Author Archives: Jenn Clore

  1. The US Census “Citizenship” question and what it means for immigrants – August 2022 Update

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    The US Constitution mandates that a census be taken every ten years to count all people—both citizens and noncitizens—living in the United States. This count helps to ensure fair political representation and plays a vital role in many areas of public life. The US Census is a questionnaire that can be filled out online, over the phone, or by a mailed-in form and includes demographic questions such as how many people are living in the home, age, and race. 

    The accuracy of the survey responses affects many aspects of life in America, regardless of immigration status. Unfortunately, many immigrants fear responding truthfully or at all for many reasons, including fear of their undocumented status becoming known, resulting in deportation. However, it is illegal for the survey responses to be shared with anyone outside the Census Bureau, including employ­ees of other federal agen­cies, such as the Department of Homeland Security or the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

    The 2020 Census recently made news headlines due to the discovery that the former presidential administration under Donald Trump attempted to add a citizenship question for political gain. Evidence suggests that the real motivation behind the attempt to add the question, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” was to discourage noncitizens from responding, skewing the population counts used to draw Congressional districts and eventually giving Republicans a bigger electoral advantage.

    Recent census controversy surrounding citizenship

    In July 2022, evidence from emails and handwritten notes were released suggesting that the Trump administration attempted to include a citizenship question in a critical census count to benefit Republicans. In 2018, President Trump announced plans to add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 census with claims that the question would help enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act by achieving a more accurate count of eligible voters. The census would have asked: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” Options were to include: “Yes, born in the United States”; “Yes, born in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Northern Marianas”; “Yes, born abroad of U.S. citizen parent or parents”; “Yes, U.S. citizen by naturalization”; or “No, not a U.S. citizen.”

    However, critics argued that the questions would deter millions of noncitizens from filling out the census, causing an undercount that would favor Republicans. In June 2019, the Supreme Court denied the Trump Administration the ability to add the question to the 2020 Census. 

    Despite the Supreme Court ruling, the Trump administration issued a memorandum calling for the exclusions of undocumented immigrants from apportionment counts. “Apportionment” is the process of dividing the 435 memberships, or seats, in the House of Representatives among the 50 states. The apportionment count relies on census data. The ruling has the possibility of removing an estimated 10 million undocumented people from apportionment counts, affecting the representation each state has within Congress. President Joe Biden signed an executive order in January 2021 reversing the decision to remove undocumented immigrants from apportionment counts.

    Research by the Census Bureau found that including a citizenship question on the 2020 census would have likely deterred many Latinx and Asian American residents from taking part in the national tally, which is also used to redraw maps of voting districts and guide the distribution of an estimated $1.5 trillion a year in federal money to local communities.

    Purpose of the US Census

    Census data helps determ­in­e our polit­ical repres­ent­a­tion, shapes how federal resources are alloc­ated, powers our busi­nesses, drives decisions by schools and police depart­ments, and inform­s medical research. Census data has also been used to distribute more than $1.5 trillion annually for federally funded programs, which are apportioned based on an area’s population, age, and other factors. These programs include Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers, Pell Grants for students, and highway construction and maintenance. In the past, the census has also been at the center of national controversies around slavery, immigration, congressional redistricting, and racial discrimination. 

    Under the Consti­tu­tion, seats in the House of Repres­ent­at­ives are divided among the states every ten years based on the census popu­la­tion count. Seats in the Elect­oral College are alloc­ated the same way. States also use census data to draw district lines for congres­sional and state legis­lat­ive seats – a neces­sary process to make sure communit­ies are fairly repres­en­ted. 

    Both U.S. citizens and noncitizens, regardless of their immigration status, have been part of those official numbers since the country’s first national head count in 1790. The country’s founders believed a national census was necessary to prevent the federal government from arbitrarily levying taxes and to keep individual states from inflating their population estimates to get greater representation in the House of Representatives. 

    Why the US census matters to immigrants

    Census data relies on the accuracy of the survey respondents. Based on the demographic data provided, decisions are made that can directly affect the lives of immigrants. 

    If not counted accurately: 

    • States lose representation in Congress – If immigrants do not fill out the census, states with higher counts of an immigration population, such as California, Texas, and Florida, may be most affected. Less representation in Congress means less voting power to pass laws that could benefit the lives of the state’s immigrant population. 
    • Children lose out on funding needed for schools – Any United States resident has access to primary-level public education, regardless of immigration status. Areas with less census participation could receive an inaccurate population count and therefore receive less federal funding for school programs, such as healthcare, food, and education. 
    • Less funding for healthcare – Neighborhoods with low census response rates could be affected by a lack of funding for hospitals, health care clinics, programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, and COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites. Regardless of immigrant status, residents are eligible to receive care at emergency rooms, health care clinics, and COVID-19 testing sites, but care may be limited due to inadequate federal funding. 
    • Local businesses are impacted – It’s estimated that 3.2 million businesses in the United States are immigrant-owned. Many business owners gather demographic information from their local Chamber of Commerce to understand the potential customers who live in their local area. Chambers rely on census data. If the data provided is inaccurate, business owners could be making decisions that affect the service or products offered, store hours, or how they market to the local community. 

    Congress understands that the privacy and confid­en­ti­al­ity of the inform­a­tion that census parti­cipants provide to the govern­ment is abso­lutely essen­tial to ensur­ing every­one parti­cip­ates confid­ently and fully in the census. As a result, the Census Act includes the strongest privacy and confid­en­ti­al­ity protec­tions that exist in federal law. 

    Employ­ees of the Census Bureau are prohib­ited from shar­ing personal inform­a­tion collected with anyone outside the Bureau, even with the employ­ees of other federal agen­cies. The Bureau’s employ­ees can only use personal information to create stat­ist­ical products that contain no inform­a­tion that can be traced back to an indi­vidual person­ally. Employees who violate the privacy of the survey respondents face up to five years in jail and fines up to $250,000

    Censuses around the world

    Censuses have occurred throughout history, including in China, Egypt, medieval England, and the Roman Empire. But experts say the United States was the first country to use a census to distribute political representation as the basis for its democracy. The US census is also unusual because of the constitutional requirement that it be an “actual enumeration” of the population instead of a rough estimate.

    An advantage of the US approach is that it provides highly detailed data, down to the city-block level for a specific point in time, but a disadvantage is cost. With a final bill of $13 billion, the 2010 US census cost $42 per person; the 2011 Dutch census cost roughly $1.6 million, or nine cents per person.

    According to the UN 2020 World Population and Housing Census Program, almost every country will hold a census between 2015 and 2024. Exceptions include war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Syria. In addition, some countries, including Brazil, have postponed or altered their census procedures due to the pandemic.

    In many countries, censuses have proven divisive over demographic questions. European countries have faced public outcry over privacy concerns regarding census data. During the Holocaust, census data was weaponized against Jews and other minorities in Germany and elsewhere. To this day, Germany does not collect census data on race. In France, censuses have been barred from asking about race since 1978. An 1872 French law had already prohibited censuses from asking about religious beliefs. The US census has not included questions about citizenship on its forms since the 1960s. 

    The next US census is due to take place in 2030. Regardless of your immigration status, your census participation contributes to how your voice is heard in Congress, the quality of education your children receive, your healthcare options, and even the roads, parks, and public services of your community. 

  2. 10 surprising things that Americans do

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    While each region of the United States has its own quirks and identity, there are certain practices that Americans across the country seem to follow. While these ten practices may seem perfectly normal to Americans, you may find them a bit strange as a newcomer to the United States. 

    1. Treat their pets like family

    Seventy percent of US households, or about 90.5 million families, own a pet, according to the 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). While owning a dog or a cat is not uncommon in other countries, Americans are known to go above and beyond to make sure their pet is treated like a part of the family. In the past ten years, American pet spending has more than doubled. Forty-five percent of American pet owners spend the same amount of money or more on their pets’ healthcare as they do on their own.

    In addition to putting their pet’s health above their own, ninety percent of Americans treat their pets like family, providing their furry companions with fluffy beds, fancy sweaters, and an abundance of treats and accessories. It’s not unusual for an American family to share their couches, beds, and meals with their pets, providing them with all the same comforts as a cherished family member. 

    2. Watch prescription drug commercials on TV

    The United States is the only country, besides New Zealand, that legally permits “direct-to-consumer” pharmaceutical advertising. This means that when you turn on the TV in America, you may see ads for the latest prescription drug offering for whatever could be ailing you. Americans don’t find it strange to recommend a prescription drug to their doctors. But this wasn’t always the case. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising for prescription drugs started mostly in print during the 1980s and moved to TV advertising in the late 1990s. 

    According to the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “no federal law has ever banned DTC advertising. Until the mid-1980s, drug companies only gave prescription drug information to doctors and pharmacists. Then, when these professionals thought it appropriate, they gave that information to their patients. However, during the 1980s, some drug companies started to give the general public more direct access to this information through DTC ads.”

    3. Go to school in yellow school buses

    School bus yellow is a color that was specifically formulated for use on school buses in North America in 1939. Prior to 1939, American children were riding to school in trucks and buses of all different colors and even horse-drawn wagons. The uniformization of school buses would solve two problems while simultaneously revolutionizing how they are manufactured. One, uniformity would make bus travel safer. Two, manufacturers would be able to mass-produce them at lower costs.

    Although many other forms of transportation have changed dramatically over the years, America’s yellow school buses have endured. That’s due, in large part, to the school bus’s astonishing record on safety. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “the school bus transportation system is the largest mass transit system in the United States, yet school buses account for less than one percent of traffic fatalities each year. Students on school buses are 70 times safer than those who travel to school by car “because [school buses] are the most regulated vehicles on the road; they are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles.”

    4. Prefer wide personal spaces

    Personal space varies from culture to culture. According to researchers, the world is sorted into “contact cultures” and “non-contact” cultures. Non-contact cultures like Northern Europe, North America, and Asia expect people to stand further away from each other and touch less. In comparison, people in contact cultures like South America, the Middle East, and Southern Europe are no strangers to standing close to one another. Anthropologist Edward Hall, who coined the term “proxemics” to describe how humans use space, found that Americans reserve space up to 18 inches away from themselves for intimate contact. From 18 inches to 4 feet away is most appropriate for good friends and family members. General public distance for strangers is about 10 feet. 

