New Immigrant to the United States? Here are Ten Tips to Establish and Accelerate Your Career

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Last month, a co-worker, an immigrant to United States like myself, got a promotion. It was her second promotion since joining the organization two years prior and each promotion came with significant salary increase. Before joining the organization, she suffered the garden-variety challenges immigrants face due to language barrier and accent including underemployment. Her promotion reminded me again of why people flock to America from all over the world to pursue the American dream. Indeed United States in one of the few countries that give people equal opportunity regardless of their background.

This post is for immigrants who are in the U.S. legally and are eligible to work. If you have a non-immigrant status, you may consider studying these STEM courses that may qualify you for a 24-month extension of your post-completion Optional Practical Training employment.

If you are eligible to work in the U.S., below are tips I and others have used to get professional level jobs in the U.S. These are things I wish I knew earlier and now happily share with friends. Also keep in mind I am in California and will use mostly examples from here. If you are in another state, do well to find comparable opportunities in your state.

1. Get Your Social Security Number, Drivers License and Establish a Credit History

This may sound like common knowledge but you would be surprised at how many people delay getting these timely in a way that impacts their career. Almost every job application requires a social security number and drivers license number. The common pitfall here is applying for a drivers license first when you are not ready for the behind the wheel driving test. It may take as much as two years to get a drivers license, depending on how soon one passes the test. Why wait two years when you get an ID card within weeks of arrival to the United States? So I will recommend that since an ID card costs less than $40, in California for example, to apply for an ID card the same time you apply for a drivers license as it requires no test, This will help you apply for jobs without much hassle while wait to get your drivers license. In the same vein, apply for a credit card as soon as you qualify. Having a credit history will come in handy not only when you are applying to sensitive jobs that require a credit check, but also in housing.

2. Evaluate Your Credentials

One of the reasons immigrants have difficulty penetrating the job market in the U.S. is employers’ inability to assess foreign credentials to determine their U.S. equivalence. You can eliminate this challenge by having your foreign transcript evaluated by reputable organizations like World Education Services and use it in your job applications alongside your original certificate from your home country. While I was able to get my law license in California within one year of migrating to the U.S., my delay in timely getting my transcript evaluated (which was not required for my bar exam) set me back several years in accessing non-attorney opportunities. So I encourage you to get your transcript evaluated within the first few months of coming to the U.S as that may be all you need to get that entry level job that requires only a college degree.

3. Get Re-certified

If you are in a profession that required a license in your home country, you may find that you will need to get re-certified to be able to practice in the U.S. If you are not particular about living in a specific U.S. state, you may want to research which U.S. state has the least barrier to re-certification. For example, when I moved to California in 2011 and I was already licensed in Nigeria, all I needed to get licensed in California was to submit a certificate of good standing from the Supreme Court of Nigeria to the California bar and pass the bar exam. That means I did not have to enroll in Law school again or incur tens of thousands of dollars in student loan to get a Juris Doctor. But most other states require enrolling in a U.S. school to be eligible to take the bar exam. Once you determine the state that is most favorable to you, take immediate steps to Get your U.S License. Once you do, you may be able to compete with your peers who studied in the U.S.

4. Prepare Your Resume and Apply to Whatever Job You Can Find

Because you are new to the U.S. and have no U.S. education or work experience, many employers will not be too enthusiastic to hire you. They worry that you may not quite understand how things work in the U.S. and may commit a blunder in the course of your work. Imagine mistaking New Mexico, a state in the U.S., for Mexico, U.S. southern neighbor when your job requires you to determine eligibility for a public benefit based on nationality. So, there’s good reasons for employers to be hesitant about hiring you. However, within those few months of your arrival, there are opportunities that require more brawn than brain. Employers with these opportunities hire in volume and always have vacancies. Their hiring needs increases more when they operate 24/7 and need to fill three or four shifts per day. Retails, airline catering companies like Gate Gourmet, restaurants, security (mostly guards) etc. are just some of the industries that require minimal skill. More recently, Amazon has entered the game. Its warehouse jobs most times do not even require interviews, only online applications, and still pay a minimum of $15 per hour. The key to getting these jobs even though you don’t have a U.S. job experience is to indicate you are available to work any shift, if you are. These jobs are just stepping stones to where you want to be but will in the meantime provide you U.S. work experience and references. It also acquaints you with how things work in the U.S. thereby preparing you for future jobs.

While you may engage in gigs like driving Uber and Lyft, I recommend you find a job even for a few hours a week in a structured environment so you would have people to give you references when you are ready for professional level jobs.

Another job I will encourage you to look into at this time is substitute teaching. Substitute teachers fill in for regular teachers in public, charter and private schools and pay about $140 a day for less than eight hours of work. And there is always need for substitutes. I have friends who have done substitute teaching without a prior U.S work experience. In California, all you have to do is pass the CBEST, a one-day exam that tests basic skills, and I think do a live scan. Then you apply with agencies like DirectEd Educational services and get assignments for everyday of the week you are available and wiling to work. DirectEd, for example, treats its teachers as employees and even offer them benefits after some time with them. I love substitute teaching for the additional reason that its flexibility will help you pursue your other goals.

