Sunday, December 25, 2011

Secondary Immigration To Pittsburgh

Better to be in Pittsburgh than anywhere in Texas. Bhutanese are bolting immigrant gateway Oakland for the Rust Belt. Word is getting around that there are jobs aplenty:

The rumors circulated for months: Pennsylvania is a better place to live than Oakland for newly arrived Bhutanese refugees.

"All the Bhutanese are migrating to Pennsylvania," Benu Mainali said. "They say it's better. It's easier to find a job." ...

... Family reunification may be the biggest tug. One extended family disperses around the country, then relatives share stories about which location offers the best opportunities. For the Mainalis, the spot was the Great Lakes corridor.

They were not alone: In recent months, Pennsylvania surpassed Texas as the top destination for Bhutanese refugees, and upstate New York is not far behind, according to data from the International Organization for Migration, the group tasked to resettle them.

Reading the first few paragraphs of the article, I figured "Pennsylvania" meant "Philadelphia". Pittsburgh is an unlikely home for any immigrant while Philadelphia's foreign born population has taken off in recent years. I am surprised as anyone that Pittsburgh is the more specific destination:

Leela Mainali was the first to broach the idea of leaving Oakland, whispering the names of eastern cities in nighttime conversations with her husband. She heard the stories of roomier, less expensive apartments, more plentiful work and less crime. She missed her relatives who were moving to the East Coast. Her older sister's family landed in northern Florida but could not find work there, so they moved to Pittsburgh this fall and found employment immediately despite their limited English.

"In Pennsylvania, it makes no difference," Benu Mainali said. "Even the people who don't speak a word, they're getting a job and making good money." ...

... The younger Mainalis stuffed their belongings -- clothes, a pressure cooker and some other kitchen equipment -- in the trunk of their Toyota and had the car towed to Pittsburgh for $850. They spent hundreds more on airfare and have about $5,000 left in savings.

They have car payments and are paying back the International Organization for Migration in monthly installments for the flight that brought them to the United States.

If jobs are hard to find, they could be in financial trouble. But the frugal, plucky family has been through much worse and remains optimistic.

Pittsburgh "may be better than here," Leela Mainali said hours before she left Oakland on Dec. 15.

How did Pittsburgh get on the Bhutanese radar? Buffalo, Akron, and even Erie (PA) have substantial populations. People in those cities would have a good idea about opportunities in Pittsburgh. The good news travels through the network to Oakland, spurring secondary migration from struggling California.

Your community may be more tolerant and welcoming. But migrants will deal with tremendous adversity if jobs are at stake. As more outsiders cluster in Pittsburgh, the more tolerant the city will seem. And yes, this change in attitude will attract more talent. Don't put the cart before the horse and think that tolerance in and of itself will attract immigrants.

Pittsburgh is emerging from the recession as a migration hot spot. The anecdotes are adding up. The numbers have been trending the right way for a few years. Time for boomtown.

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