    A good rule of thumb is to take cues from the American you are conversing with. If they back up as you speak, it may mean they feel uncomfortable with the proximity. Avoid physical contact while speaking, as it could lead to discomfort. In America, touching is a bit too intimate for casual acquaintances. Don’t put your arm around their shoulder, touch their face, or hold their hand. It is acceptable to shake hands when you first meet or part, but only briefly.

    5. Fill in the silence

    Americans often feel uncomfortable with long periods of silence and communicate primarily through verbal interactions. In the United States, many acts of silence are social, such as a moment of silence as a sign of respect during a public prayer or theatrical performance. Asian and Nordic countries have listening cultures where silence denotes careful thought. Listening cultures prefer pauses in a conversation to keep the interchange calm. In some cases, silence can be a way to allow everyone to save face. On the other hand, Americans may translate silence in conversations as indifference, disagreement, or a lack of understanding. In these cases, some Americans may rush to fill the silence with further explanation or a change of subject. 

    Some researchers speculate that fear of silence has much to do with how an individual was raised as a child. For example, Bruce Fell, a Charles Sturt University lecturer, explained that, throughout a six-year period, he observed the behavior of his 580 American undergraduate students and came to the conclusion that the “struggle with silence is a learned behavior,” as all of the students, except for one, grew up in households where the TV, or some other kind of background noise, was constantly playing.

    6. Value being busy

    Americans value time and convenience. Their busy and fast-paced lives welcome the need for drive-through food options, same-day deliveries, ordering food “to-go,” and taking their coffees with them on their daily commutes. As a result, many Americans believe that faster is better and busyness and lack of leisure should be celebrated. One theory suggests that when Americans express they are busy and working all the time, they implicitly suggest that they are sought after, enhancing their perceived status.

    7. Believe bigger is better

    “Getting more for your money” is a common phrase in the United States as most Americans try to maximize the value of their money. The American culture of bigness is unlike any other in the world. When you arrive in the United States, you’ll notice that food portions are larger, stores are bigger with more variety, and American cars and homes are expansive. Americans assume bigger is always better and consider size a measure of excellence. 

    In a Time magazine article, author Sarah Z. Wexler explains that Americans may be obsessed with big things based on “the history of our country and the idea that we had so much space to spread out. The idea of manifest destiny was that we were destined to expand westward until we hit another ocean. But since there isn’t that kind of space for exploration or expansion in our country anymore, [this is how] we stake out our claim. And some of it is just tied to an American sensibility and tied in with machismo. We coined the term “Go big or go home.”

    8. Have a preference for sweeter-tasting bread

    According to the American Heart Association, American adults consume an average of 77 grams of sugar per day, more than three times the recommended amount for women. Much of American processed food relies on high sugar content. Food companies in the United States began to remove fat from processed foods to promote them as healthy alternatives. Sugar was added to compensate for the loss of flavor in fat-free products.

    As a newcomer to America, you’ll notice that the packaged loaves of bread in the grocery store may taste much sweeter than most European bread. The main difference is that American bread comes with more preservatives and additives like high glucose corn syrup, making the loaves stay fresher on grocery store shelves longer. This has even become a legal issue in parts of Europe. For example, in Ireland, a court judge ruled that the bread at Subway, an American fast-food chain that primarily sells submarine sandwiches, was legally not bread at all. The reasoning for this is because of the high quantities of added sugars. In Ireland, Subway bread is legally seen as a confection, similar to cake.

    9. Require air conditioning

    Air conditioning is very much a way of life for Americans. From East Coast to West Coast and everywhere you turn, you’ll never be far away from the constant humming of air conditioners in the summer months. Nearly 90 percent of American households now have some form of air-conditioning, more than any other country except Japan. In a nation with 318 million people accounting for just 4.5% of the world’s population, the United States consumes more energy for air conditioning than the rest of the world combined. It uses more electricity for cooling than Africa, a population of 1.1 billion, uses for everything.

    Cooled air is an essential economic and social technology for some Americans despite its excessive energy consumption. Extreme natural heat kills an average of 618 Americans yearly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to thousands a century ago. It also cuts absenteeism and raises productivity. In a 1957 survey, 90% of US firms named cooled air as the single biggest boost to their productivity.

    10. Share a deep love of peanut butter

    When many Americans recall childhood meals and school lunches, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are almost always part of the nostalgia. This creamy spread of sweet and salty peanuts has been an American food mainstay and pop icon for over a century. As a cheap and high-protein food, Americans have consumed peanuts since enslaved people first brought them to America, but peanut butter wasn’t developed until 1890 and wasn’t mass-produced until the 1920s. Then, the meat shortage caused by World War II made peanut butter an American icon.

    During an interview with National Peanut Board, President and CEO Bob Parker reflect on how peanut butter has evolved from a primarily sandwich spread to a savory cooking ingredient. “While more traditional mothers might now be baking cookies or cakes, millennials are experimenting with international cuisines, and we’re seeing more use of peanut butter in savory dishes. It’s also gaining more traction as a tasty and versatile ingredient by food manufacturers. One example is the explosion of peanut butter ice creams that have come onto the market in the past year or so.”

    Want to learn more about American culture and other uniquely American practices? Check out a few of our other articles:

  3. A newcomer’s guide to owning a business in Oklahoma

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    Immigrants are 80% more likely to start a business in the United States versus native-born Americans. In Oklahoma, 14,453 immigrant business owners accounted for 7 percent of all self-employed Oklahoma residents in 2018 and have generated $252.3 million in business income. Immigrants continue to support the Oklahoma economy in many ways, from their entrepreneurship and contributions to the workforce to their buying power and community involvement. 

    New business owners have found Oklahoma to be an excellent place to start a business. The Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce states that 82.31% of startups survive within their first year of business. According to the Kauffman Indicators of Entrepreneurship, Oklahoma boasts the 3rd highest early startup survival rate in the United States. So if you’re new to the United States and dream of opening your own business, you’ve come to the right place. 

    Oklahoma visa requirements for starting a business

    You do not need to be a US citizen to own a business in Oklahoma or the United States. However, to earn wages at your business, you must have work authorization through a visa. Learn more about your visa options in our article, Starting A Business In Oklahoma Without A Green Card. We also recommend consulting a reputable immigration attorney for knowledgeable advice on which visa is best for your business goals.  

    Five questions for a successful business beginning

    Long-term business success is built on solving a local need. As you are considering what kind of business to start, these questions can help create a solid foundation for success:

    1. What are you passionate about? Owning a business requires a lot of dedication, time, and commitment. It will play a huge factor in your everyday life. Your business should reflect your interests and passions. 
    2. What is missing from your local economy? Your business should meet the needs of the community. Does your location need another restaurant or is it better served by a grocery store or gas station? The bigger the problem you can solve, the bigger the revenue opportunity. Business success is found when you can solve an issue where your community is lacking. 
    3. Who is your ideal customer? Whom do you hope to help with your business? Understanding your ideal target market can help guide you toward developing solutions or products to help meet their needs. 
    4. Can your business idea help secure a financial future? Will your business idea be viable for years to come? If the basis of your business is a new and trendy product or service, can you pivot quickly when your solution is no longer in demand?
    5. How much funding do you have access to? Before your business can make money, it needs a lot of capital to get started. It’s not uncommon for many entrepreneurs to use a mixture of their own money and money from investors or banks to fund the initial startup.

    Creating a business plan

    Once you’ve identified a need and how you plan to provide the solution, you will need to put your idea into action. A business plan is a guidebook on how your business will thrive and survive. The purpose is to outline how your business will make money and grow revenue over the next three to five years. 

    Your business plan is meant to evolve as you learn more about your business and your customers’ needs. It can also be essential in obtaining funding for your business and defining what success should look like. Investors want to see that you have a thought-out plan for how you intend to supply, market, and grow your business. 

    While there is no one way to write a business plan, the US Small Business Administration offers resources to help get you started. Many business plans have these common elements:

    • Company description. This is where you define your company name and business structure. You will need to file your business name and business structure with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. Keep in mind that some business structures require you to be a US citizen. Your company description should also include the location of your business, how many employees, and what your business does. 
    • Market analysis. Know what makes your business different from your competitors. Outline how your business solves your community’s needs and identify your target audience. Describe how you plan to promote your business to help grow your customer base and increase sales. 
    • Operations plan. This section should detail your strategy to manage the day-to-day activities and requirements. Questions to answer in this section should include, what are the essential functions and duties of your employees, who are your product suppliers, what are the hours of operations, how will you price your product or services, what kind of equipment or software is needed to run your business, and who are your operational vendors. 
    • Financial plan. Define what success looks like for your business and what it costs to earn a consistent profit. This section should outline your costs and provide a financial projection of your cash flow management. This section should also answer questions like where you plan on investing your startup funding, whether you have a dedicated bookkeeper to manage taxes, and what your financial outlook is for the next five years. 

    Securing investments

    If your business requires investments or funding to help get you started, a business plan can help investors feel confident that they will see a return on their investment. There are many funding options available for entrepreneurs in Oklahoma. These may include loans from the US Small Business Administration, loans from a commercial bank, or funding from an investor or venture capital (VC) group active in Oklahoma. 

    An angel investor invests their personal funds in a startup, often at the beginning, whereas a venture capital investment funds a business throughout its lifecycle. Venture capital is typically offered in exchange for an ownership share and active role in the company. Current Oklahoma angel investors and VCs include: 

    • Seed Step Angels – SeedStep Angels (SSA) is dedicated to providing quality early-stage investment opportunities for accredited Oklahoma Angel investors and assisting entrepreneurs and early-stage growth companies by serving as a critical source of funding, information, networking, mentorship, and educational resources.
    • Cowboy Technology Angels – Cowboy Technology Angels comprises alumni and other Oklahoma State University friends. Each member of Cowboy Technology Angels is an accredited investor. Members can select their own investments.
    • Oklahoma Venture Forum – Oklahoma Venture Forum (OVF) was founded in 1987 to champion small businesses and economic development by connecting and recognizing venture talents. Their diverse membership includes investors, entrepreneurs, and service providers from various statewide industries.
    • i2E – i2E’s investment arm, i2E Management Company Inc. (iMCI), has more than $92 million of investment capital under management. iMCI serves Oklahoma companies in all phases of the business life cycle, from startups looking for their first round of capital to established businesses seeking funding to expand their markets or products.
    • AngelList: Oklahoma Angel Investors – A comprehensive listing of 4,920 angel investors seeking the opportunity to fund Oklahoma startups.

