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The fundamental rights of legal U.S. residents

When immigrants come to the United States for remittance purposes, they know that as an American resident, they have many rights and privileges that they may not have had in their home country. This includes the right to work and earn an honest living.

But immigrants may not be familiar with other rights that they have, ones that enable them to live in the U.S. with the knowledge that they can't be removed from their new country. However, whether it's due to inaccurate paperwork or misunderstandings, customs enforcement officers occasionally seek out immigrants who they believe did not enter the country legally.

A fundamental right all Americans have, including immigrants, is the protection of unreasonable searches by authorities. According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have entered immigrants' homes without obtaining a warrant from a judge. While these cases have been relatively infrequent, they have still occurred.

ILRC says that immigrants can show that they know their rights through something called a "Red Card." The ILRC developed these red plastic cards – which are written with instructions on how immigrants can exercise their rights in both Spanish and English – so that immigrants can understand what rights they have.

Typically, any confusion that results in customs officials coming to an immigrants place of residence can be cleared up simply by presenting the documents that prove one's residency. However, ILRC says that immigrants are under no obligation to present anything if they first do not show that they have a legal right to be there. The only way they can obtain this is through the court system, wherein a judge will grant a search warrant. The judge will not issue the warrant without probable cause.

If immigrants gain official citizenship, they earn many other rights. According to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, this includes the ability to vote in all federal and state elections, the ability to bring family members to the United States, to travel anywhere in the world with a U.S. passport, the opportunity to run for elected office and become eligible for federal grants or scholarships. Taking advantage of these rights will enable immigrants to better assimilate themselves and reconfirm their status as an American citizen.


What to do when confronted with an emergency

When immigrants start their jobs, they may find that their days and weeks will become pretty routine. They'll wake up in the morning, head to work so they can wire money to their loved ones, then head back to their apartments so they can relax and get ready for the next day. However, occasionally, immigrants may find themselves in situations that stray from the norm, as they may be called upon to help someone who needs medical attention.

To help immigrants understand how they should respond to these emergency situations, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services offers a few recommendations.

In the U.S., when residents encounter a problem that medical professionals should know about, they should call a telephone number: 911. While the situations vary, this number should be called to report a fire, a crime that's in progress or any suspicious activities that may be life-threatening.

Once the number is dialed, USCIS says the person on the other end of the line should answer the phone within seconds.

Typically, the first words they say will be "This is 911. What's your emergency?" It's at this time that immigrants should provide as much detailed information as possible about what the nature of the problem is, which includes what was seen or heard and where the incident took place. If immigrants have a difficult time speaking English, they should tell the operator what their native language is. An officer who speaks the immigrant's language should then come to the phone, according to USCIS.

Because the nature of the problem may be serious, it's natural to be shaken up when detailing the situation. USCIS says 911 operators are highly-trained officers and should be able to help them calm down. Immigrants should be sure to stay on the line with the operator until all their questions about the situation have been addressed.

While 911 is a convenient service that can help U.S. residents get help quickly, it's not a number that should be dialed for anything other than life-threatening situations. For example, USCIS says 911 is not to be used to obtain driving directions, to ask information about public services, or to talk about anything that does not require immediate action.

By adhering to these general rules for emergencies, immigrants may wind up saving someone's life.

Helpful links:


What to look for to avoid scam artists

Typically the first thing on an immigrant's mind when they come to the United States is earning a living so that they can send money home to their families. However, in immigrants' haste to start making money quickly, they should pursue their endeavors with caution, as they may happen upon scam artists looking to prey upon unsuspecting victims.

To help immigrants discern what are legitimate operations and what may be fraudulent ones, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services offers a few pointers.

Because scammers know that the USCIS is the governing body that grants visas, green cards and employment authorization documents, some claim that by filing with them, immigrants can avoid the fees and wait periods they may encounter with the government entity. USCIS says immigrants should be very wary of these claims, as they are generally untrue.

While some scammers encourage immigrants to avoid the USCIS, others claim to be the USCIS by offering official-looking documents and web pages. A good indication the immigration service provider in question is fraudulent is if they offer downloadable forms and instructions for a price. USCIS says all forms it offers are free to download and have detailed information on filing fees and processing times.

Another way scam artists try to fool immigrants is by claiming they are government agencies that were once in operation but are no longer. For instance, the Immigration and Naturalization Service used to be the government body that oversaw immigration policies and benefits. But that body was dissolved in March 2003. The USCIS was put in its place, which is governed by the Department of Homeland Security. The INS was under the Department of Justice.

Therefore, if websites or purported immigration service providers claims to be the INS – or refer immigrants to them – it's a good bet they're scammers.