5. Immerse Yourself in U.S. Culture

During the first months of your immigration to the U.S., in addition to doing all over the above, try getting yourself acquainted with as much information about the U.S. as you can. Remember, job applicants who have lived all their lives in the U.S. most likely know all the fifty states and will not commit the Mexico mistake referred above, know the difference between a personal and cashier’s check, and all the nitty-gritty of how the system works which gives them an advantage and make employers perceive them as more competent. You can bring yourself up to par by watching talk shows, movies etc. and by making daily conscious effort to assimilate as much information as possible. Also take advantage of training introducing immigrants to U.S culture by provided by non-profits .

6.Network with Professionals From Your Home Country Who Have Successful Careers in the U.S.

Making conscious effort to network with other immigrants from your home country who have smoothly transitioned into the U.S. workforce will get you miles ahead in your quest to establish a career in the U.S. You can achieve this by requesting informational interviews, reaching out to them to prepare you for interviews, and simply applying to work with them. I have done all three in the past and all the people, all attorneys, I reached out to were gracious, kind and helpful even though I was a stranger to them at a time. Because they have been there, done that, they understand the challenges immigrants face and are often more than willing to share their time, wisdom and experience . People from your home country are also more likely than others to give you opportunity because they understand how your credentials from your home country compares to ones obtainable in the U.S. So go ahead and google “Japanese attorneys in Los Angeles”, “Nigerian accountants in Houston” or whatever applies to you and reach out to these professionals who understand your unique experience and life journey. The worst they could do in not respond to you, but that does you no harm, but prepares you for the many more rejections that await. Also consider Upwardly Global, a non-profit that helps immigrant professionals transition to careers in the U.S. One of my friends benefited from their service.

7. Volunteer

Because volunteer opportunities are unpaid, non-profits are more likely to view your application favorably than for-profits. Volunteering with non-profits in your field gives you a relevant U.S. job experience and references for your future job applications. If you are in the legal field for example, courts, bar associations, legal aid clinics, religion based non-profits providing basic legal services in immigration, eviction, accessing government benefits etc. are just some of the organizations to consider. If you are in the medical field, you may find volunteer opportunities in hospitals. If you stay long enough with these organizations and get your re-certification in the U.S., these non-profits may eventually offer you a paid position as they will prefer you to an outsider who will have to learn the ropes.

8. Government Jobs

If you take nothing else away from this post, please take this: government jobs are relatively easier for qualified immigrant professionals to get because the process is often fair and not tainted by implicit biases present in private sector. Government jobs often require written exams first, guaranteeing a fair process. And some positions require only a high school diploma. Some people are surprised when I tell them they can get a job in public sector without a U.S. education. Except for a few sensitive positions that require citizenship, most positions are open to anyone with a permit to work in the U.S., of course with the relevant qualification. For example, as of time of writing, the State of California’s job website. Jobs.ca.gov had 3,493 vacancies available across the state. The positions available range from entry-level positions to jobs that pay six-figures. All you may need to apply is your evaluated transcript showing your foreign education is comparable to the one required for the position. If the job requires only a high school diploma, taking your GED instead of evaluating the foreign equivalence may be cheaper and faster.

9. Get a Degree or Masters in a high-demand Field

If rather than do all the above you would rather get a U.S. education, I will encourage you to consider financial aids, scholarships and community colleges to reduce the cost. Also be sure to check Bureau of Labor Statistics to ensure the degree you are going for is growing faster than average. As of October 2019, when this article is written, STEM, IT and healthcare are in high demand. Do not get a degree in a field with high unemployment rate as that will leave you saddled with student loan debt without corresponding job to pay it off. Again, I recommend using your foreign degree to get a job in the U.S. first, test the waters and determine if another degree will be worth your while.

10. Start a Business

Immigrants have a unique opportunity to develop business ideas because of the advantage they have of knowing how things are done elsewhere, in their home country, and the potential for them to exchange products and services between two countries based on demand on supply. Indeed, studies have shown that immigrant-owned businesses engage in more international activity than their counterparts. For example, an immigrant from a third world country where labor is ten times cheaper than in the U.S. can start an outsourcing business in the home country. They can also in turn export consumer goods which tend to be cheaper in developed countries than in underdeveloped countries to their home countries.

The tips above helped me and other people I know further our careers in the U.S. I hope they help you too. Whatever your immigrant story is, whether joining a spouse, fleeing from a war or just simply looking for a greener pasture, I wish you success and encourage you not to be deterred by the initial challenges you may face. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. If you have any question, please email me at annemmeje@yahoo.com. I am not there yet as I am still climbing the rungs of the career ladder but I will be happy to, from my little experience, help you get started on this exhilarating, but sometimes bumpy journey. Ciao!

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