    Business licensing and other considerations

    Now that you have a plan for your business and information to help fund your endeavors, your next step is to start turning your business idea into a reality. As a business owner, you’ll need to pay federal taxes, hire employees, open a bank account, and apply for business licenses and permits. To pay taxes for your business, you’ll need a federal tax ID number, also known as an Employer Identification Number (EIN), and an Oklahoma tax ID number. Whether you need an EIN is dependent on the type of business structure you choose. For sole proprietorships, an EIN is optional, although it is required for corporations and LLCs. 

    To operate legally in Oklahoma, your new business may need to apply for various permits and licenses. For example, a restaurant will need a liquor license, and a pawn shop will need a reseller’s license. The Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce states, “there is no license required to start or own a business in Oklahoma, but there are specific licenses and permits for different industries and business activities. One of the most common permits is the sales tax permit. It is required for retailers, resellers, or others that sell tangible property on an ongoing basis. Obtain a sales tax permit from the Oklahoma Tax Commission.”

    Some businesses in Oklahoma that do not require licenses include:

    • Cleaning services
    • Lawn care services
    • Automotive and truck repair
    • Computer and IT services
    • Business consulting
    • Home and kitchen appliance repair and installation
    • Garage door repair and installation
    • Gutter repair and installation
    • Window and door repair and installation services

    Business insurance is also a good idea to protect your business against property damage or legal action. In addition, if your company has employees, you are required by the federal government to have workers’ compensation and unemployment insuranceFor more information on how to start a small business in Oklahoma, read our article, Small business resources for immigrant entrepreneurs. The article includes tips on business owner basics, additional ways of acquiring business capital, and essential business owner information for immigrants. Questions on how your immigration status may affect your business? Contact Stump and Associates for current and knowledgable advice on navigating immigration laws and Oklahoma business guidelines.

  4. How marijuana laws could affect your immigration status

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    One of the requirements to maintain legal immigration status in the United States is a “good moral character.” Good moral character means that a person does not have serious criminal issues and generally fulfills their obligations under the law. When state laws and federal laws contradict, it can negatively affect your legal status. An example of this is the use and possession of marijuana. 

    Marijuana and your legal status

    Marijuana is legal for adults in 19 states and Washington DC; medical marijuana is legal in 38 states, including Washington DC. This may lead immigrants to believe that using marijuana as permitted by state law will not affect their immigration status. However, possession of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. In April 2019, USCIS amended its Policy Manual to emphasize that even “legal” conduct involving marijuana is a basis for severe immigration penalties. For example, admitting to having possessed marijuana can disqualify an applicant for cancellation of removal, cause any non-citizen, including a permanent resident, to be excluded at the border, and risk the eligibility for family immigration.

    What’s legal in a state but illegally federally can cause much confusion regarding immigration. Immigration in the United States is chiefly regulated at the federal level under the rules established by the Immigration and Nationality Act. The federal government, which creates the system of laws that apply to all people within the United States, has the sole authority to grant visas, green cards, and citizenship. However, they face many challenges in enforcing immigration law and often seek assistance from state and local governments. Immigration laws are implemented differently in states than at the federal level and as a result, some state laws may contradict federal laws, affecting the federal government’s immigration duties. 

    What is state law?

    State laws are adopted by the state legislature and signed into law by the state’s governor. The state laws apply to people within the state, whether they are residents or temporary visitors. State laws aim to grant additional rights to its residents that are not explicitly granted by federal law. All 50 of the United States have a legislative branch that enacts state statutes, an executive branch that carries out and enforces state laws, and a judicial branch that applies and interprets state laws. 

    States retain the power to make laws regarding issues not covered by federal legislation. State supreme courts are the final interpreters of state law unless their ruling affects federal law. State law generally has the final say in situations such as:

    • Criminal matters
    • Divorce and family matters
    • Welfare, public assistance, or Medicaid matters
    • Wills, inheritances, and estates
    • Real estate and other property
    • Business contracts
    • Personal injuries such as from a car accident or medical malpractice
    • Workers’ compensation for injuries at work

    What is federal law?

    Federal laws are bills passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate and have been signed by the president. If a presidential veto has been overridden, the bill becomes a law and is enforced by the federal government. Federal law is dictated by the United States Constitution, the official framework of the United States government, and pertains to the entire nation. Congress may pass legislation to enact new federal laws and amendments to the Constitution. The federal courts, including the US Supreme Court, upheld the federal law, including legislation regarding:

    • Immigration law
    • Bankruptcy law
    • Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) laws
    • Federal anti-discrimination and civil rights laws that protect against racial, age, gender, and disability discrimination
    • Patent and copyright laws
    • Federal criminal laws such as laws against tax fraud and the counterfeiting of money

    The distinctions between state law and federal law

    State law cannot abolish or limit the rights provided by the US Constitution. Alternatively, if state law provides a person more rights than federal law, state law is legally permitted to prevail within that state. For example, if the federal law does not allow same-sex marriage, but state law allows it, the state law stays since it gives its residents more civil rights. State law also prevails when it imposes more responsibility on its residents than federal law, such as wearing seat belts. Current federal law does not require back seat passengers to wear a seat belt. However, if a state requires it, all people within that state will be required to follow that law. 

    When there is an explicit conflict between state and federal law, federal law prevails. However, historically the federal government has not intervened every time state and federal law contradicts, especially in instances where the state law does not affect national security or international relations. An example of this is legalized prostitution in certain counties of Nevada. Prostitution is illegal according to US federal law, but under Nevada state law, counties with a population of fewer than 700,000 can legally have brothels. As of this date, the US government has not taken any action against Nevada for violating this federal law. 

    There are some important distinctions between the adoption and execution of federal and state laws [Source: Masterclass]:

    • Creation: New federal laws must be approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president. State laws are implemented by the state legislature and confirmed by the state governor.
    • Hierarchy: The Supremacy Clause in Article VI of the Constitution states that federal law cannot be impeded or restricted by any state law.
    • Extension of rights: If a particular state law grants additional rights to citizens that wouldn’t otherwise be given by federal law, state law wins out. The purpose of state law is to add to the list of citizens’ rights granted by federal law rather than limit them.
    • Extra responsibilities: If a person fails to perform an obligation dictated by state law that doesn’t happen to be part of federal law, state law prevails.

    Supremacy clause

    The supremacy clause is part of the US Constitution and contains the “doctrine of pre-emption.” This clause determines that the federal government wins in the case of conflicting legislation, except in certain matters constitutionally left to the states. 

    Immigration law is determined by the US federal government and has consistently been upheld by the US Supreme Court. In addition, the Supreme Court has historically overruled state legislatures’ attempts to dictate immigration law. However, many states have passed legislation limiting undocumented immigrants’ access to public benefits, directing state and local police to check the legal residence status of arrestees, and other directives affecting immigrants. State lawmakers justify immigration-related state laws by citing a lack of federal enforcement, security concerns, and limited state resources to support an immigrant population. 

    When contradictions in state and federal law affect immigration

    Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, signed to law in 2010, is an example of a state’s attempt to regulate immigration and the federal government enforcing the supremacy clause. Arizona’s SB 1070, “Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” created new state immigration-related crimes related to trespassing, harboring, and transporting illegal immigrants, alien registration documents, employer sanctions, and human smuggling. The bill also broadened the authority of state and local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws. The law was based on four provisions:

    1. It is a state crime to reside in the United States without legal permission
    2. It is a state crime to work in the United States without legal permission
    3. Law enforcement officers are required to verify the legal status of all individuals who were arrested or detained
    4. Law enforcement officers are permitted to arrest individuals without a warrant based on probable cause of unlawful presence

    The United States government sued the state of Arizona on the grounds that the four provisions preempted federal law and had international implications, especially in Mexico and Latin America. The case was tried at the US Supreme Court, resulting in three of the four provisions being ruled unconstitutional. The third provision was permitted to stand if there is “reasonable suspicion” that a person is in the United States illegally. 

    Many, but not all, state laws addressing immigration are preempted by federal law. Some states have passed laws similar to Arizona’s, allowing law enforcement to verify legal status. Many states also require using E-Verify to confirm employment eligibility and impose restrictions on immigrants receiving public benefits, such as food stamps and non-emergency medical care at state clinics. Although states can assist in immigration regulation and enforcement, the federal government has the legal power to enforce US immigration laws.

    If you find yourself in a situation where your immigration status may be affected by a drug violation or an issue where state law contradicts federal law, your best course of action is to obtain advice from a reputable immigration lawyer. An immigration lawyer is knowledgeable in the most current aspects of the law and can provide the best options to avoid negative consequences that affect your immigration.

  5. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of ICE

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    The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) mission is to protect America from cross-border crime and illegal immigration that poses a threat to national security and public safety. This mission is executed through the enforcement of more than 400 federal statutes. ICE was created in March 2002 as part of the Homeland Security Act. The Act was in response to the 9/11 attacks on the United States and was the largest reorganization of the United States government since the Department of Defense was created in 1947. 

    Since ICE’s inception, there has been much contention and controversy surrounding the role of its agents and the agency’s mission. As a newcomer to the United States, you have no doubt heard concerning stories about encounters with ICE agents. In this article, we’ll cover a brief overview of the federal immigration agencies, the role and responsibilities of ICE, and what you should do if you encounter an agent. 

    Federal Immigration Agencies Overview

    To understand the US immigration system and process, it is important to understand the basic structure of the agencies charged with enforcing the immigration laws.

    US Department of Homeland Security

    The Homeland Security Act abolished the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”) and the former US Customs Service. It combined the functions of these agencies within one department: the US Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). The DHS now performs the duties of these former agencies and delegates the responsibilities to many agencies within the DHS. The agencies within the DHS that have the most contact with and impact on non-citizens are:

    • US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
    • US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
    • US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

    US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

    The CBP is responsible for protecting the US borders and controls access into the country. CBP must enforce US immigration laws and, as such, can question, investigate, and detain those arriving at US ports of entry. The US Border Portal is part of the CBP and is responsible for patrolling areas at and around international land borders. The role of border agents is to protect and apprehend those attempting to enter the United States illegally. CBP agents have the right to veto the issuance of a visa if it’s determined that the individual is inadmissible to the US.

