US Immigrants experience wanted
June 19, 2016 2:57 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine has won the US visa lottery, and plans to travel to the United States in August or September to settle there. The thing is... he knows next to nothing about the country , knows absolutely nobody and wants to know whether there are any resources or support network available for newly arrived immigrants. Also, which states or areas currently offer the best economic opportunities ?

I've told said friend to travel with at least $10,000 to support himself for 6 months on minimal expense before he can find a job. Is that even realistic?
posted by Kwadeng to Law & Government (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Also, which states or areas currently offer the best economic opportunities ?

What are his qualifications? For what kind of job would he be looking? How is his English?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:00 PM on June 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

It would be helpful if we could know what language(s) your friend speaks, and/or which country he is coming from, because it's likely that certain cities will have immigrants from the same background, which might make his life a lot easier. In general, larger cities will have more resources.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 3:03 PM on June 19, 2016 [10 favorites]

And what other language(s) does he speak? (Besides job opportunities, there are also group/language-specific immigrant aid organizations.)
posted by wintersweet at 3:03 PM on June 19, 2016

What ethnicity, ethnic origin or language does your friend speak? There are a lot of cities where they would have an easier time if there are a lot of resources for other immigrants in his language, or a city that is at least used to dealing with immigrants.

Your friend should also talk to the U.S. embassy in his country and ask them for recommendations or ask them where people are traveling to in the U.S. That's often the best bet --- the embassy will keep records about where people are going from his country. If one or a few cities get high numbers, it may have a large population there where he can connect with a support structure.

I could offer a lot more advice if I knew where your friend is from.
posted by mmmleaf at 3:18 PM on June 19, 2016

Some important things that I've seen other immigrants not know:
- The US does not have state provided medical care and friend will need to get medical insurance asap to avoid paying out of pocket for medical treatment
- Establishing credit is important in order to rent an apartment, among other things
- The US doesn't have a viable pension system, so if friend decides to retire in the US, they should have this in mind in the long term
posted by k8t at 3:24 PM on June 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

My friend is from Cameroon, with a degree (think Bachelor's degree) in economics, speaks French and can manage in English. Also, he already knows about Silver Spring, MD, which seems to be the modern day equivalent of Ellis Island for many Africans.

But he is looking at economic opportunities first, and support network second.
posted by Kwadeng at 3:26 PM on June 19, 2016

I don't know what it's like to be a new immigrant in Portland, but I do know that IRCO exists as a resource here.

The fact that your friend knows some English will be a huge help. I hear one of the things IRCO does for people who need it is teach them the English 101 to get through a job interview.
posted by aniola at 3:33 PM on June 19, 2016

$10k for six months is more than enough for one person to live on. Especially if you live with roommates.
posted by aniola at 3:35 PM on June 19, 2016

The $10,000 figure seems reasonable, allowing for cost variations across the country. Your friend should definitely research cost of living in any prospective locations. (You can get an approximate taste of the range of rental costs by looking at sites that aggregate rental listings. Search, for example, for "Seattle apartments".)

I'd recommend contacting people from his country who live in a location that is of interest. They can provide realistic information. In particular, help with the ins and outs of finding a place to rent and signing a lease. That typically requires a credit check and evidence of sufficient income.

If your friend comes without a job and plans to find one, he should also reserve enough cash to return home if the attempt fails.
posted by justcorbly at 3:43 PM on June 19, 2016

French language in the United States

Louisiana is both someplace where French is spoken and it is one of the more inexpensive states. It also has significant French-influence culture, more so than most states. It's legal system is rooted in the French legal tradition. Most states in the US modeled their legal system primarily off of the British "common law" system.

