Immigrants and Personal finance

Most of the current discussion about immigrants in America focuses on illegal immigration. Not much attention is paid to the large number of legal, professional immigrants in a variety of fields.

These "first-generation" immigrants come to America looking for better opportunities. They fall into many categories:

  • Many of them enter the country as students and then join the workforce after graduating.
  • Some come here to work on "temporary" visas, but then manage to extend their stay legally.
  • Some have special skills, or are in high-demand fields (like nursing) that allow them to find work even before they arrive in the country.
  • A few are sponsored by siblings and in-laws who are already here, and come over to join the family business, or to find new careers for themselves.
Many of these first-generation immigrants are successful professionals like me, but there are a number of reasons we are at a disadvantage when it comes to planning our financial future.

  • Unlike many native-born (who typically have their parents to advise them on money matters), we have no mentors to help us with the basics of saving and investing money.
  • We lack the financial safety net that many native-born have in their parents and families. "Moving in with the parents" is not an option for us!
  • Some immigrants live for years as expatriates, expecting that they will be returning to their home countries within a few years, even as their stay is extended again and again. They never get around to making any long-term financial plans.
  • Some immigrants spend many years in America with an uncertain future, due to long delays with the immigration and naturalization process. It is tough to save and invest for the future when you don't even know how long you will be able to stay in the country.
  • Many immigrants are ignorant or naive about the importance of financial planning. They are often the first to fall for unscrupulous advisers or financial scams.
  • Many have unrealistic expectations about their income prospects or investment returns, and do not realize the importance of saving/investing early.
  • Many immigrants have to provide financial help to their parents and other family members that they left behind. This can be a significant drain on their finances.
  • Finally, unlike many native-born, we generally receive little or no inheritance from our parents.
On the upside, things are not all that bad:
  • Many native-born are in the same boat as us, since most parents in America do not teach their children about managing their finances.
  • Immigrants usually come from cultures with strong work ethics, and have a better appreciation for the notion of saving for a rainy day.
  • In spite of all the challenges, many immigrants do succeed remarkably in accumulating wealth, both as entrepreneurs and professionals.


San Francisco Money Maven said...

These are all good observations. My husband is a naturalized citizen who emigrated from a country that did not have a credit system. He didn't have a checking account until he was 25 and married me. He does not have the safety net of his parents, and when money is exchanged, it is he who sends money home to them. But, my family (dad) has been a great financial support to us and has provided many loans to us and helped us buy our first house (which we couldn't have done without him).

I really respect anyone who's making headway towards becoming financial independent, and all the more so if they are not from this country. I wish that more native-born Americans understood and were committed to this issue.

Nigel said...

Thanks for your comment. As you point out, many immigrants have to help out the folks back in their home countries. I have been lucky in that it has not been a big problem for me, but it is for many others that I know.

Kevin P said...

I don’t think that is necessarily just immigrants. Many natural born US Citizens are in the same boat.

Aloha!! said...

I just found your article. Recently these days I am reading many articles for retirement options etc.
Your post was cool and informative. It seems there are some people whom I can relate too.

Anonymous said...

Nigel, by now you may have been retired and having good time in India. I was wondering if you are still updating the site with newer information! Thanks