    The CBP jurisdiction includes US land borders and 99 miles surrounding the border. Enforcement activities by CBP include maintaining traffic checkpoints along highways leading from border areas, conducting city patrols and transportation checks, and conducting anti-smuggling investigations.

    US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

    The major difference between ICE and CBP is that while CBP is responsible for enforcing immigration laws at and near the borders, ICE is responsible for enforcing immigration laws, including investigating, arresting, detaining, and deporting within the remaining areas of the US. In addition, the activities of ICE include anti-smuggling efforts, locating persons illegally in the country, and enforcing laws against unauthorized employment of undocumented immigrants.

    ICE has two primary divi­sions: Enforce­ment and Removal Oper­a­tions (ERO) and Home­land Secur­ity Invest­ig­a­tions (HSI). ERO enforces immig­ra­tion laws, includ­ing detain­ing and remov­ing the people viol­at­ing them. HSI invest­ig­ates inter­na­tional crim­inal oper­a­tions and organ­iz­a­tions, includ­ing the illegal trade of goods, weapons, and drugs, and the smug­gling or traf­fick­ing of people into the US. ICE has 400 offices in the US and 46 coun­tries. 

    US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

    The USCIS approves and denies visas, permanent residency, and citizenship applications. Unlike CBP and ICE, USCIS is not a law enforcement agency. However, USCIS adjudicates applications for immigrant waivers, while CBP adjudicates nonimmigrant waivers. Similarly, while many applications for immigrant visas are filed with USCIS, some applications for nonimmigrant visas are filed with CBP.

    Even though USCIS is not a law enforcement agency, it has the power to place individuals into proceedings before an immigration judge, as do CBP and ICE.

    ICE prioritization

    In its short existence, ICE has had a turbu­lent history. Vari­ous bodies have ques­tioned ICE’s neces­sity as a stan­dalone agency. During President Trump’s administration, ICE agents were required to treat­ any undoc­u­mented immig­rant as a prior­ity for removal. The Brennan Center claims that this prioritization was reflected in ICE’s “increas­ing use of decades-old misde­mean­ors as grounds for arrest of even long-time US resid­ents, appear­ing to focus partic­u­larly on nation­als from Latin Amer­ican and Muslim-major­ity coun­tries.”

    President Biden’s administration released new prioritization guidelines in September 2021. The policy gave immigration and border agents discretion to spare migrants who have lived in the United States a long time, are elderly, are minors, or whose family members might be adversely affected by deportation. The guidelines directed ICE agents to prioritize arresting immigrants deemed public safety or national security risks and recent border crossers. According to CNN, “The department is returning to Obama-era immigration enforcement measures based on a priority system instead of the more aggressive approach taken under the Trump administration. That approach, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas argues, takes into account the department’s limited resources and the fact that a ‘removable non-citizen should not alone be the basis of an enforcement action against them.'” 

    As of June 2022, a federal judge vacated the Biden administration’s prioritization of immigration enforcement. The ruling argued that the DHS guidance prevented US Immigration and Customs Enforcement from enforcing the law. Judge Drew Tipton said the government’s regulations were not just offering guidance to agents, as the government claimed, but instead “provides a new basis on which aliens may avoid being subject to the enforcement of immigration law.” 

    As of the time of the writing of this article, The Biden Administration had seven days to appeal the ruling. 

    What to do when confronted by immigration officers

    Regardless of your immigration status, you have certain protection rights when encountering a Border Control agent or ICE. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has provided guidelines for several scenarios. A few things to note:

    • Immigration officers can only enter your home if they have a warrant signed by a judge. 
    • If the police have an arrest warrant, they are legally allowed to enter the home of the person on the warrant if they believe that person is inside. But a warrant of removal/deportation (Form I-205) does not allow officers to enter a home without consent.
    • Law enforcement is allowed to enter your home if you are on probation with a search condition.
    • At border crossings, federal authorities do not need a warrant or even suspicion of wrongdoing to justify conducting what courts have called a “routine search,” such as searching luggage or a vehicle.
    • You have the right to remain silent. You do not have to answer questions asked by immigration officers if you do not want to answer them. This includes questions about your citizenship status, birthplace, or place of residence.

    You have a right to a lawyer if you are arrested or detained. A reputable and knowledgeable immigration lawyer will offer you options and information that immigration officers may not provide.

  6. Pet ownership as a newcomer to the United States

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    Living in a new country can bring feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and homesickness as you adjust to your new life. These feelings of culture shock are quite normal and will subside as you become more comfortable in your environment. While you’re adapting to your new life and afterward, having a pet by your side can provide many mental health benefits, relaxing you from stress and anxiety, keeping you active, and enhancing your social life.

    As a pet owner, you’ll be in good company in the United States. America is a nation of pet lovers as 70% of US households, or about 90.5 million families, own a pet, according to the 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). Owning a pet can have as much positive impact on your new life in the United States as you will have on theirs. 

    The mental and physical benefits of pets for newcomers

    Studies show that caring for a pet can help lower the stress hormone cortisol and release oxytocin, the bonding hormone that produces a feeling of calmness, improved social interactions, trust, and decreased fear. Benefits of caring for a pet also include:

    • Opportunities to meet new people. Dog owners often stop and chat with others on walks or in dog parks. Other pet owners meet people in pet shops, training classes, or online groups. Having a pet provides an easy conversation starter topic when meeting new people. 
    • A boost for your self-confidence. Pets can be great listeners. They can help you practice your English by talking or reading to them. Many studies have shown that reading to pets is a great way to enhance public speaking skills because it provides an opportunity to speak out loud without feeling judged. 
    • Increased physical activity. Dog owners are more likely to take their pets out every day for a walk or run. 
    • Companionship and a decreased feeling of loneliness. Pets provide constant company and affection. 
    • Learn more about your new environment. Moving to a new country can feel challenging and isolating. Caring for a pet encourages you to get to know your surroundings when shopping for pet food, going for vet visits, or, for dog owners, getting exercise. 
    • Adding structure to your day. Having to feed, exercise and care for a pet can help you keep to a daily routine, which can help you feel more grounded and focused. It can give your day purpose and a sense of achievement.

    How to bring your pet when you move to the United States

    If you plan to bring your pet into the United States, you need to plan ahead. Each state may have its own requirements for importing your pet. Be sure to visit the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection website for state-specific conditions. 

    Dogs

    The Centers and Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulate the specific requirements for dogs entering the United States to help limit the transmission of infectious or contagious diseases. As such, it is required that you have records of your dog vaccination record and examination. In addition, some states and airlines require a health certificate which should include the breed, weight, and age, proof that the dog is healthy to travel, and proof of rabies vaccinations. 

    As of July 14, 2021, there is a temporary suspension for dogs entering the United States from high-risk countries for dog rabies. This includes dogs arriving from countries not at high risk if the dogs have been in a high-risk country in the past six months. In addition, if your dog is also traveling from a region where screwworm is known to exist or not declared free of foot and mouth disease, additional requirements must be followed. 

    Cats

    The CDC and the USDA do not require rabies vaccinations or additional health requirements for cats to enter the United States. However, certain states may have specific import requirements. 

    Other animals

    Some animals aren’t regulated by CDC but are still subject to state or local regulations and may be prohibited in certain states. Additionally, not all animals qualify as pets. For example, USDA regulates some birds as poultry, which are subject to different travel requirements. For more information from USDA, check out their website and select an animal from the drop-down list.

    It is recommended that you check if your animal is regulated by CDC and USDA before traveling. Then, confirm any additional requirements with your airline and local officials at your final destination.

    Best places to get a new pet

    Many great animal shelters and rescues in the United States can pair you with your ideal pet. But before you consider bringing your new friend home, be sure that you can afford the cost to care for the pet, including vet visits, food, and other necessities, and ensure that you are allowed to own a pet if you rent your living space. 

    Pet stores and some breeders have many cute pets. However, you may run the risk of not being aware of your new pet’s health issues before bringing them home. Alternatives to pet stores and breeders can ensure your new pet is healthy, give you details and resources about any potential health concerns, and provide vaccinations and care until they are ready to go home with you. Examples include:

    • The Humane society 
    • Local animal rescues 
    • Local animal shelters
    • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
    • Petfinder.com – Petfinder is an online, searchable database of animals who need homes. It is also a directory of nearly 11,000 animal shelters and adoption organizations across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

    In our hometown of Oklahoma City, there are several great resources for adopting your new pet:

    Oklahoma Humane Society

    https://okhumane.org/

    The Oklahoma Humane Society works in close partnership with Oklahoma City Animal Welfare (OKC Animal Shelter) and other local shelters to place healthy, adoptable pets into good homes. 

    All pets are microchipped, spayed, or neutered, treated with all age-appropriate vaccinations and flea, tick, and heartworm preventative before being cleared for adoption. 

    Bella SPCA

    https://bellaspca.org/

    Bella SPCA is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Oklahoma City created to assist low-income, elderly, or terminally ill pet owners with the cost of veterinary care they might not be able to afford. The organization also helps to re-home stray or abandoned animals. 

    Bella SPCA uses a foster-based system, so the pet you adopt has lived with a family and is learning socialization and basic training. All dogs and cats up for adoption are spayed/neutered, given age-appropriate vaccines, microchipped, heartworm tested, and go to their new homes with 30 days of pet insurance provided by 24 PetWatch. 

    Tiny Paws Kitten Rescue

    http://tinypawsok.org/ 

    Tiny Paws focuses primarily on taking in orphaned newborn baby kittens that cannot survive on their own. Tiny Paws kittens also receive unparalleled intimate socialization with humans, creating lasting bonds and a natural predisposition for companionship. Once weaned, the kittens are readied for adoption and thoughtfully matched with their new family.

    Tiny Paws kittens are adopted and taken home after spay/neuter at 12 weeks of age. The kittens receive all disease testing and vaccinations for their age, are spayed/neutered, and are given monthly flea/tick preventative. 

    Pets and People

    https://www.petsandpeople.com/

    Pets and People is a volunteer-based group that focuses on rescuing dogs and cats from local municipal shelters. These pets are vet checked, given appropriate vaccinations, microchipped, tested for various diseases, given preventative medications, spayed or neutered, and then sheltered until responsible homes are found. 

