28 August 2009

I'm a Legal Alien

OK well I knew that, after spending 22 years outside the US and twenty of those in the UK, that I wouldn't be returning home as much as I would be immigrating back to the US.

Let me precede this semi-rant by saying that I'm in quite good spirits and, although I have no idea whether or not I will be able to minister in the US or what sort of job I will end up having in the US, that I firmly believe that if I push on doors, the right ones will open if I seek to do God's will.

That said, here are our first few weeks' experience in the US. Wonderful Husband, a British citizen who has never lived in the US, had the blessing of being offered a job in the US by his former employer in the UK.

The first lesson we learned was don't even try to approximate the state of Human Being until you have a drivers' license. You can do without a Social Security Number; Wonderful Husband only just got his and no one seems to care all that much about that. But don't, whatever you do, try to walk around without a drivers' license. And whatever you do, don't tell anyone that you haven't got one.

Because a driver's license is not about whether or not you can drive a car or want to drive a car: it is the sine qua non of identification documents. Got a passport? No one cares. Passports are not regarded as serious documents. It's the driver's license that you need. But not just any driver's license. An out-of-State license will do in a pinch but a license from a foreign country is probably more suspect than not having any license at all. Just what kind of a fraud are you trying to pull?

And the second thing you need - which neither I nor Wonderful Husband has - is a credit rating. This lack seems far more serious than even a lack of driver's license. I mean what 52 year old has NO credit rating in the US whatsoever? Well, er, one who hasn't been living in the US for the last 22 years.

Having worked in pensions in a previous 'life', I was aware of the necessity of establishing a credit rating. And I was also aware that this would probably be difficult. Neither of us were surprised when our bank manager told us that we couldn't get a loan for our car because we didn't have a credit rating.

But hold on, she said! Let's get you a secured loan; we'll put $X on deposit for 18 months and sign the deposit account over to the bank and then ask for a loan of $X for your car. That way you can establish a credit rating. Good idea, you may think. But no. The corporate lending bods rejected our application on the grounds that we had no credit rating. So, to get this in perspective, we have money on deposit with said bank, we are willing to assign some of that money that we are lending to them! in order to get a loan to establish a credit rating, but... We are a bad credit risk.

Pardon the editorial reflection, but isn't this a good deal of what has gone wrong in the current economic environment? Personal relationships - us and the bank manager and her knowledge of our circumstances - mean nothing. What matters in order to be worthy of a loan is not having the wherewithal to pay the loan back but rather a computerized track record of having previously borrowed money and paid it back.

How do we get a credit rating, I asked? Well, the bank manager suggested trying to apply for a secured credit card. Same idea: we give the bank $X on deposit and they give us a credit line equal to $X. What's the difference between that and the secured loan? Well, about 14 percentage points in the annual interest rate. Hmm.

Well, if you can pay cash, why worry about a good credit rating? The answer is: Employment. Most of the jobs I've applied for state that they want to do a credit check, police check and drug screening as part of the interview process. Well, no problem with the drug screening if I could ever get that far. But, as I fill out the applications stating that my last twenty years of employment were in the UK, I'm painfully aware that no one is going to check foreign references and that I'm going to come up on a credit check and a police check as someone who has dropped out of outer space. As the computers scan the applications, what do you think my chances are of even getting to talk to a human being?

So the next time you hear someone rant about illegal immigrants getting 'all the best jobs', please remember this story of a legal 'immigrant'.


Unknown said...

Excellent reflection on these issues. And the odd thing is, a drivers license is easily faked, I think. I mean, isn't that what people do? Purchase fake docs and SSN's on the black market?

The point about impersonalization is spot on. The elderly, for example, need a slower, more personal interface to get what they need. (Others do too, I know.) There are websites that tell you how to "get a human" (gethuman.com).

Interest on credit cards is now approaching 20 per cent. There are large fees for every transaction. I just do not believe banks cannot afford to make reasonable loans. Our society is stymied by their greed.

Do not worry - reference checking is hit and miss, depending on the field. So let them call the UK. Or email. It's the 21st century.

Olive Morgan said...

Our prayers for you continue.

toujoursdan said...

I feel your pain. It is similar to what I went through when I moved from Canada to the U.S. I had all kinds of problems finding an apartment and had to pay cash for a used car until I could get enough credit to buy new. Getting a job wasn't so bad once I explained my situation. They generally don't get to the credit/reference check until after they have interviewed you and are ready to make an offer.

It's amazing that a country that receives 1 million legal immigrants per year is so poorly set up to integrate them. The Canadian banks are used to new immigrants (See: Royal Bank: Welcome to Canada) but you are a nobody in the U.S.

Doorman-Priest said...

Still in my prayers. Culture shock eh?

Sally said...

:-) I remember trying to manage in Texas with an international drivers license for a month before our test dates were through.
We couldn't write a cheque without a drivers license...

hope all is going better for you now Pam

Mark Henry said...

I appreciate the concern.The things need to be sorted out because it is about the individual but it can be with everyone.
Mark Robinson
Credit Score