So, I would look first for economic opportunities there.
posted by Michele in California at 3:44 PM on June 19, 2016

French is also spoken in areas of the Northeast which are close to Quebec. How about Burlington, Vermont? It has very large immigrant populations, a liberal, welcoming population, and is close enough to Quebec that his language skills might be marketable.
posted by arnicae at 3:48 PM on June 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

Their website is down right now, but Pittsburgh's Cameroon Community is well organized, from what I've heard. There are several nonprofits which, among other things, specialize in refugee resettlement and support for immigrants, one standout being the Jewish Family and Children's Service. The cost of living here is relatively low (shared apartment from about $400-450, studio from about $625, in decent areas with public transit). The climate would take some getting used to, but we usually miss the worst winter storms.
posted by notquitemaryann at 3:52 PM on June 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Silver Springs is part of the Washington, DC metro. One big advantage of the DC area is its public transit system: Subway and buses. Almost all locations in the U.S. require a car. Acquiring a car, presumably, will be out of reach until your friend finds a job, a permanent residence, etc.

(My guess is that if there's anyone speaking French in Louisiana they would be unintelligble to someone with West African French. And vice versa.)
posted by justcorbly at 3:55 PM on June 19, 2016 [25 favorites]

What sort of work is your friend doing now? What sort is he looking for? A degree in economics doesn't lead to a specific job.

He needs to improve his English as quickly as he can. There are all sorts of free resources online. Here's one program, but there are many more.

I would think that unless his family is rich coming up with 10k would be very difficult.

It's very brave of him to go to a totally new country where he does not know anyone, I hope it goes well for him.
posted by mareli at 4:29 PM on June 19, 2016

Re Louisiana:

1. French is not widely spoken by the vast majority of Louisianians. Louisiana has a francophone cultural heritage, but English is not only the main language, it is the first language of basically all locals aside from some Spanish-speaking recent immigrants, and it is the only language of probably 90% of Louisiana residents.

2. The dialect of French spoken by the few native speakers in Louisiana is barely (if at all) mutually intelligible with either Standard French or your friend's home dialect. (My dad's side of the family is Cajun, while my mom's parents studied Standard French in preparation for a work transfer to Cameroon in the 80s. Suffice it to say that none of these dialects of French play particularly nice together.)

3. I grew up in Louisiana and I wouldn't even say "I can count on one hand the number of times I met an African immigrant." I would say that I never ever ever met a single person who was an African immigrant. From a francophone country in Africa or ANYWHERE in Africa, period. I've met exponentially more African immigrants in NYC than I ever did in Louisiana (to the extent that any whole number can be exponentially more than zero).

A Cameroonian moving to Louisiana because of a shared francophone heritage is like a Cameroonian moving to St. Louis or Detroit because of a shared francophone heritage. You could throw a dart at a map of the USA and be more likely to hit a city with a West African immigrant community.

The local culture of Louisiana will also feel very foreign to him despite distant French colonial roots. It's really nothing alike at all (and I am in a position to know, as a Louisianian with family who lived in Cameroon for ~15 years). Not to mention the racial issues involved. It would take A LOT for me to recommend that your friend move anywhere in the South, as a recent immigrant of African origin.
posted by Sara C. at 4:34 PM on June 19, 2016 [35 favorites]

Presumably you are aware of this, and maybe your friend already has a plan for dealing with it, but I would hate for it to be something you hadn't thought of and for it to complicate or jeopardize your friend's attempt at a new life. Think very hard, and consult with people who have already experienced the immigration process, about how to safely bring money so that he will have it available in the USA.

Carrying that large of an amount in cash is perilous -- it could be stolen by thieves or confiscated with little recourse by authorities in the USA (under laws which were originally intended to curb drug smuggling but which have become abused over time.) Finding a bank he can deal with in the USA will be complicated, at least at first. Getting access to it if it's in a dollar-valued account in Cameroon may be slow and possibly involve fees which will eat at his savings. And under no circumstances should he try to carry a large amount of cash into the country without declaring it to customs authorities when he enters -- he could get into a big amount of trouble that way, have all of his money confiscated, and jeopardize his chance at immigration.

I have no idea how he should do it in order to minimize risk and minimize the amount lost to fees, but please have a plan before setting out: he will face enough challenges as it is.