    How to choose a veterinarian in the United States

    Being a pet owner is a big responsibility, and pet owners in the United States take this very seriously. For example, the APPA estimated that an American dog owner will spend an average of $1440 per year on basic expenses like routine vet visits, food, toys, and care. In comparison, a cat owner will spend about $800 per year. 

    No matter what type of pet you have, providing regular, life-long veterinary care is essential for keeping your pet and family healthy. Making sure that your animal stays healthy requires annual visits to a veterinarian for vaccinations, check-ups, and routine care. A few tips when considering a vet:

    • Ask for recommendations – Ask your coworkers, neighbors, and friends about good veterinarians in the area and their experience with them.
    • Find a vet who has expertise in treating your pet – Veterinarians are not all created equal. There are different types of veterinarians specializing in working with different kinds of animals. Some of them may have more experience treating dogs, cats, rabbits, fish, or other types of animals. 
    • Look for licensed personnel – Make sure that the veterinarian is licensed in your state and ask if there are registered veterinary technicians on staff. You can ask to see their licenses or contact your state board of veterinary medicine for more information.
    • Consider cost and location – If an emergency occurs, you will need to be able to get to the vet’s office quickly. Try to find a veterinarian less than an hour away from you at the most. Costs can also vary depending on the vet, so see if their prices fit into your budget before you commit to them.
    • Look for a clean facility – Have a look around the facility and notice the level of cleanliness. If the place seems a little dingy or dirty, then that is also a sign to move on. Since it is a medical facility, it should be just as clean as a hospital for humans.

    Veterinarians in Oklahoma City with high online reviews include:

    Americans’ peculiar pet ownership habits

    Once you become a pet owner in the United States, there is no doubt you’ll meet many other pet owners. Talking about your pet is a great way to start a conversation with new people, especially if they also have a pet. Don’t be surprised if the pet owners you meet in America show you professional pictures of their pets, have an Instagram account dedicated to their pet, admit to talking to them like a child, or dress them up in holiday costumes. 

    A recent survey of 10,000 pet owners in 11 countries: the United States, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Germany, Australia, and Japan found that Americans are particularly lenient when it comes to pets and the most likely to treat dogs and cats as members of the family. 

    Allen R. McConnell, a professor at Miami University, who studies how pets affect human well-being and relationships, says, “Dogs sleeping on beds and people buying sweaters for cats is more of a US phenomenon, as Americans spend over $50 billion annually in this country on pet supplies and animal care.” McConnell also believes that the American pet-pampering culture has to do with the nation’s wealth, allowing people to spend more disposable income on pets. 

    Some additional interesting stats on American pet ownership by Statista

    • Around 75 percent of Millennial respondents (born 1981-1996) stated that they considered their pet their ‘fur baby’ during a survey in the United States in 2020. That figure stood at around 80 percent for respondents classified as Generation X (born 1965-1980).
    • In 2021, just over one-fifth of survey respondents stated that they planned to dress their pet in a costume for Halloween in the United States.
    • Surveyed Millennials in the United States planned to spend $51 USD on their pets on average during the holiday season buying their pets gifts, according to a 2020 survey. The Gen Z age group (born 1997-2012) planned, on average, to spend $50 USD.

    American sociologist Andrea Laurent-Simpson says, “American pet owners are transforming the cultural definition of family. Dogs and cats are treated like children, siblings, grandchildren.” Lauren-Simpson also finds that American families are increasingly considering their pets in decisions such as child-rearing, homebuying, job location, travel, and budgets. 

    Alternatives if you can’t own a pet

    If you’re unable to own a pet, some options allow you to still gain some of the positive benefits of caring for a pet. The easiest solution is to take advantage of your friends and family’s pets, whether that’s by offering to pet sit, taking a dog for a walk, or simply giving a few pets or belly rubs. 

    If you’re missing having a dog in your life, you could sign up with Wag!, which connects dog owners with local dog walkers and pet sitters. You could also contact a rescue center near you to see what volunteering opportunities are available. They may need volunteers to exercise, care for and socialize their pets. If you can have a pet on a short-term basis, but can’t commit to a permanent stay, consider fostering an animal. Some shy or scared animals need the peace and quiet of home while waiting to be adopted.

     

  7. An immigrant worker’s rights in the US

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    Gainful employment is available for many newcomers to the US, helping them start a new life and provide a rewarding future for themselves. However, in some unfortunate cases, immigrant workers may be illegally denied the right to work with dignity. If an employer treats you differently from other employees because of your citizenship or immigration status, this is a violation of your civil rights in the United States. 

    The United States has established laws to protect individuals from being treated differently in the workplace because of the country where they were born, their ancestry, culture, or accent. Therefore, any employment action based upon these things constitutes illegal discrimination. In addition, undocumented workers also have various employment rights to protect them from exploitation.

    Acts of national origin discrimination in the workplace

    Immigrants are protected from employment discrimination by laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Employers with 15 or more employees, employment agencies, unions, employer-union apprentice programs, and local, state, and federal agencies must obey these laws. Following are some examples of employment discrimination based on national origin.

    1. Citizenship status discrimination concerning hiring, firing, and recruitment or referral for a fee by employers with four or more employees

    US citizens, US nationals, asylees, refugees, and recent lawful permanent residents are protected from citizenship status discrimination. Citizenship status includes a person’s immigration status. Exceptions: legal permanent residents who do not apply for naturalization within six months of eligibility are not protected from citizenship status discrimination. An employer may restrict hiring to US citizens only if a law, regulation, executive order, or government contract requires the employer to do so.  

    1. National origin discrimination concerning hiring, firing, and recruitment or referral for a fee by employers with four to 14 employees

    Employers are not allowed to treat individuals differently in hiring, firing, recruitment, or referral for a fee because of their actual or apparent national origin, including but not limited to their place of birth, country of origin, ancestry, native language, because they are perceived as looking or sounding “foreign,” or any other national origin indicator. All work-authorized individuals are protected from national origin discrimination by small employers under 8 USC § 1324b(a)(1)(A).  

    1. Unfair documentary practices related to verifying the employment eligibility of employees

    When verifying a worker’s employment authorization, employers of any size cannot demand more or different documents than necessary, request specific records, or reject reasonably genuine-looking documents because of a worker’s citizenship, immigration status, or national origin. This type of discrimination generally happens during the Form I-9 and E-Verify processes. The part of the law that prohibits this type of discrimination is 8 USC § 1324b(a)(6).

    1. Retaliation/Intimidation

    Employers of any size are not allowed to intimidate, threaten, coerce, or retaliate against individuals for filing charges with the Immigrants and Employee Rights Section (IER) which enforces the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), cooperating with an IER investigation, opposing action that may constitute unfair documentary practices or discrimination based upon citizenship status, national origin, or otherwise asserting their rights under the INA’s anti-discrimination provision. 

    1. Discrimination Based on Association with Persons of a Different National Origin Group

    The law prohibits discrimination because a person associates with people of a national origin group (prejudice because of attendance at schools or places of worship used by persons of a particular nationality, and discrimination because a person’s or spouse’s name is associated with a national origin group). 

    1. Practices May Have A Negative Effect on Particular National Origin Groups

    Some employment practices, such as citizenship or minimum height requirements, may screen out people of a particular national origin. For example, a minimum height requirement for certain jobs, such as police officers or firefighters, may disproportionately screen out people of certain national origins, such as Hispanics and Asians, and would be against the law unless the employer could prove that it is related to the job and needed for the employer to operate safely or efficiently. 

    1. Discrimination Based on Accent

    Treating employees differently because they have a foreign accent is lawful only if the accent significantly interferes with being able to do the job. Generally, an employer may only base an employment decision on accent if effective oral communication in English is required to perform job duties. Jobs that may require effective verbal communication in English include teaching, customer service, and telemarketing to English-speaking clients. If a person has an accent but can communicate effectively and be understood in English, they cannot be discriminated against.

    1. English-speaking only rules

    The EEOC has stated that rules requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace violate the law unless the employer can show that they are justified by business necessity. A rule requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace, including breaks and lunchtime, will rarely be justified. Circumstances in which an English-only rule may be justified include communications with customers or coworkers who only speak English; emergencies or other situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety; cooperative work assignments in which the English-only rule is needed to promote efficiency. Even if there is a need for an English-only rule, an employer may not take disciplinary action against an employee for violating the rule unless the employer has notified workers about the rule and the consequences of breaking it.

    Verifying legal work authorization

    The Immigration and Nationality Act requires employers to verify all employees’ identity and employment eligibility, not only immigrants, hired after November 6, 1986, by completing the Employment Eligibility Verification (I-9) Form and reviewing documents showing the employee’s identity and employment authorization. US employers are only permitted to hire workers who have permission from the government to work in this country. 

    Some common visa types that provide work authorization include:

    • P
    • R
    • TN NAFTA
    • EB 
    • F
    • M
    • J
    • B-1
    • GB Temporary Visitor to Guam
    • WB Temporary Business Visitor Under Visa Waiver Program

    Some employers use E-Verify, a voluntary, internet-based program that allows participating employers to verify the work eligibility of all new employees with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Social Security Administration (SSA). However, using E-verify before the I-9 process is complete and only using it for non-US citizens is considered discriminatory practice and a violation of civil rights. 

    For example, the Justice Department settled a case in March 2022 with Bianchi Home Care Inc. (Bianchi), a home care provider based in Washington state. The settlement resolves the department’s claims that Bianchi violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) when it discriminated against non-U.S. citizens through E-Verify. 

    According to the press release, “Based on its investigation, the department determined that Bianchi only used E-Verify to confirm the permission to work of its non-US citizen employees and did not use the program for its US citizen employees. Even though E-Verify found that all of Bianchi’s non-US citizen employees had permission to work, by only subjecting them to E-Verify, Bianchi imposed an additional burden on them in the hiring process because of their citizenship or immigration status. Under the INA and the E-Verify program rules, employers cannot discriminate in their use of E-Verify based on citizenship or immigration status.”

    Document Abuse

    Upon hiring an employee, the employer must complete an Employment Eligibility Verification Form, also known as Form I-9, to verify all workers’ identity and employment eligibility, regardless of citizenship. In addition, employees are required to provide an employer with any combination of documents listed on the Form I-9 to prove their authorization to work in the United States.  