Fortunately, every state in the U.S. has resources immigrants can turn to if they've been victimized by a scam. These can be found here.

The Better Business Bureau is another organization immigrants can turn to for reporting a scam or to determining whether a business is legitimate. Immigrants can familiarize themselves with the site by visiting here.

Helpful links:

Better Business Bureau – Reporting scams

U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services – Avoiding scams


What are my responsibilities as a permanent resident of the United States?

Once you have obtained permanent residency in the U.S., you may think making an honest living so you can send money to your loved ones back home is your only responsibility.  But as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services indicates, permanent resident duties go beyond that.

One of these chief responsibilities as a permanent resident is filing tax returns. Under current immigration laws, permanent residents who fail to file tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service, as well as with states in which they've made money, may be forced to abandon their status as a permanent resident.

If you are unclear about how the tax filing process works you can review the IRS' website for a primer.

Another task you should be sure to get done is to obtain a Social Security number. A Social Security number basically identifies residents and recognizes they're able to work in the U.S. These numbers are nine-digits long and are chiefly necessary for employment and tax filing purposes. For more information about Social Security, the SSA's website may prove useful.

Selective Service is something you should familiarize yourself with as well. This is a system the government uses to determine how many individuals would be able to serve in the military if a draft were ever to be initiated. This is also called military conscription, which basically compels someone to serve in the armed forces, although it hasn't been used in decades.

There are some exceptions to having to do this, however. Permanent residents who are male and between the ages of 18 and 26 are the only ones who must register with the Selective Service.

For more information about the Selective Service System – including specific details about immigrants – click here.

These are just a few of the responsibilities you should take care now that you're in the United States. But there are a variety of others to be aware of, many of which are rights and privileges that are guaranteed to residents. The USCIS has developed a manual that chronicles these entitlements in "Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants."

Helpful links:

Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants


How students can apply for a Social Security number

Whether its to send money to their home country or to get a more rich experience about what working life is like in the U.S., immigrants who are temporarily in the country to attend college often like to work while they're going to school. However, in order to do so, immigrants are strongly encouraged to get a Social Security number.

To help immigrants obtain one, the U.S. Social Security Administration offers some advice.

For starters, a Social Security number is a nine-digit figure that every citizen is assigned, indicating they are authorized to work in the U.S. In addition to being used as a primary source of identification, it also determines a person's eligibility to receive benefits in the form of financial assistance when they retire.

Getting one cannot be done simply by enrolling with a college or university. Instead, the SSA advises immigrants to let 10 days go by after arriving in the U.S. to begin classes. At the end of this period, they should apply for a Social Security card by filling out a SS-5 form. Once this is filled out, applicants should take the document to their local Social Security office, along with documents that confirm their immigration status, their age, who they are and their work eligibility. Forms of identification that are best include I-551, I-94 and 1-766 forms. I-94 forms can also be used to corroborate one's immigration status. These are also called Arrival/Departure records.

To establish one's work eligibility, SSA says it needs a letter from an immigrant's potential employer that details what the job title is, when the employment start date will be, the number of hours being worked and the potential supervisor's name and phone number.

While obtaining a Social Security number is a beneficial thing to do for a variety of reasons, the SSA says it does not require immigrants to have a Social Security before starting work. However, because the Internal Revenue requires employers to report wages at tax time using their employees' Social Security number, it's in immigrants best interest to obtain one.

In the meantime, if an immigrant has already been hired and has already gone through the Social Security application process, a letter can be obtained through the SSA that details the immigrant has applied for a Social Security card and number. This serves as proof that an immigrant is authorized to work in the U.S.

Helpful links:

Form SS-5

International students and Social Security numbers


Some of the steps involved in applying for a relative’s permanent residency

Once immigrants have established themselves in the United States by finding a place to live and securing a job, they often use it as an opportunity to send money to their home country who may be struggling financially. But immigrants can also use their new-found residency to help a relative become a permanent resident of the U.S.

To help immigrants go about this, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services offers some tips for how to get the process started and what they can expect.

According to the USCIS, immigrants start by filing an I-130 form, which is called a Petition for Alien Relative. Eligible relatives include an immigrant's spouse, their children, parents or siblings. Immigrants will need to have proof indicating they are, in fact, related to the person applying for permanent residency.

Once the petition has been filled out and submitted to the USCIS, it basically reserves a place in line with others who are also waiting to immigrate to the U.S. Where these relatives will be placed in that line is on a first come, first-serve basis, so the earlier the petition is filled out and handed in, the shorter the wait will generally be.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if the immigrant is a U.S. citizen and the relative is an immediate family member, there is no waiting list for these relatives. As a result, once the I-130 petition has been approved, the U.S. Department of State will invite them to apply for an immigrant visa.

