Friday, April 25, 2008
Foreign nationals enrich the Carlisle experience
Part of being American means integration of foreign cultures. Bringing different people together dates back to the days when the first white settlers came to the New World from England, France, Spain and Portugal to the more recent post-war influxes of non-English speaking European immigrants, to the even more unfamiliar languages and cultures of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America.
From a distance, the kids standing at a Carlisle bus stop look similar, sporting trendy blue jeans, sneakers and backpacks. But if you stop to talk to Carlisle’s children, you quickly find out that a grandparent, a parent or even the child originally came from a different country.
According to 2008 town census data to date, 179 foreign nationals (including 18 minor children) currently live in Carlisle. A foreign national, or person with non-U.S. citizenship, can enter the country legally to visit, study or work through a wide variety of expensive and time-consuming visas. Foreign nationals can also enter the country illegally – a cheaper, faster, but much more precarious process. The foreign nationals who live in Carlisle legally use town services, send children to school, and, above all, pay taxes. The only thing they cannot do in Carlisle is vote.
The best and the brightest
“They are the best and the brightest,” says attorney Roy Watson, Jr. of Carroll Drive about
foreign nationals who legally come to the country. Watson, who earned a B.A. in economics from Brandeis, a law degree from Boston College School of Law, and a master’s in Public Administration from Harvard University, specializes in immigration law and has worked out of his own law office since 1975. He has served in the Carlisle Fire Department since 1998, has been on the Conservation Commission since 2000 (two terms as chair), and has been a Cub Scout leader since 2003.
Always generous with his time, Watson delivered an impassioned speech recently at the Gleason Public Library about the danger of the U.S. losing its competitive edge. Watson reported that due to increased protectionism since September 11, 2001, the U.S. has greatly reduced the number of working visas issued to immigrants. In 2003, the U.S. cut the number of working visas for foreign nationals from 200,000 to only 60,000. Applicants for working visas must have at least a master’s degree. The U.S. issues the visas on April 1 of every year. In the last few years, the quotas are met by April 2. Filing fees for a successful application exceed $3,000 according to Watson. In reducing applications – an easy way for a government to collect money with paperwork – U.S. revenue also dropped. Fees are a drop in the economic bucket, however, and America, known as a melting pot for world cultures, built a powerful economic advantage by bringing together different viewpoints and expertises. Watson feels that the current state of protectionism will erode that competitive edge, particularly in the area of science and technology.
Creating more jobs?
Most Americans are not concerned, and erroneously believe that reducing the number of foreign nationals just creates more jobs for U.S. citizens. Watson explains that the hiring of each foreign skilled worker actually creates more jobs to support that worker. For example, he says that Microsoft hires four workers for every single hire of a foreign national.
Millions of students graduated from colleges last year: 1.8 from the U.S., 3.6 from India and 3.8 from China, according to Watson. Every year, the U.S. welcomes half a million foreign students into the country to study here. The inability to acquire a working visa has forced most of these students to return to their home country after graduation or earning an advanced degree. Furthermore, visa applications by foreign nationals to study and work in the U.S. have dropped in the last few years due to the difficulty and expense in acquiring a visa.
“[Foreign students] are not spending money in the U.S., they are not paying taxes in the U.S., and they’re competing with the U.S.,” says Watson.
English immigration continues
One-third of the foreign nationals living in Carlisle come from the U.K., a total of 66 people. The next largest group with 19 comes from Canada. The Bojanic family of Clark Farm Road, originally from England, has lived in Carlisle for the last nine years. Five years ago the family went through the process of moving from working visas to obtaining green cards, thereby adopting “permanent resident status.” A foreign national can apply for U.S. citizenship after five years of holding a green card.
Applying for citizenship
Dejan Bojanic, who works as a lead scientist at Novartis Pharmaceuticals, plans to apply for U.S. citizenship soon, and says, “We’re pretty well-integrated.” Active in the community, he became an assistant scoutmaster when his sons joined the Boy Scouts and he also has served as a soccer coach.