I hope everything goes well for him and he finds the life he seeks here in the states. Good luck!
posted by Nerd of the North at 4:35 PM on June 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

I would think the World Bank in DC would be a decent place for him to look for a job. Lots of non-profits in DC too that would appreciate a native French speaker. So that's another vote for Silver Spring.
posted by COD at 4:55 PM on June 19, 2016

This wikipedia page lists some organizations he might want to check out. Pittsburgh, Houston, and Los Angeles look like the best places for finding Cameroon-specific organizations.
posted by mareli at 5:16 PM on June 19, 2016

A vote against DC is that the cost of living is very high - not quite New York or San Francisco levels, but much higher than almost everywhere else mentioned in this thread. If he has a Bachelor's degree but not a lot of professional work experience or connections, he may have trouble finding a job in DC that pays enough to live on.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 5:19 PM on June 19, 2016

But he is looking at economic opportunities first, and support network second.

I think the trick here is that economic opportunities so often come via support networks. If he does not already have a professional network or connections here, building a social network can help. And sharing a common heritage and common immigrant experience, plus extended professional connections, can be a huge help.

Unless he can line up a job before hand, which is no easy feat, I think the best bet would be going to somewhere he has at least some personal connection - even if it's a friend of a family member's friend or something. If he really doesn't care where he ends up, he should do some preliminary research in his field, some social networking, and choose the hub that's got the best nexus of good immigrant connections/supports and easy transportation access to likely job prospects.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:19 PM on June 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

Aside from Maryland, your friend may want to look into the following places:

Houston has a sizeable Cameroonian-American population, a low cost of living, and a warm climate. But it's a sprawling city that may be a bit difficult to navigate without a car. The Cameroon American Community of Houston might be of some help to your friend.

Los Angeles is another city with many Cameroonian immigrants, but it's more expensive to live there and very difficult to get by without a car.

Atlanta is a rapidly growing and diverse city with a reasonable cost of living and large immigrant populations from many countries.

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have a good-sized community of Cameroonians and good economic opportunities. The climate is quite cold for much of the year. The Minnesota Cameroon Community might be helpful.
posted by theory at 5:24 PM on June 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Sorry, meant to add that connections are hugely important for job-hunting in the US, especially in DC. If he has any networks at all, he'll need to exploit them - and he should factor potential immigrant networks into his location choice. At somewhere like the World Bank, he'll be competing with recent bachelors and masters grads from around the world who have degrees from good US universities - unless he has significant professional work experience, or knows people, it's going to be difficult (not impossible, but difficult).
posted by une_heure_pleine at 5:25 PM on June 19, 2016

I'd strongly suggest your friend contact his network at home to find any contacts in the US.

Silver Spring is known primarily as home to many Ethiopians and other East Africans. He needs to find folks from Cameroon specifically.

In Maryland, it may be that Bowie is a better bet. But I'd suggest not going to someplace expensive like DC.

This Wikipedia entry suggests that Houston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Southern California have large populations of Cameroon immigrants.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:36 PM on June 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding theory's mention of Minneapolis. If he doesn't have success via community orgs, I may be able to put him in touch with some Cameroonians there (I can't promise.)
posted by 8603 at 7:31 PM on June 19, 2016

Is he religious? There are any Cameroon immigrants in this area and most are quite religious. Otoh most of the Sudanese immigrants around here are not religious and most are in university so that is quite a different vibe. I think asking around in Cameroon for contacts in his social circle is going to be a lot more useful connecting him with peers than people from the US who don't understand his culture suggesting random groups.