    Employers must keep the completed I-9 Forms on file for a specific period and show them if requested by Immigration or other government authorities. Employers can make copies of the documents but must do so for all employees, not just a select few. 

    Employers abuse the document system when they do not allow workers to use any combination of legal documents but specify which documents they must use or require them to submit more documents than are legally required. If an employer refuses to accept legally acceptable documents that appear genuine, the employer has committed document abuse.

    In a recent settlement in April 2022 between the US Justice Department and UPS, the American international shipping & receiving and supply chain management company resolved the department’s claims that UPS violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The suit stated that UPS discriminated against a non-US citizen by requesting the individual present additional documents to prove permission to work after the worker had already provided sufficient proof.

    According to the April 2022 press release, “The department’s investigation determined that UPS discriminated against a newly hired lawful permanent resident in Jacksonville, Florida, by asking him for his Permanent Resident Card and “work visa,” to prove his permission to work, even though he had already shown his driver’s license and unrestricted social security card, which were sufficient proof.”

    Re-verification

    In some cases, employers need to re-verify work authorization if the documents presented during the Form I-9 process have an expiration date. During re-verification, it is up to the employee to decide which acceptable documents to show to prove work authorization. The employer cannot require you to present another work permit with the new expiration date as long as you have other documents establishing your continued work authorization. 

    It is discriminatory if the employer asks an employee to prove work authorization more than once if the employee has not previously provided documents that may require renewal. The employer may also not require re-verification in the following circumstances: 

    • When you return after being temporarily laid off for lack of work, as long as it has not been more than three years
    • As punishment for being engaged in union-related activities, a strike, or speaking out about work conditions
    • After a temporary leave approved by the employer, such as a family or medical leave
    • Because of a promotion, demotion, or pay raise
    • If you are transferred to a different unit of the same company
    • If you are reinstated to your job because of a decision of a labor arbitrator or other decision

    Your employer can re-verify work authorization documents for the entire workforce so long as all workers are treated the same. It is against the law for the employer to re-verify work authorization documents of only specific workers if the employer intends to discriminate against those workers because of their immigration status. 

    Employment rights of undocumented workers

    With some exceptions, undocumented workers receive all the same legal rights provided by Federal law as all other workers. Exceptions in most cases involve unemployment insurance and union organization. Employers who have 15 or more employees must follow employment discrimination laws. Employees, regardless of immigration status, receive protection under the following laws:

    • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, and national origin;
    • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA). The EPA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees of the opposite sex performing equal work in one workplace;
    • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The ADEA protects individuals age 40 and older from employment discrimination because of age;
    • Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Title I prohibits employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities based on their disability.

    Right to work

    Undocumented workers cannot be fired based on their immigration status. However, under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), it is illegal for employers to employ undocumented workers knowingly. Employers must terminate, or refuse to hire, an undocumented worker, but they cannot use immigration status as an excuse to fire undocumented workers who make discrimination complaints. Federal discrimination laws cover undocumented workers. The law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who assert their legal rights. If an employer retaliates against an employee for exercising their right to file a discrimination complaint, the employer breaks the law.

    Right to pay for hours worked

    Documented workers can sue their employers for pay for hours worked, lost wages (because of being fired or laid off due to discrimination), and a number of other remedies. Undocumented workers may only be entitled to pay for work performed. Undocumented workers are not entitled to be rehired by the discriminatory employer.

    Right to Workers’ Compensation

    Regardless of immigration status, if you are working in the United States, you may have a right to Workers’ Compensation if you are injured at work. Workers’ Compensation is a program paid by employers that benefits workers injured on the job. If you are a documented immigrant, you are entitled to money for work-related medical bills and wages while you are out of work recovering and job protection when you return from the injury. 

    Most states have determined that undocumented workers are entitled to compensation benefits. With a few exceptions, the federal government permits the states to administer their own workers’ compensation laws. At least eleven states are still undecided on the issue of workers’ compensation benefits for undocumented workers. In many cases, undocumented workers are only entitled to receive money for work-related medical bills. Different laws apply to seasonal farmworkers and farmworkers on year-round farms.

    Right to unionize

    Undocumented workers who are not employed by the government have the right to organize a union, elect a union, and collectively bargain with employers under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). It also allows you to engage in “concerted activity” to improve working conditions for all employees, even if there is no union yet. Concerted action occurs when two or more employees act, with their employer’s knowledge, to improve working conditions on behalf of all employees or if one employee acts on behalf of others.

    Due to your immigration status, if your employer violates the NLRA by discriminating against you because of your union activity or another unlawful labor practice, your recourse may be limited. For example, if unlawfully fired because of union involvement, undocumented workers are not entitled to “backpay” – the wages lost while unemployed because of the firing. Also, you will not be able to get your job back because, as an undocumented worker, you do not have legal work authorization.

    Right to unemployment insurance

    Unemployment insurance provides periodic payments to eligible unemployed workers through no fault of their own and is looking for work. Under the current state and federal systems, undocumented workers do not qualify for unemployment benefits. The general rule is that workers must have valid work authorization during the base period when they apply for benefits, and throughout the period they are receiving benefits.

    What to do if your employment rights have been violated

    If your rights have been violated, contact a reputable immigration lawyer, immigrants rights group, or a union representative if you are part of a union. You can also call the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC), a part of the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, at 1-800-255-7688 or 1-800-237-2515 to report potential discrimination by an employer.

    The services provided by OSC are free and are not part of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). They will not report your status to immigration authorities and can often assist workers by contacting employers to correct discriminatory behavior. The deadline for filing an employment discrimination complaint is 180 days after the discrimination incident. 

     

  8. Career training opportunities for new Americans

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    Immigrants make up one out of six workers in the US, and they support the vitality of local economies across the country. Despite the high employment rate among immigrants, those with low-paying jobs do not have the opportunity to complete education and training or improve their English and technical skills, leading to better wages and career advancement.

    Understandably, newcomers often seek employment using the experience they bring from their home countries. Employment resources are often available through government or social service agencies or resettlement agencies in the case of refugees. Despite this, the service is usually available for a limited time, and some agencies focus only on getting individuals into jobs, without helping them find good jobs, i.e., ones with equitable compensation, benefits, and support on and off the job.

    Some barriers to career advancement in the United States could limit newcomers’ earning potential. However, understanding your options and knowing your next steps can make a huge difference in achieving a successful future in your new country. 

    Barriers to career advancement in the United States

    English proficiency

    According to a report by the Urban Institute, limited English proficiency is correlated with lower wages. It is perceived as a critical barrier to higher-paid work and career advancement. Immigrants who are not fluent in English may be forced into occupations with lower pay and limited career advancement. Many free English as a second language (ESL) resources and classes are available, either online or in-person, to help improve your communication skills.

    Foreign credentials and job experience

    Immigrants may face barriers to gainful employment because their credentials and foreign work experience do not transfer smoothly into the US labor market. As a result, immigrants unable to duplicate the job they held in their home country are sometimes forced to take on entry-level positions that do not match their background. 

    To achieve greater career success in the US, further education and training, an understanding of the local labor market, and a knowledge of how to pursue the most promising career path are essential.

    Career training programs for immigrants

    Many organizations are designing workforce development services for immigrant workers and helping them address their barriers to participation. 

    In addition to workforce development programs specific to immigrants, the United State Department of Labor also offers programs for all citizens and legal residents of the United States opportunity for job training. Resources like My Next Move and My Skills My Future help match interest and skills with career opportunities. 

    Upwardly Global

    https://www.upwardlyglobal.org/ 

    Upwardly Global is a social change organization that provides immigrants, refugees, and asylees the training needed to rebuild their careers in the United States. Upwardly Global also partners with American companies to promote immigrant inclusion and job placement. The organization focuses on serving legal immigrants who are university educated with significant work experience yet are currently not working in the career field for which they are trained. 

    To qualify for Upwardly Global’s program, candidates must have:

    • A university-level education
    • Permanent, legal US work authorization (not employer-sponsored)
    • Proficient English skills
    • Some professional work experience outside the US
    • And reside in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, or Washington, DC

    Candidates cannot be or have been:

    • Already working in their career field here in the US
    • In the US for over seven years

    Building Skills Partnership

    https://www.buildingskills.org/ 

    A California-based non-profit organization, Building Skills Partnership (BSP), increases the skills, access to education, and career opportunities for low-wage property service workers and their families. BSP offers the following programs: English as a Second Language, Computer Literacy, Citizenship Preparation, Parent Education, Financial Literacy, Health, and Vocational Training. 

    UMBC Workforce Development Training

    https://www.umbctraining.com/ 

    The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Training Centers offers individual hands-on non-credit training programs that provide technical and operational cybersecurity training required to meet the needs of the military, intelligence community, federal civilian agencies, and the commercial sector within the Mid-Atlantic region.

    Training programs include: 

    The UMBC offers a variety of tuition assistance programs that may supplement or cover the cost of the training programs. In addition, many of the UMBC programs have been approved by the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) for WIOA funding for unemployed or underemployed Marylanders. 

    Career One Stop

    https://www.careeronestop.org/ 

    Sponsored by the US Department of Labor, CareerOneStop is a career, training, and job search website. The website serves job seekers, businesses, students, and career advisors with various free online tools, information, and resources. In addition, visitors can find information on certificate and training programs, financial assistance for training, and local job centers.  

    SkillUp

    https://www.skillup.org/

    SkillUp is a non-profit organization that helps workers transition to a better career with coaching training and job resources. SkillUp partners with state organizations to provide free training opportunities for individuals. 

    State Workforce Development Board

    https://www.careeronestop.org/LocalHelp/WorkforceDevelopment/find-workforce-development-boards.aspx

    Workforce Development Boards are part of the United States Public Workforce System, a network of federal, state, and local offices that help facilitate training needs for local businesses. Contact your state workforce development board to find information on training programs available in your state. 

    Job Corp

    https://www.jobcorps.gov/ 

    The program helps eligible young people ages 16 through 24 complete their high school education, train for meaningful careers, and obtain employment.

    At Job Corps, students have access to room and board while learning skills in specific training areas for up to three years. In addition to helping students complete their education, Job Corps also provides transitional support services, such as help finding employment, housing, child care, and transportation. Job Corps graduates either enter the workforce or an apprenticeship, go on to higher education, or join the military.

    National Farm Workers Job Program

    https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/86

    The National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP) provides job training, employment assistance, and other supportive services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their dependents. 

