With Pennsylvania's population aging and declining, colleges and banks are following employers in appealing to the younger, growing Latin American immigrant communities to help them stay in business.
Last Monday, Ceiba, a coalition of local Latino organizations, and Finanta, a community-lending agency, rolled out Programa Adelante (Forward Program), a campaign — backed by an $80,000 grant from Spain-based Santander Bank — to assist qualified immigrants in obtaining loans to pay for citizenship applications while also managing family budgets, paying taxes and handling other financial commitments.
And on Tuesday, Carlos M. Sada, head of the Mexican government agency that supports Mexicans abroad, visited his country's busy consulate on Independence Mall to announce a fourfold increase in IME Becas (Institute for Mexicans Abroad Scholarships), and meet with the first Philadelphia-area colleges and universities to show interest in the 12-year-old program. La Salle, Cabrini, Immaculata and Millersville sent recruiters.
These moves are coming as the U.S. government has been tightening immigration policies.
IME Becas is designed to support career education so students can get better work and boost their living standards, according to Sada, Mexico's undersecretary for North America.
The program accepts some non-Mexican applicants, including U.S.-born students and some from other Latin American countries. Mexico is boosting funding to 40 million pesos this fall (about $2.4 million), still quite modest given what Sada calls the "immense" cost of U.S. colleges.
With matching college funds, small grants go a long way for those part-time students who don't qualify for other aid because they have moved recently to the state, or because their families earn more than aid minimums (but lack cash because their parents send it home or into the family business), or because their papers are incomplete, said Joanne Woods, director of Busca, a La Salle University program oriented to Spanish and bilingual speakers.
Busca now enrolls 150 students, mostly in business, pre-nursing, information technology, criminal-justice and social-work classes, and it hopes to fund a few more with Mexican grants, Woods said. Most Busca students work full-time, often in stores and other family businesses, and take courses in the evening. About two-thirds are women. The program graduates about 40 a year with associate's degrees.
The Santander-backed program is "a first for Pennsylvania," Ceiba executive director Will Gonzalez told me.
Working families typically pay thousands to assemble documents, hire lawyers, and secure full citizenship. Growing families can have a tough time raising the cash, Gonzalez said, even people who were prosperous back home. Banks work differently in other countries; foreign credit records typically aren't recognized by U.S. lenders, forcing even careful savers to pay extra when they borrow.
By helping immigrants become financially literate U.S. citizens, Santander figures it's bringing them toward "independence and prosperity," the bank's regional president, Angela Moultrie, said in a statement.
Santander and the colleges are appealing to the younger generation of Latinos, many of whom were born in the United States. While the U.S. Latino population keeps rising, Mexican immigration has lately dropped. Though Mexico led the world as a source of new U.S. residents by a large margin until the mid-2000s, it now trails India and China.
Making it easier for Mexicans educated in the U.S. to get good jobs back home, Sada said his government has changed the laws so employers can more readily honor college records from U.S. schools.