Home Away from Home

by Fran Bernard, on May 1, 2023 4:39:44 PM


America is a nation of immigrants. That is not a cliché but a simple fact. The truth is that the U.S. as we know it was built by immigrants. Everyone living in the U.S. except the Native Americans can trace their roots back to someone who immigrated in the past few centuries. 

The United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world. Today, more than forty million people living in the U.S. were born in another country, accounting for about one-fifth of the world’s migrants. The population of immigrants is also truly diverse, with just about every country in the world represented among U.S. immigrants. Key findings about U.S. immigrants | Pew Research Center 

When it comes to the economy, immigration has fostered innovation, fueled growth, and helped to shape the development of whole industries. Immigrants practically invented Silicon Valley. Such as Google’s Russian-born co-founder, Sergey Brin, or eBay’s founder, Pierre Omidyar, born in France to Iranian migrant parents. In 2018, over half of the 91 U.S. startup companies valued at $1 billion or more had at least one immigrant founder.

Immigrants are invigorating, and remaking, what we think of as our uniquely American culture: the foods we eat, the music we listen to, the films we watch, the books we read. If earlier Jewish and Italian immigrants brought us bagels and pizza, salsa today outsells ketchup and tacos are standard fare. In 2015, Chinese restaurants in the U.S. outnumbered all the McDonald’s, Burger Kings, and Kentucky Fried Chickens combined, and now include a broad range of regional dishes and flavors. Immigrants and the second generation are new authors on bestseller lists. How Immigration Changed U.S. Society | CUNY Graduate Center

The number of foreign-born truck drivers in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2000, as U.S. born drivers retire and demand to move freight remains high. In diverse Houston, a major shipping corridor, the industry’s demographic shifts are especially pronounced.Houston-area truck driver Jorge Chavez said he’s seen many immigrants join the industry in his last 20 years in the business. He himself immigrated to the U.S. as a teen. Jorge followed in his mom’s footsteps; she was a trucker in El Salvador. “She drove from El Salvador to Costa Rica, Honduras with my brother and I,” he said.

Jorge worked his way up and now owns and operates two trucks for Petco, a local freight carrier. For him, the money is good. Jorge said many Central Americans who have work visas through temporary protected status, a humanitarian designation for people fleeing certain conflicts or disasters, have become drivers in Houston. 

Many Afghans, Eritreans and Cubans in the city have also become drivers, and some have even started their own small trucking businesses.

The industry is diversifying across the state. Since 2000, the number of foreign-born truck drivers in Texas has tripled to nearly 95,000. That is a quarter of the state’s truckers, according to an American Immigration Council analysis of government data. Immigrants help fill gaps in trucking workforce - Marketplace

Notably, immigrant truck drivers are extremely diverse; they have origins all over the globe. The largest share of immigrants in the American commercial trucking industry (32 percent) comes from Mexico. Though, many other countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala, China, India, Poland, and Ukraine are all represented, as well.  

In some cases, immigrant truck drivers have considerable experience operating similar vehicles in their native land. In other cases, the immigrant drivers first entered the industry when they came to the U.S., looking to find the best way to make a living and support their family. 

Long considered to be an industry that is lacking in diversity, commercial trucking firms have gone to great lengths to publicize the fact that their industry is becoming more diverse. Indeed, as the number of women who are employed as truck drivers rises, companies have proudly touted that fact to the general public. Immigrants Making an Impact in the Trucking Industry | Goldstein Immigration Lawyers (immigrationlawyerslosangeles.com)

Immigrants travel to new countries for a variety of reasons, to seek both educational and work opportunities, to reunite with family and friends, for a better life, better living conditions, to fulfill a dream. Refugees and asylum seekers, on the other hand, travel to new countries to escape life-threatening situations, persecution, and violence.

In all cases, people looking to resettle in a new country are seeing a better life, just as people have done for millennia. Creating an environment, both legally and socially, where they are allowed to build a new life is a way to promote the general betterment of humanity. 5 Ways Immigration Actually Benefits a Country’s Culture (globalcitizen.org)

All over the country we welcome immigrants in all diverse ways. In some cities they hold regular cultural events celebrating immigrants. In Brooklyn’s West Indian Day Parade, organized by Caribbean immigrant populations and funded partly by corporate donations, draws millions of revelers each year.

In Manhattan, the act of closing some main avenues to host the Saint Patrick’s, Puerto Rican, Dominican or Mexican Day parades is an important sign of solidarity with foreign-born residents and their descendants. 

Many local nonprofit organizations and government agencies exist to serve immigrants’ specific needs. It means a lot to be able to be allowed to maintain their own identity while creating a new home. 

There are ESL programs, children’s programs, churches, non-profit organizations, government agencies, financial support and guidance that are all extremely helpful to immigrants coming to the U.S.

The key to inclusion seems to be to help immigrant integration without forcing it.

From the point of view of immigrants, it is the ratio between being specifically catered to and treated the same as anyone else that determines how welcome they feel.

