Have you just arrived with your gleaming new green card and are wondering what next?

First, congratulations on your green card. As you will soon realize, the possession of this vital document makes you the envy of many immigrants in stato. But do remember that the Green Card is revocable. So, as a general advice, keep it in mind that if you do something illegal or “kichini-chini” your Green card may be canceled, so you really want to be careful what you engage in, more so now that Kenyans are in the limelight over such things as non-payment of Tax, etc.

Second, what you will soon learn is that even with good professional qualifications or mighty degrees from Kenya, you may still have to upgrade your skills. Three reasons why this will be necessary:

  1. American employers believe in their own institutions, and a degree from Kenya means little to them!
  2. You came from a British-based system, and things are done somewhat differently here.
  3. You do not want to be stuck doing unskilled labor, do you?

So, as will most likely be the case, you have to go to school. But you do not want to spend time studying, only to come out and spend more years looking for employment.

Bottom line, choose a career wisely. If you do not, you will be left behind. You may miss the American dream.

How to proceed depends on your background, of course. For example, if you already have a bachelors degree, all you need is a 1.8- 2 years master degree to be “Americanized”. Whatever your situation, here are a few tips:
(0) Currently, the hot fields are in the medical areas (nursing, pharmacists, PAs, etc), IT (software, networking, security) and Enginnering

(i) As a general rule, the best jobs are to be found in STEM related careers. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

See how successful most Chinese and Indians immigrants are? Look at what they study. Learn from them.

(ii) You normally have to upgrade your skills or expertise by at least attending an American college to be recognized (whether you have a degree from Kenya or not)

(iii) College costs are extremely high. If you can not afford the full tuition, apart from chasing and depending on the usual scholarships and grants, here are important survival actions:

  1. Assuming you need a bachelors degree, enroll at a community college where the costs are much cheaper and study for an Associates degree ( time frame ; 2 years ), then later transfer to a 4 year University where costs are higher and study for the remaining 2 years to get your bachelors. In addition, in a community college, you can work and study. This work and study arrangement is very unlikely in 4 year colleges.
  2. The amount of tuition you pay normally depends on whether you are an out of state student ( non-resident) or in-state student ( resident student). The tuition may be 3 times higher for non residents than for residents. Different states have different residency requirements. Some states require that you must have lived in the state for at least 1 year ( for purposes other than going to school! ) to be considered a resident. Ask around. Move to another state if necessary.
  3. The Southern states and Gulf states (Louisiana, Mississippi,Texas ) may have more Fin Aid, but you may have to put up with their racist inclinations.
  4. Search for Scholarships/Assistantships/Work study programs etc. Most schools would have these available through their fin aid offices. You may be able to qualify for federal loans/grants.

(iv) If you really do not care about what you were doing while in Kenya (or elsewhere in Africa), here is your chance to make the change. It is very possible to change to another field. But be realistic. You may have to put up with an undesirable career till you are able to make this change.

(v) Generally, avoid studying in areas where Americans have excelled themselves ( e.g. MBA, Law, MD, etc ), since you already have so much working against you ( e.g. language, color, prejudice, stereotypes ) when competing with them. You perhaps saw American movies and TV and bought the lie and have a good impression of Americans. The Americans see their TVs ( and all the bad image of Africa )  and will most likely judge you based on those ideas picked from the Media. The best way to go? STEM.  Avoid the so called “easy” courses ( such a business studies, psychology, etc ). Exert more energy, if needed. This does not of course mean that you cannot make it if you studied MBA, for example.
(vii) Make a good search before you commit yourself to a school and a career.

(viii) Finally, if you have good business ideas, consider starting a business. It is very easy to start a business and to get funding for it. And the market is huge.

I encourage you to spend time on the main Mwalimu website . I think you will get a better picture of what works and what does not. Also, ask advice from other successful Kenyans. ( Do not seek advise from those who are not going anywhere; somehow they just tend to give advice that will pull you down ).


3 Responses to Got a green card, now what?

  1. says:

    Nice one Mwalimu. This is a good and very relevant post.

    Life for new immigrants is very tough. Just having no Credit history will set you back. However, I don’t agree with number (v). Yes there is discrimination against immigrants but I’ve seen a lot of immigrants excel in these competitive fields.

    As long as one is able and capable they will succeed. Nursing is not the only career for immigrants but provides the easiest way to integrate into the society.

    Thanks. Well, (v) does not mean one can not make it in those fields (as i explained in the same paragraph), but the reality is that those who excel in those fields are a very very tiny fraction of all the aspiring immigrants. In addition (and just as you mentioned) there are already so many setbacks against an immigrant, so why get into a tract that will disadvantage you some more? Of course, if one knows themselves to be a cut above average, then by all means go for whatever field you are interested in.

    On Nursing, i agree. Its one of the fastest and surest way to settle in. I also noted that the general areas one is bound to find success is in STEM

  2. […] do read this post and this post if you are wondering how life will be once you get the sought after but elusive Green Card » […]

  3. Alphonce says:

    Yes i came here from kenya with a computer science degree after several job hunts am now in the navy.

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