As far as organizations that help immigrants: he needs to go to the public library where he ends up. Or contact them online in places he's thinking of going and ask. Librarians will know who is local. In general he can expect to find: English language classes for free, Catholic Social Services will generally offer classes or mentors to learn how to rent an apartment, navigate banks etc, some kind of expat group offering social opportunities although a lot of these are kind of worthless to an educated young person tbh. Still, worth checking. Also he can expect various churches to offer local programs that could vary from a clone of the CSS model to a cult indoctrination. He can also contact the Cameroonian embassy or consulate for info on existing expat groups or they may offer a one-to-one or on-site mentoring service.
posted by fshgrl at 8:55 PM on June 19, 2016

If there is any way to have a source of money (from home for example) while looking for work, that's huge. He will burn through money so quickly until established and employed, but there is a lot of red tape that needs to be done before he can get a job, and even then it will likely be a few weeks until his first paycheck. If he runs out of money everything obviously becomes much much harder, and quite possibly very dire.

He should do as much beforehand as possible (eg get a social security number, a place to stay, etc. Preferably have a job lined up but that might not be possible. Anything that can't be done from overseas, every duck should be lined up to get through it as quickly as possible)

Once money is coming in, things will be ok, but there's a lot that can become a delay or a problem before then. I think $10k for six months is realistic for many areas, but not all. He needs to do his homework.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:58 PM on June 19, 2016

According to Wikipedia, these are the cities that have a Cameroonian community: Chicago, Pittsburgh, Houston, and L.A. Those would probably be good places to start looking, because as people have said above, trying to start from scratch in a new country is really really hard and it will be easier if he has some ways to make connections and get help. Minnesota was also pretty well-known 15 years ago for having a really good network set up to help new immigrants. I don't know if that is still true, but it might be worth investigating.
posted by colfax at 4:35 AM on June 20, 2016

This Wikipedia entry suggests that Houston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Southern California have large populations of Cameroon immigrants.

That Wikipedia entry proves that some of those cities, in particular Pittsburgh, have at least one person who is a booster of their local Cameroonian immigrant community. (The Pittsburgh organization is linked multiple times as a source; while it may be beneficial to look somewhere that there is a community who has a strong internet presence to make connections before moving to the US, it proves nothing.)

The Migration Policy Institute has a good tool showing immigrants by US metro and country of origin (the drop menu at the lower right has the country of origin). It shows that there are ~45K Cameroonian immigrants in the US, and that by far the largest community (15,000) is in Washington DC. The other three metros with larger populations (2,000 each) are Baltimore, Houston and Dallas. I looked at some American Community Survey microdata and it confirmed these rankings (it should, since it's the same source) and further suggested Atlanta and Boston as alternatives near the 2000 person threshold.

Within the Washington DC area, the greatest concentration of Cameroonian immigrants is in the Maryland suburbs; in particular, communities along the green/yellow metro line (Greenbelt, College Park, Bladensburg area) roughly north-south down the middle of this map, with secondary concentrations along this line as far out as Laurel, east into Landover and west into Silver Spring, as well as potentially a smaller concentration all the way out in the Germantown area.

In Houston, it's harder to say (since there's less data because the ACS is a sampled survey - your friend surely understands the ramifications of this), but the greatest concentrations seem to be in the west part of the city, roughly in the Westchase/Woodlake area running east to west down the middle of this map. While Houston is a more auto-centric city than DC, the most frequent bus line in the city, the 82, runs down Westheimer with similar frequencies (although at lower speeds) to the DC Metro.

Houston has climate more like home and affordability going for it as well (this tool from the Center for Neighborhood Technology allows you to see the housing + transportation affordability of an area - just make sure the radio at the top is set to National Average to get a comparable look between Houston and DC). However, with oil prices being in the tank, Houston's economy is currently relatively weaker.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:38 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

He already has contacts in one of the best places he could end up, at least short term. The MD suburbs have a high relative percentage of Francophone Africans and Caribbeans, so in addition to not getting the side-eye all the time he'll be able to find prayer service/cafes/delis/hangouts. And there are really more opportunities for a French speaker in DC than just about anywhere else in the country.

He should see about what kinds of programs are available for funding a secondary degree. Montgomery College might be a good place to start. If he can do it without taking on debt, this will gain him contacts, improve his English/culture shock, open up opportunities, and give him some US credentials, all while giving him something to do.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:18 AM on June 22, 2016

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