipeline of knowledge about this,” White said.

“We talked long and hard about it, we recognized the contribution I had a potential to make. We could make it work,” White said.

She took the job, and in the beginning of the year, moved to Maine, eventually finding a home to rent in Lamoine, a small coastal town on the mainland across from Mount Desert Island.

Jackson Laboratories would not disclose White’s salary, but her job title is listed in the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2016 H-1B database with a proposed wage of $84 an hour, or the equivalent of $174,000 a year. The company’s proposed wages averaged about $77,000 a year for all H-1B employees it hired in 2016, according to U.S. Department of Labor data.

Going back to renting after owning a home was a change, and so was the setting – remote compared to her home in Essex County, England, an area of small villages and bedroom communities spitting distance to London and Cambridge.

“There is no denying Jackson Lab is in a slightly unusual location in the U.S.,” White said.

“Coming from a 45-minute drive to London – to go dancing, go to the theater – and coming to a place where that wasn’t an option was a concern.”

Spending so much time apart from Rhiannon was also a real worry. The Jackson Laboratory has been accommodating, allowing White to work from the U.K. about three months out of the year, which helps make a long-term relationship bearable.

“The ability to work remotely is fabulous, and it is the thing that is keeping us sane,” White said.

How long she’ll stay in the United States is an open question. Her visa is for three years, but could be extended. If that’s the case, White wants to make sure Rhiannon can come over and she doesn’t think they’d make the move permanent: She can’t see herself retiring in the U.S.

” ‘Immigrant’ has connotations. I don’t think I would call myself that,” White said.

“I’m a very, very lucky woman. That’s how I’d like to class myself.”


WHAT IS AN H-1B VISA?

What is an H-1B visa?
An H-1B is a non-immigrant, or temporary, visa for skilled professionals with advanced degrees and for fashion models. It allows foreign individuals to work at specialty occupations and live in the U.S. for up to three years.

What are the requirements to work in the U.S. on an H-1B visa?

A bachelor’s degree or higher is the minimum entry requirement for an H-1B visa. Foreign nationals have to prove they have appropriate education and experience for the position offered.

How long can someone stay in the U.S. on an H-1B visa?

The initial length of stay is three years, but it can be extended to six years total. There are special opportunities to extend an H-1B visa further.

What kind of jobs are filled by H-1B visa holders?

The types of jobs covered by H-1B visas are typically highly skilled positions that require specialized knowledge and experience. Doctors, scientific researchers, computer programmers, software developers and engineers are included in the category.

How much are they paid?

The average H-1B worker in Maine earned a salary of $99,000 in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

How many H-1B visa holders live in Maine?

It is difficult to say exactly how many H-1B visa holders live in Maine. A total of 1,180 positions were certified for H-1B visas by the U.S. Department of Labor in the most recent fiscal year, but some of those positions may not have been filled with visa holders.

What are the top positions in Maine for H-1B workers?

In 2015, the top positions certified by the Department of Labor were computer system analysts, software developers, computer programmers and medical internists. The leading Maine cities for certification were Portland, South Portland and Augusta.

Is there a limit to the number of available visas?

Yes. The number of H-1B visas is capped at 65,000 a year, although not all H-1B visas are subject to the cap. Another 20,000 visas are issued under the H-1B master’s exemption for those with advanced degrees. Institutes of higher education, nonprofit research organizations and government research organizations are not subject to the annual cap.

What is the process for getting an H-1B visa?

Employers have to file a Labor Condition Application with the U.S. Department of Labor for approval to hire a foreign national for a specific position. Employers must agree to pay a wage not less than what would be paid to a U.S. employee in a comparable position and provide working conditions that will not adversely affect similarly employed workers. After a Labor Condition Application is approved, employers petition the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to get approval for a visa. If USCIS receives petitions that exceed the cap within the first five business days it turns to a random selection to fill the capped number of petitions. If a petition makes it through the random selection, the proposed foreign worker has to apply and receive a visa from the U.S. Department of State, which includes vetting and background checks.

Has the Trump administration made or proposed any changes affecting H-1B visas?

Yes. The H-1B program was mentioned specifically in President Trump’s Buy American Hire American executive order in April. The order directed the secretaries of State, Labor and Homeland Security, as well as the attorney general, to suggest reforms to help ensure H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid position beneficiaries. U.S. employers, particularly high-tech firms, have been accused of using H-1B visas to avoid paying American workers higher wages. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in April announced it was stepping up its enforcement of fraud and abuse with targeted site visits to some employers.



UNITED KINGDOM/SCOTLAND

The United Kingdom has the fifth-largest and one of the most globalized economies in the world. It has been one of the United States’ most enduring allies.

U.K. voters last year approved severing their membership in the European Union, and the effects of that referendum could affect many facets of life there. While voters in England and Wales supported leaving the union, Scotland and Northern Ireland didn’t – they voted in favor of staying.

The division has renewed calls for a Scottish referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. Such a referendum failed once before, but that was prior to the Brexit vote.

Cultural references: Americans can’t seem to get enough of British drama and comedy, and shows such as “Downton Abbey” seem to galvanize their own committed fan bases on this side of the pond. As for Scotland, the skirling of a bagpipe, often played by a piper wearing a kilt, is a familiar experience at events here.