Culture and food are especially important to everyone no matter where they live. Recently increased truck stops are stepping up to the plate to have food that today’s truck drivers are looking to eat.

When Vamsi Jaramana and Raj Alturu, the co-owners of Eat Spice, a truck stop on Route 534 off I-80 in White Haven, PA, bought the restaurant it served sandwiches. As the customer base changed, they kept the hoagies and started adding new dishes. The restaurant caters to members of the Sikh community. For them, Indian and Mediterranean dishes can be hard to find on the road. However, they want their business to be inclusive of everyone's appetites. Here, the cooler of live bait coexists with the carafe of homemade chai. In the fridge, there is both Red Bull and mango lassi. Some of the trucker’s favorites are chicken biryani, goat biryani, chicken saag, butter chicken, and egg Bhuri.

The number of long-haul truckers in the U.S. is at an all-time high, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the demographics of who is behind the wheel are shifting. While the average trucker is a 46-year-old white male, a growing proportion of drivers younger than thirty-five are women, Latinx or from another country.

Immigrants from northern and western India, have flocked to the trucking industry. It is estimated that 150,000 of the 3.5 million truckers in the U.S. are from northern and western India. They found that either they could work at the factories, or they could do something independent. So many turned to trucking.

Pay is another draw. Somali driver Farhan Warsame says he makes significantly more driving his own rig now than he did in his old job, working in warehouses in Kentucky. "I make a week, the money I used to make before in a whole month," he says.

Regular clients fuel the interstate economy, which is why Indian restaurants have been popping up at truck stops along major shipping routes in the United States. There are at least 24 in the country, and two in Pennsylvania, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A 62-year-old trucker wearing a Van Halen T-shirt stops at Eat Spice and stands by the counter. He is hungry after hauling a load of retail clothing from Akron, Ohio, to New Jersey. "I kind of had a taste for tuna today, but they didn't have it, so I went back to the old faithful," he says, selecting a meatball sub from the "American" portion of the menu.

Sean Yazici, who lives in Indiana, is an immigrant who has embraced the classic trucker look. He sports a cowboy hat, boots, and a belt buckle the size of a saucer. A first timer at Eat Spice, he is excited about the shish kebab.

"I'm from another country, Turkey," says Sean. For him, finding Mediterranean food at a truck stop feels like hitting the lottery. Truck Stop Caters To Growing Number Of Immigrant Drivers : NPR

The U.S. government recognizes commercial driver’s licenses issued by Mexico and Canada, so workers from these countries can start work immediately in the U.S. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has some restrictions and fine print about these reciprocity agreements.

Two visa options exist for companies looking to hire foreign drivers.

H-2B for Truck Drivers        

Under the H-2B program, U.S. employers can hire nonagricultural workers temporarily for up to 12 months (which can be extended to three years, if necessary). Companies must demonstrate an apparent lack of available American workers, which shouldn’t be difficult given the current truck driver shortage. Employers must also establish that hiring immigrants will not affect local wages and conditions for similarly employed Americans. The employment must be temporary, defined as a one-time occurrence, peak load, intermittent, or seasonal.

EB-3 for Truck Drivers 

To hire immigrants as commercial drivers under the H-2B visa, companies must acquire a labor certification from the Department of Labor. Then, the employer must submit a petition (of up to twenty-five workers) to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once approved, the new hires need to obtain a visa from the closest U.S. consulate before coming to the U.S. for work. However, Canadian drivers can go to the border after petition approval.

The Employment-Based Permanent Resident or EB-3 visa option is best for employers interested in a longer commitment. Through this program, companies can hire skilled or unskilled foreign workers. Skilled labor is defined as having two years of relevant training or experience. Again, employers must prove the labor needed cannot be filled by American workers. 

Like the H-2B, employers must submit a labor certification to the Department of Labor. Once done, the company can then file a Permanent Resident petition to the USCIS. After the petition is approved, the immigrant employee can go to a U.S. consulate to get their visa or change their status if they are already in the U.S.

The trucking industry has been facing a labor shortage for years, but the issue intensified with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The shortfall increased 30% from pre-pandemic numbers as many drivers decided to step into early retirement, truck driving schools closed due to the virus, and consumer demand for shipped goods skyrocketed. Current trends predict the trucker shortage could reach 160,000 drivers by 2030. 

Getting underrepresented groups like women and immigrants involved is also key to solving this issue. Hiring immigrants can help tackle the driver shortage and is mutually beneficial for both parties. Companies get a qualified workforce and immigrants receive a stable income and the opportunity to build a life in a new country.

Truck driving can be a promising career for immigrants residing in the U.S. and prospective newcomers alike. Immigrants already in the U.S. may find truck driving a reliable way to earn a living. A driving career can also be a suitable pathway to permanent residency and citizenship for those wishing to move to the U.S. Immigrants in Trucking: Career & Job Search Guide (alltrucking.com)

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Topics:Human ResourcesLife on the Road

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