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Immigrant Populations Growing: Especially in Some Local Areas

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Loise Novochadlo, executive director of the nonprofit Center of Help, in Annapolis, said it’s not always easy to connect immigrants with jobs, but she believes the effort is more than worth the results.

“A woman came in with this huge stack of paper. She was applying for a cleaning job,” said Novochadlo. “It took almost two hours to complete all the paperwork. She didn’t even know where to put her name. Once I sat down with her, she really appreciated what I did to help.”

Another woman came to the Center of Help seeking assistance in applying for a job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. “She said, ‘I know how to wash dishes ,but I don’t know how to use a computer,’” said Novochadlo. “The application was all online, so we helped her open an e-mail account. She’s working now.”

In Anne Arundel County, the fastest growing foreign-born population is Hispanics and Latinos, Novochadlo said. “About 16.8% of the Annapolis population is Hispanic,” she said. “At Tyler Heights Elementary School, almost 70% of the students are Hispanic. At Germantown Elementary School, it’s 60%.”

Changes in Curriculum

The growing Hispanic population has led to changes in the public school curriculum in Anne Arundel County, said Kelly Reider, coordinator for English language acquisition for Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

“First, people should know that 65% of the kids in our English Language Acquisition program are actually born in the United States,” she said. This year, Anne Arundel County has implemented a new English curriculum focused on learning language through project-based activities. “It’s all hands-on and integrated into all the subjects, from math to social studies. The kids are having a ball with it, and the teachers are enjoying it, too.”

The test scores show that project-based language acquisition is working, said Reider, adding, “The scores are the highest they’ve been in years.”

As their children make strides in learning English, Sheela Murthy — one of the top immigration lawyers in the country, who is based in Owings Mills — often considers the legal status of adults who are striving to get work permits.

“I think many people — including businesspeople who employ immigrants — were hoping that immigration reform would take care of people who are working hard,” Murthy said. “They thought it would be easier to get a work permit. That hasn’t happened.”

In spite of this, people like Novochadlo continue to try to connect employers with immigrants looking for jobs. “We started contacting local businesses to start a more formal partnership to connect our people with employment,” said Novochadlo.

High-Skill Immigrants

Reider said that teachers in Anne Arundel County also seem interested in helping the children of immigrants improve their language skills and their future prospects. “We do a lot of professional development with teachers, and that seems to be picking up,” she said. “They find it important and look for help.”

Although there are a good number of low-income immigrants, there are also a significant number of high-income immigrants, particularly in high tech jobs, said Stella Rouse, associate professor in the Department of Government and Politics and assistant director for the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland.

“Maryland has done a good bit to attract high-skilled immigrants,” she said. “They are part of entrepreneurial hubs, they have access to mentoring, and they are involved in a high percentage of startup businesses. Maryland is 20th in total population compared to other states, but [it is] one of the top states for immigrant high tech jobs.”

More than one quarter of high tech immigrant jobs in the U.S. have been in Maryland in the past four to five years, she said, in part because of the opportunity to work on federal contracts. “Chinese and Indian immigrants represent a very large proportion of high-skilled visas,” said Rouse.

The Wait

Kellie Lego, managing attorney for MVP Law Group in Columbia, said that the business clients her firm serves are predominately Middle Eastern.

“I would have to say that the numbers have stayed the same over the past few years,” Lego said. “Most of the business clients that we have, we’ve had for over five to seven years, because of the wait for the green card. Our immigration system is so flawed that even those who are in line have been waiting years for their green card and will continue to wait years.”

One client, whose employer sponsored him for a position requiring a master’s/bachelor’s degree, plus five years of progressive work experience, is looking at a wait of at least seven years if that person began the process on June 1.

Still, Lego said she sees her clients make significant contributions to the community, to the economy and to their own families. She has seen her clients become U.S. citizens and immediately enroll in the military, obtain federal government jobs, pursue higher education, purchase real estate or start their own businesses.

“This is why I do what I do,” she said.