While this can expedite the process, immigrants should be aware that their relatives can't stay in the U.S. while awaiting approval. USCIS says that if relatives live outside the U.S., they need to remain there until they have been approved. However, if an immigrant's family member already lives in the U.S. and entered legally, they can apply to update their status to permanent resident while awaiting the approval process.

By filing a petition for a relative's permanent residency, immigrants should be advised that there are some strings attached. For instance, USCIS that once a relative has been approved, the immigrant who originally filed the petition on behalf of their relative must agree to become their financial sponsor. Immigrants will be evaluated to see whether they have the assets to do this after filling out an I-864 form or what's called an Affidavit of Support. If the immigrant doesn't meet the necessary qualifications, another individual with enough assets will need to be identified before the process can move forward.

Helpful links:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant services
Form I-130
Form I-864


How to establish good credit history in the United States

When immigrants move from their homeland to the United States, they may be unfamiliar with a lot of the rules and customs of the country. Because so many aspects of life are quite different, newcomers may not be sure where to start.

But financial experts say one of the first things immigrants should do to get their new life started is establishing credit to make it easier for them to get loans and be able to send money to those back home.

While immigrants have the ability to take with them all of their life's experience and know-how with them to the U.S., one thing they often can't take with them is their credit history. This can be unfortunate for those who have a strong credit history, as it can take years to develop. However, according to, if immigrants had a history with a bank or lender that also services the United States, that may be a good starting point.

"We certainly would like to take care of a BarclayCard customer who is living in the U.S., and that can be arranged through a banker … by getting in touch with us separately," Barclays spokesman Kevin Sullivan told the source. Barclays is one of several lenders that operates both in the United States and in parts of Europe.

While institutions like Barclays and American Express won't be able to transfer credit history, they may be able to help immigrants open a new account based on their payment history, the source indicates.

But even if immigrants don't have much of a paper trail or any experience with credit, financial experts say that's not a problem, as everyone has to start somewhere.

A good launching point for these people is opening a secure credit card. The amount of money that can be spent will be equal to the amount that's deposited. Using the card on a regular basis and paying bills consistently will slowly but surely enable users to build a credit background that is represented by a three-digit score. These scores are tabulated and compiled by credit bureaus, the main ones being Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Credit reporting agencies determine these scores based on whether the users pay their bills on time and keeping credit card debt low. The higher the score – ranging between 300 and 850 – the better. High scores are an indication to lenders that there's less risk of a user not paying their bills or defaulting.

Another way to establish credit is through friends of family members. Some credit card companies allow users to "piggyback" on others credit profile as an authorized user. However, financial advisors say people should use this method cautiously, as if the friend has a poor credit history, it will poorly reflect on them both.

Financial advisors also recommend newcomers to the U.S. meet with a bank and ask if they can apply for a small loan. Documentation proving the borrower has assets will increase the chances they'll be approved. This includes employment history or a recurring bill statement.

Helpful Links:

National Foundation for Credit Counseling (1 free credit report check per year)





Resources for newly arriving Filipinos working in the U.S.

Traveling to the U.S. for work can be overwhelming for Filipino women, but there are plenty of resources to help them adjust. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration reports that more than 3,000 workers immigrated to the U.S. last year for work, and there are currently more than 1.6 Filipino immigrants living and working in the country.

The Embassy of the Philippines provides all the necessary documents and information that Filipino workers will need when they arrive in America. The agency offers support for migrant workers for everything from renewing a Filipino driver's license to reporting marriages and obtaining work visa extensions.

One of the biggest challenges that many Filipino women will likely face when they reach America is learning the English language. While English is commonly spoken in more urban areas of the Philippines, many migrant workers come from more rural areas and may not know the language. There are many organizations across the country that offer English as a second language (ESL) courses to help Filipino people learn the main language, which will also be a valuable resource for integrating with American culture and society. It can be a good way for newly arriving immigrants to connect with other people from the Philippines as well.

Migrant workers who travel to the U.S. alone for work so they can send remittances to their families may find it difficult to be so far from their loved ones. Community support groups can be a great way for foreign workers to find people to connect with and share their experiences. This can also be a helpful resource for finding doctors who speak Tagalog and markets that sell food from the Philippines among other resources.

Filipino workers who want to send money to the Philippines to help out their families can use Xoom, an international money transfer company. Xoom offers a number of reliable, fast ways to send remittance to loved ones. Funds can be sent directly to the recipient's bank account or to nearly any bank in the Philippines. Transferring money with Xoom can take as little as a few minutes.