    To qualify for this benefit program, you must be all of the following:

    • A migrant or seasonal farmworker; and
    • Authorized to work in the United States; and
    • Have low or very low income

    Apprenticeship.gov

    https://www.apprenticeship.gov/career-seekers

    Apprenticeships are paid, full-time positions offering hands-on learning through on-the-job experience and classroom instruction. An individual employer typically provides training and wages. Apprenticeship.gov is an initiative by the US Department of Labor that matches individuals with apprenticeship opportunities offered through an employer or the program sponsor. 

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these are professions that typically have apprenticeship programs in the United States:

    • Boilermakers
    • Carpenters
    • Electricians
    • Elevator installers and repairers
    • Glaziers
    • Insulation workers, mechanical
    • Ironworkers
    • Masonry workers
    • Millwrights
    • Musical instrument repairers and tuners
    • Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
    • Sheet metal workers

    Online training

    Online training and courses allow individuals to learn new skills and earn certifications at their own pace. Some e-learning platforms are free, while others let you take as many courses as you want for a small payment or monthly fee. 

    Each site specializes in different subject matter and can help you refresh old skills, learn new ones, and shift your career trajectory. Some examples include:

    • ExpertRating  – Affordable certifications to demonstrate employable skills to prospective employers while easily upskilling through well-researched and in-depth courses. Pricing is per certification and can range from $49.99 to $169.99 and up. 
    • Code Academy – Online classes on 12 different programming languages, including Python, Java, Go, JavaScript, Ruby, SQL, C++, Swift, and Sass, and markup languages such as HTML and CSS. Basic access is free, but the site’s Pro subscription is $20/month (billed once per year for $240) and gives members access to step-by-step guidance and projects. Eligible students can also sign up for the cheaper Student Pro membership ($150/year) with the same features. 
    • LinkedIn Learning – Access video courses taught by industry experts in software, creative, and business skills. LinkedIn Learning members also receive certificates of completion to add to their LinkedIn profiles at no extra charge. After the trial ends, the subscription costs $29.99 per month or $19.99 per month for the annual plan. You may also be able to access LinkedIn Learning for free with a local library card.
    • Skillcrush – Skillcrush offers both free and paid programs, including the self-paced Break Into Tech + Job Guarantee program, which prepares students for entry-level positions in front-end development and design. 
    • Skillshare – Access free classes on both web and mobile. For full access to all classes and offline viewing, a premium membership is billed $32 per month or $13.99 per month for the annual plan. Course topics span various categories such as design, illustration, business, technology, photo and film, entrepreneurship, and writing. 
    • General Assembly – The school offers short courses, online classes (including overnight courses and free short online courses), and immersive 10- and 12- week courses in computer programming, data science, and product management, with an emphasis on web development and user experience design. Payment plans and financial assistance is available. 
    • Coursera – Coursera partners with more than 200 leading universities and companies to bring flexible, affordable, job-relevant online learning to individuals and organizations worldwide. Learning opportunities include hands-on projects and courses to job-ready certificates, career credentials, and degree programs. On average, individual courses range from $29-$99 each for certification, though there are plenty of free courses you can audit. 
    • Edx – Take online courses from the world’s best universities and industry-leading companies on your mobile device. If you want a verified certificate (which you can add to LinkedIn and your resume), there is a fee (usually between $50-$300, depending on the course). 
    • Udemy – Probably the largest selection of online courses, with more than 100,000 video courses and new additions published every month. With frequent sales (and sale prices as low as $10.99 per course), it’s often one of the most affordable options. Topics range from programming boot camps to in-depth art lessons.

    Financial aid resources for career training

    While the programs listed above may have their own resources for financial assistance, other resources are available. 

    Federal Student Aid

    https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/eligibility/requirements/non-us-citizens

    Compiled by the US Department of Education, the Federal Student Aid website offers information and financial aid resources for eligible noncitizens, DACA recipients, and non-eligible noncitizens. 

    Career Training Smart Option Student Loan

    https://www.salliemae.com/student-loans/career-training-smart-option-student-loan/ 

    Provided by Sallie Mae, a US-based financial institution, the Career Training Smart Option Student Loan® is specifically for professional training and trade certificate courses (culinary, technical, etc.) at a non-degree-granting school. Students who are not US citizens or US permanent residents must reside in the US, attend a participating school in the US, apply with a creditworthy cosigner (who must be a US citizen or US permanent resident), and provide an unexpired government-issued photo ID to verify their identity.

    CareerOneStop

    https://www.careeronestop.org/FindTraining/Pay/find-money-for-training.aspx

    CareerOneStop is sponsored by the US Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration and is a resource for job training as well as the source of information on how to pay for your training. 

     

    Foreign-trained immigrants have a wealth of skills, expertise, work experience, and credentials that they can apply to meet the workforce needs of employers in the United States. However, according to the National Immigration Forum, about 24 percent, or 1.7 million, foreign-trained immigrants are affected by “brain waste.” They are unemployed or underemployed and working in jobs below their skill level. In addition, newcomers to the United States may simply be unaware of their options to upskill or reskill. We hope this list of resources can help you gain the knowledge and confidence to make informed career choices that can lead to a successful life in the United States.

  9. A newcomer’s financial guide to building credit in the United States

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    In the US, building a credit history can save you thousands of dollars in rental security deposits and high-interest rates on loans and other credit. Lenders like cell phone providers and utility companies have no way to determine your reliability in paying your bills on time and, as a result, may charge higher fees. 

    You may have a perfect credit history in your home country, but unfortunately, many US-based lending institutions won’t consider your history unless your credit is filed with at least one of the three major US credit bureaus

    To begin building credit, you may need a Social Security number, a US-based bank account, and a history of paying on a US credit card or loan. The journey then continues with managing your credit responsibly and monitoring your credit reports and scores.

    The basics of US credit

    Newcomers to the United States are often considered “credit invisible” without a US-based credit report. The lack of established credit in the United States makes it difficult to get approved for loans, rent property, obtain a US cell phone, or purchase a car. 

    Credit bureaus collect and maintain information for your credit report and credit scores, which lenders use to decide if they’ll approve you for credit or a loan. A credit score is issued as three-digit numbers, typically between 300 and 850. It can affect the size of a loan you qualify for, the interest rate you pay on a loan or credit card, and sometimes your options for rental and employment. Once your credit file is created with one of the US credit bureaus, it can take up to six months of payment history before a credit score can be calculated. However, some newer credit scoring systems may need as little as one month of history. 

    A social security number is often required to open a line of credit and is available to immigrants who are authorized to work. However, if you don’t have a social security number, many card issuers accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, which is issued to immigrants who don’t qualify for a social security number but work in the US and pay taxes. The IRS website has more information on obtaining an ITIN.

    Four ways to build your credit history in the United States

    1. Transfer your credit score to the United States

    If you have a customer relationship with an international bank, you may be able to leverage your international credit history and transfer it to their US-based credit services. For example, international banks such as Citibank and Barclays provide US credit cards to their customers moving to the United States.

    Nova Credit, a financial institution, partners with the top global consumer credit bureaus in countries such as Mexico, India, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which allows some customers to transfer their credit history from their previous country of residence to the United States.  

    If you’re an American Express customer in your home country, their Global Transfer program uses your existing American Express account as a basis for your credit application in the United States.

    1. Apply for a US credit card

    Getting a credit card is one of the best ways to establish and build your credit history in the United States. You may need to start with a credit card geared to individuals with little or no US credit history. Another option is to apply for a secured credit card. Secured credit cards require a cash deposit and typically have low credit limits. Secured credit cards are often easier to obtain with limited credit history than traditional unsecured cards.

    Before applying, ensure that the secured credit card issuer reports your purchase and payment activity to the US credit bureaus, as this is critical for establishing payment history. When applying, you will most likely need a US bank account, which will require a social security number. However, some banks, such as Wells Fargo, will accept an ITIN. 

    1. Become an authorized user

    An authorized user is a person added to a credit card account by the primary account holder. If you have a trusted friend or relative in the US who is willing to add you as an authorized user to their account, you will have permission to use their credit card, but the responsibility of making the payments fall on the primary account holder. 

    As an authorized user, the credit card is reflected on your credit report and can help you make progress towards building credit history in the United States. However, if the primary cardholder fails to make timely payments on the account, it will negatively impact your credit score. If this option makes the most sense in your situation, be sure that the credit card issuer reports authorized user activity to the credit bureaus. 

    1. Get approved for a loan

    Credit-builder loans

    Credit-builder loans provide newcomers a way to develop a positive credit history. Unlike traditional loans, where you receive funds immediately once approved, with a credit-builder loan, the lender puts the loan amount into a savings account. Depending on the loan term, you’ll make payments to the lender for six to 24 months. Once the loan term is up, the full amount of the loan is disbursed to you to use as you wish. 

    Credit builder loans are usually available through credit unions and community banks. Before applying for a credit-builder loan, make sure the financial institution reports your payments to the credit bureaus.

    Peer-to-peer lending

    Otherwise known as crowdlending, peer-to-peer lending loans money to individuals through online services that match the borrower with lenders. Lenders set interest rates based on a percentage of the amount lent. With peer-to-peer lending, the interest rate is calculated either by a reverse auction model or based on the borrower’s credit analysis. As a result, these types of loans can often have lower rates than other lending options. 

    A few online services that will match you with a lender include LendingClub, Peerform, and Prosper. Peer-to-peer lenders report payment information to credit bureaus, and timely payments on your loan will improve your credit score over time.

    Payday and title loans

    Payday loans and title loans are a way to obtain fast cash, but do not report to credit bureaus and offer no benefit to building your credit history. Often referred to as “predatory lenders,” these loans are short-term with a very high cost for repayment, often trapping their borrowers in a never-ending repayment cycle. Payday loans are typically for a small amount of money, generally under $500, and are due in one lump sum by your next payday. 

    Title loans work similarly to payday loans as they are short-term loans with high-interest rates. Like payday loans, title loans are popular because an applicant’s credit rating is not considered, and the loan can be approved quickly. The most common form of a title loan is a car title loan, in which the borrower is required to own their car and use it as a form of collateral in case of a payment default. 

    Banking in the United States

    A bank account likely will not affect your credit score or appear on your credit report. However, many credit card issuers or lenders may require you to have a bank account. 