Susanna Vazehgoo of Orchard Acres also comes from England and has a son currently at the high school. She has been in the U.S. for 20 years, and with her husband Farhad has lived in Carlisle for the past eight years. Born in Tehran, he left Iran to work in Great Britain before coming to the U.S. and obtaining his U.S. citizenship in 1986.
“I’ve toyed with it a million times,” she says about her own decision to apply for citizenship. She currently works as a bookseller at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. While she would like to vote in the U.S., she does still “feel British.” With her family and friends still living in England, she maintains strong cultural connections there and has trouble taking the final step to apply for citizenship. At present, the citizenship process can take up to 18 months, and fees range from $600 to $1,200 for “alien entrepreneurs.”
A variety of cultures
Buoyed by the Carlisle Cultural Council, Carlisle has hosted annual Chinese New Year celebrations since 2005. The Indian community held a similar cultural program in 2006. Its primary organizer, Abha Singhal, was born in New Delhi. She came to the U.S. 27 years ago, and today lives on Kimball Road with her husband Anil. When it came time for her family in India to arrange her marriage, she says, “I was very open to living anywhere.” She met her future husband three weeks before their wedding in India, and as he had come to study and then work in the U.S., she joined him here.
“You know each other’s family well,” says Singhal explaining the Indian custom of arranged marriages. “You already know that they are decent people. It’s really a family affair.” She explained that all her friends had arranged marriages, and estimates that about half of Indian marriages are still arranged. The Singhals visit their parents and extended families in India every other year.
Despite the strong connection to their culture and family, the Singhals decided to settle in the U.S., particularly after they had two daughters. Abha became a citizen first, and her husband followed a few years later. He co-founded NetScout Systems in Westford in 1984, and currently serves as the CEO and chairman.
Working for a living
According to recent census data, a majority (32) of the employed foreign nationals living in Carlisle work in technology fields. Nineteen have engineering jobs, and the rest work as scientists. The next most common job description consists of management jobs (30) with several CEOs and a vice-president. Four people work in education, most at the professorial level. There are a few physicians, some salespeople, three artists, two architects, two nannies, an attorney, a social worker and a florist.
Because foreign nationals must be educationally qualified to obtain a working visa (which also requires they obtain proof of subsequent employment), most hold highly paid jobs. Many spouses, 30 in all, report that they are financially able to stay at home. The workers currently also support 22 students at college and graduate schools. Four of the foreign nationals have even retired here.
Contributions to Carlisle
The foreign nationals who live in Carlisle contribute to the community’s tax base without having a say in how registered voters spend the money. Watson cannot emphasize enough the economic value in embracing foreign nationals. He quotes Alan Greenspan and talks about a shortfall of jobs in the U.S. “even if we could fill every job.” He stresses that immigration is the “only thing that can save Social Security.”
Unfortunately, immigration discussions today often erupt into arguments about border control in the American southwest. Watson points out that since 1995 the U.S. has identified 300 known or suspected terrorists. He asks, “Do you know how many came over the Mexican border?” and shares the answer, “zero.” He believes any border discussion might do better to look north to Canada where there are “50 terrorist organizations.”
“Illegal immigration happens because we have a broken system of legal immigration,” Watson concludes. Carlisle exemplifies a town where legal immigration makes the community better and a more interesting place to live. ∆
Corrections (added May 2, 2008)
Two errors appeared in this story “Foreign Nationals Enrich the Carlisle experience.” First, visas are issued on October 1 of each year, not on April 1 (the date when people can begin to submit applications). Second, a quote from Roy Watson appeared out of context and should have read: “[Foreign students, that are not allowed to stay in the U.S. as they would like, are also] not spending money in the U.S., they are not paying taxes in the U.S., and they’re competing with the U.S.”
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito