OFF TO WORK WE GO:
Research, Patience And
Perseverance Gets You The Job
Advisors recommend that immigrants get a legal job as soon as possible for their own protection.
By Sarah Stanfield
There is good news and bad news about finding a job in New York City. The good news is, because of the size of the city, there are numerous jobs to be had. The bad news is, you must follow a specific method of researching, applying and interviewing for these positions, or else your resume will go into the recycling bin. Luckily, organizations abound in Queens to help you with this seemingly daunting quest.
Finding A Job
The first step in landing a job is finding out what positions are open. Your first stop, then, should be the Queens branch of Workforce1, a city-operated career services provider, located in Jamaica at 168-46 91st Ave, open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. It has career counselors that speak a number of different languages.
Each Workforce1 center has a resource room where jobseekers can view hundreds of job listings on the Internet, use computers and fax machines to write and send cover letters and resumes to prospective employees and use phones to set up interview appointments. First-time users of the resource room need to attend an orientation, which is held Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The Workforce 1 center also provides counseling on writing a resume, finding the right career and finding ESL classes if you need them. For those eligible, the center offers a voucher to cover the costs of job training. The vouchers can be used for tuition, registration and processing fees, software, uniforms, testing fees, tools and books, as long as they are used at the school you’ve selected. For more information on Workforce1 programs, go to www.nyc.gov/html/sbs/wf1/html/home/home.shtml.
Another font of job information in Queens is the Job Information Center (JIC) at the Flushing Library. Although it does not provide job listings, it helps people, especially immigrants, navigate the job-seeking process in America. David Grimes, JIC Manager, says many immigrants don’t know how to write an American-style resume. “They don’t see it as a directed sales pitch; they see it more as a curriculum vitae.”
To that end, the JIC program helps people write resumes, cover letters and perform career exploration, usually on a one-on-one, appointment-only basis. The heart of its program is a series of sheets called the Pathfinders, which list different information sources on one field in particular, such as library science or engineering. Pathfinders direct people to websites that list jobs in a particular field and also describe the training process for each career.
For more information on the Flushing Library JIC, call (718) 661-1218. There is also a JIC at the Central Library in Jamaica, which can be reached at (718) 990-0746.
Another way to find a job is through print and electronic media. Many of the local borough and city papers print a range of classified ads for job openings. The Queens Tribune has a selection of good local jobs in its back pages, and The New York Times has a large Help Wanted section in its paper every Sunday, and has listings on the internet at www.nytimes.com. There are also numerous Internet sites listing jobs. The largest are www.monster.com and www.hotjobs.com. These sites allow you to search by typing in the kind of job you want in any area of the U.S. Both are free.
Many immigrants line up to find temporary day labor jobs in Queens sites. Tribune photo by Ira Cohen
“Only two things in life are certain, death and taxes.” This quote is attributed to the famous American writer Mark Twain. While this issue of The Queens Tribune can’t help you with the first of the two, it can give you some advice on the second.
Once you enter the workforce in the U.S., you will have to give up a portion of your income in the form of taxes. Taxes help the government run its various services. There are two basic kinds of work-related taxes: income and social security.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that you must withhold by the end of any tax year an amount equal to either 100 percent of the previous year’s tax or 90 percent of the current year’s tax. You do this either through payroll deduction or estimated taxes. As a new immigrant to this country it is recommended you do this through payroll deduction. When you start working for a new employer, he will give you what is called a W-4 form. Essentially, it allows your employer to calculate an amount to withhold from your paycheck so that when it comes time to pay your taxes to the IRS in April, you will not have to pay a large amount.
By the end of January, your employer will send you a W-2 form, which will list the income you made and the taxes he took out for the previous year. If you have income from other sources, such as interest-accruing bank accounts or investments, you will also receive similar forms from these institutions. Once you receive all these forms, you will have to fill out what is called a tax return, which must be mailed to the IRS by April 15.
A tax return is where you list your allowances (which are usually people in your household who depend on your income), list any income you have made, and compute any amount of money you still owe the IRS and to the state. You will have to fill out a tax return for the federal government, as well as one for the state and New York City. Whatever taxes you calculate are what you must send to the IRS. If you have had more taken from you than what you owe, you will get a refund either by mail, or direct deposit.
Taxes are difficult for many native-born Americans to understand, so you may want to seek out help in doing your taxes for the first time. The city provides free tax preparation services throughout the five boroughs. Call 311 for more information.
“Off The Books”
Unfortunately, many new immigrants take what are called “off-the-book” jobs. This is where your employer has not declared you to the state or federal government. He usually pays you in cash and takes no taxes out of your wages.
Many undocumented immigrants take these kinds of jobs because they fear the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services will find out they are in the country illegally. Unfortunately, not paying taxes cheats workers out of numerous benefits, according to K.C. Williams, Director of Adult Education of the Jackson Heights Office of the Forest Hills Community House.
“When folks work off the books, they’re not paying into Social Security and will not be eligible to receive benefits when they retire,” she said.
Another risk involved in not paying taxes has to do with sponsoring a relative for permanent residency in the United States. You won’t be deemed eligible to sponsor the relative if you cannot show a record of paying taxes.
Also, working off the books means you are not eligible for unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, minimum wage or the right to unionize. It also puts you in a position to be overworked or even abused by your employer.
The direct way to obtain legal employment in the United States is a work visa.
Many businesses offer jobs to new immigrants familiar with a foreign culture. Tribune photo by Ira Cohen
There are more than 60 types of work visas that allow immigrants to enter the United States. Generally, they must be obtained before an immigrant arrives, and not all lead to permanent residence. For example, there is the H1B visa, which allows an individual with the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor’s degree with highly specialized skills to work in the U.S. for up to six years. Another visa, the B1, allows business people making sales, conducting negotiations, and attending meetings to stay in the U.S. for six months.
Work visas are very difficult to obtain because the employer must essentially prove to the government that the immigrant worker can do a job that no U.S. citizen is capable of doing. It involves a lot of complicated paperwork and thus is not much of an incentive to sponsor the employee. Also, these kinds of visas generally go to white-collar employees.
Many immigrants make the mistake of coming to the United States on a work or tourist visa and think they can transfer it over to permanent residency. Usually, however, this is impossible, because of the time it takes to get a Green Card. And if a person overstays their allotted visa time, they may not be permitted to come back to the country for up to 10 years. If you want permanent legal work in the United States, it’s best that you have a Green Card.
Taxi Driver Physicists
Many new immigrants who come to this country held high-level professional positions in their homelands, such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants. According to K.C. Williams, it’s getting harder and harder for these professionals to obtain the same types of jobs in the United States.
In general, the U.S. does not recognize foreign degrees or certification and may require a new immigrant to get completely re-certified. This takes time and money, something most immigrants don’t have. Thanks to the Personal Responsibility Act of 1996, which overhauled the welfare system in this country, many immigrants are not allowed to stay on welfare long enough to support professional re-certification. They have a limited amount of time to receive financial support before they are forced to go to work, usually in menial jobs. Also, only immigrants coming to the U.S. as refugees or asylum-seekers are eligible for public assistance and even that is only for a short period of time.
Williams remembers one student of hers who was a rocket scientist from the former Soviet Union. He was a refugee receiving public assistance and was pulled out of his Level 1 ESL class and forced into a program to help him learn to clean up parks. “I personally thought his skills might be better used by this country if he mastered the English language,” she said.
This does not mean it’s impossible to practice the profession in which you were employed in your native country. It just means you might have to take menial jobs and work and study for long hours to do so. Dr. Lubomir Kanov, a psychiatrist practicing in Long Island who lives in Rego Park, took a minimum wage job as a nursing aide to quadriplegic people when he first came to North America, to Canada, from his native Bulgaria.
Eventually he was able to make his way to the United States, where he completed a residency in psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, finished his residency training in New York, passed an exam to be licensed to practice in New York and later passed an exam to become board-certified in psychiatry and neurology.
Kanov’s advice for immigrants with professional backgrounds is to learn English as quickly as they can and to not be too proud to take a menial job.
“Taking any job, even a menial job, is very important in order to help understand life in a new country,” he said. He also cautions against having unrealistic expectations and a sense of entitlement just because one comes to the U.S. with a great deal of education. “The USA is fair, but you have to work very hard to succeed.”
You Have Rights
Immigrants rally for parity in the work force. Tribune photo by Ira Cohen
As a worker in New York City, it is important to know your rights. Employers with four or more employees must obey the New York City Human Rights Law. According to the law, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against job seekers based on what the employer thinks or knows to be the applicant’s alien or citizenship status and national origin. It is also illegal to discriminate based on race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation, disability (including HIV/AIDS), status as a victim of domestic violence, arrest or conviction record, and/or marital status.
Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against in New York City may file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission’s Law Enforcement Bureau, located at 40 Rector Street, 9th Floor, in lower Manhattan. The complaint must be filed within a year of the last alleged act of discrimination. You must make an appointment to file your complaint. To schedule an appointment, call (212) 306-7450. If you are unable to travel to the Bureau’s offices, an investigator will take your complaint by telephone.