    Federal law does not require banks to check immigration status or ask for a social security number. However, while not required, many financial institutions may ask for a social security number or an ITIN in compliance with their own rules and regulations. At the minimum, you will be required to provide some basic information when opening up a new bank account, such as:

    • Proof of your name and date of birth, typically through documents such as a passport, a government-issued driver’s license, consular ID, or birth certificate
    • Proof of address from a utility bill, lease agreement, or driver’s license
    • Identification number from either your social security number, ITIN, USCIS number, passport, or a government-issued driver’s license

    What you need to know about credit scores

    A credit score tells a lender the likelihood of your ability to pay back loaned money on time. Without a credit score, the lender cannot accurately access their risk to take you on as a customer. Your credit score is typically based on the following factors:

    • Your history of on-time payments
    • The amount of credit extended to you that is used
    • The length of your credit history
    • Your debt-to-income ratio which compares the amount you owe versus how much you earn
    • Different types of credit, such as loans, credit cards, and mortgages
    • The number of new credit accounts

    According to Equifax, “generally credit scores from 580 to 669 are considered fair; 670 to 739 are considered good; 740 to 799 are considered very good, and 800 and up are considered excellent. Higher credit scores mean you have demonstrated responsible credit behavior in the past, which may make potential lenders and creditors more confident when evaluating a credit request. Lenders generally see those with credit scores 670 and up as acceptable or lower-risk borrowers.”

    Three ways to positively impact your credit score include:

    1. Paying your bills on time. Late payments negatively affect your score. 
    2. Keeping your credit card balances low. Your credit utilization ratio, how much of your credit limit is used each month, is an important factor in your credit score. Many credit experts recommend using no more than 30% of your balance at any time. 
    3. Sparingly applying for credit. Applying for too many accounts at once can negatively impact your credit score. Having a longer credit account is better for your credit score, and each new account lowers your average account age. 

    How your credit history affects your immigration status

    While credit debt is not a reason for deportation, it can affect your application for permanent residence. According to USCIS’s Public Charge policy, your credit history could be used to assess your financial habits and predict whether you’re likely to need government assistance in the future. 

    If you are concerned about how your credit history may affect your immigration status, we recommend contacting a reputable immigration attorney for the most up-to-date details on the Public Charge rule and sound legal advice on your course of action. 

    Financial education resources

    Perhaps the biggest obstacle for newcomers to the United States is the lack of knowledge about the US credit system. However, many resources, from nonprofits to government programs, are available to help you understand how to build your credit report and improve your credit score.

    • Immigrant Finance: This online platform empowers immigrant families with personal finance education, online business development, and community support. 
    • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: This government agency has audio files of its publications on credit, including How to Rebuild Your Credit, in Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, Russian, Haitian Creole, Spanish, and English. It also has a useful newcomer’s guide to managing money.
    • UnidosUS: This Latino civil rights and advocacy organization serves the Hispanic community through its research, policy analysis, and state and national advocacy efforts, so you’ll find plenty of materials on its website tailored to help Latino immigrants.
    • Credit Builders Alliance (CBA): CBA is a network of nonprofit organizations, many of which serve immigrants. Their nonprofit lender members have experience in lending money to those who are credit invisible, making this site useful for those with no credit history.
    • The Mission Asset Fund (MAF): This nonprofit aims to create a fair financial marketplace for families in need and offers assistance, including loan programs that help you build your credit.
    • Immigrants Rising: Immigrants will find numerous resources on this site for building credit individually or as a business.
    • Urban Institute: This research organization provides many news stories about the latest credit information and issues that affect immigrants

     

  10. What type of nonimmigrant visa is right for me?

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    According to the US Department of State, over 33,000 immigrant visas and 414,000 nonimmigrant visas were issued in January 2022 alone. Some may have waited years for their visa approval and hope to stay in the United States permanently. Others come to the United States for vacation, to visit family, or to pursue an education. Whatever the reason may be, all hope to experience something new, and for many, it can be life-changing. 

    According to US immigration law, “nonimmigrant” is a status for people who enter the United States for a temporary stay – whether for tourism, business, temporary employment, or an educational study program. Most nonimmigrant visas are issued only to applicants who can demonstrate their intentions to return to their home country. On the other hand, the US government uses “immigrant” for foreign nationals living in the United States permanently. 

    The US immigration system is complex and has over 30+ categories for nonimmigrant visas alone. In this article, you’ll learn about some of the most common nonimmigrant visa types, a generalized overview of the application process, and how to extend your nonimmigrant visa stay. 

    Types of nonimmigrant visas

    Nonimmigrant visas are divided into many categories, often based on their purpose and usually covering short-term employment, study, or brief visits for tourism or work. 

    Some of the most common immigration visas are:

    • B-1 Temporary Business Visitor
    • B-2 Temporary Visitor 
    • B-1/B-2 Combined visa
    • D Crewmember 
    • E-1 Treaty Trader 
    • E-2 Treaty Investor 
    • E-3 Australian Professional Specialty 
    • G-1 to G-5 visas and the NATO-1 to NATO-6 
    • I Members of the Foreign Media 
    • R Temporary Religious Worker
    • H-1B specialty occupation 
    • L1 intracompany transfer 
    • K-1 Fiancé or Fiancée Nonimmigrant 
    • K-3 Foreign Spouse of a US Citizen 
    • K-4 Children of a K-3 visa holder 
    • M Nonacademic or Vocational Studies 
    • F Academic Student 

    Within each type of nonimmigrant visa category is a subset of visas. For example, H visas are temporary work visas are issued to people who come to the United States for employment lasting a fixed amount of time. This employment cannot be permanent or indefinite and is usually seasonal or temporary. An H-1B and H-1B1 visas are for professional-level jobs that require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a specific academic field and an employer sponsor. H-2A and H-2B visas are for seasonal work, either agricultural or non-agricultural, depending on the visa. Outside of H visas, there are additional temporary work visas like the O, E, L, and P visas. 

    The various types of student visas can also be very complex. International students must be accepted by their schools or program sponsors before applying for a visa. Students are generally considered nonimmigrants because their sole purpose of coming to the United States is to complete a program of study. Once an international student graduates from their program, they must adjust their visa status or depart from the United States. 

    Applying for a nonimmigrant visa

    All nonimmigrant visa applications must start outside of the United States at a US embassy or consultation, with the exception of the Visa Waiver Program, which will be explained later. First, you will need to decide which type of visa fits your travel intentions, and then you may proceed with the next following steps:

    1. File Form DS-160

    Form DS-160 is submitted electronically to the Department of State website. Take your time answering all the questions accurately and gathering the relevant information. The Department of State website estimates that it takes 90 minutes to complete. We recommend consulting a US immigration lawyer before beginning your application process. Applying for a nonimmigrant visa is a lengthy process. Missing any details or not providing suitable documentation could add additional time and costs to your application process.  

    1. Pay the application fee

    Depending on your visa type, you will need to pay a $160 visa fee unless you are a temporary worker, and then you will have to pay a $190 fee. These fees will be payable at the time you submit your DS-160.

    1. Interview

    You will need to schedule an interview at your nearest US embassy or consulate. This interview aims to ensure that you comply with all eligibility requirements according to US law. Wait times to schedule an interview can vary greatly depending on your chosen location. Therefore, when applying for your visa, take into account how quickly your interview may be scheduled by checking the visa appointment wait times.

    During the interview, you will be asked to bring documents relevant to the type of visa you are applying for. For example, you may be asked to bring proof of a travel itinerary, employment-related documents, or other materials to prove your “nonimmigrant intent.” Nonimmigrant intent means that you intend to return to your home country after visiting the United States. 

    The consulate officer will decide whether to grant or deny your visa request or whether further information is required before making a decision. After your interview, there will be a wait for the outcome while your visa is processed. The wait can vary depending on your type of visa, nationality, embassy or consulate location, and the complexity of your case.

    While this is a general overview of the nonimmigrant visa process, additional steps may be necessary, depending on your visa type. Therefore, it is highly recommended to consult a reputable immigration lawyer to provide expert guidance on the types of documentation and evidence that will give you the best chances at visa approval. 

    Visa Waiver Program

    The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables most citizens or nationals of 40 participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Travelers must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel and meet all requirements:

    • You are a citizen of a Visa Waiver Program country
    • You do not have a Visitor Visa
    • You are planning to stay in the United States for 90 days or less
    • You are traveling to the United States for business or tourism purposes

    The Visa Waiver Program has the same purposes for travel as the B-1/B-2 visa. Entering the United States through the VWP does not authorize you to study or work if you decide to stay long-term. The processing time for the VWP is much faster than a visa and takes less documentation. Unlike other visas, if you enter the US with a valid VWP, it also allows you to visit Canada, Mexico, and nearby islands. 

    Extending your nonimmigrant stay

    Your length of stay granted on a nonimmigrant visa will depend on your visa type and is determined by a government official from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) at the port of entry. Nonimmigrant visas generally allow at least one extension, depending on the reason and your ability to prove that you still intend to leave the US on your departure date rather than pursue a permanent stay. 

    In certain circumstances, you may be able to adjust your visa status from a nonimmigrant to that of a permanent resident by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence, or Adjust Status. According to the USCIS, you can apply for a change in nonimmigrant status from one visa classification to another if:

    • You were lawfully admitted to the US.
    • Your current status is still valid
    • You haven’t violated any of the conditions of your status
    • You haven’t committed any crimes that would make you ineligible

    However, in filing for an adjustment of status, you must prove that you did not have dual intent when entering the country on your nonimmigrant visa. The main premise of a nonimmigrant visa is that no matter the purpose of the visit, the duration is specified and temporary. Therefore, if you are found to have the “dual intent” of coming to the United States temporarily while pursuing permanent resident status, your visa application may be denied. 

    As a general rule, USCIS will assume that a person entered with a “preconceived intent” to remain in the US if an immigrant petition or adjustment of status application is filed within 90 days. However, the assumption may be disproved if you can provide evidence to show a change of circumstances, such as a job prospect or a romantic relationship that led to a request to stay in the United States. 

    Navigating the US immigration system can be very complex when trying to do it independently. Therefore, we highly recommend consulting with an immigration attorney before pursuing an extension or adjusting status. A reputable attorney can provide expert advice on immigration law and ensure your best course of action for a successful outcome.