By Sophia Sun, The Seattle Medium
In a world rocked by a pandemic, non-English speaking immigrants came to Seattle, on work visas and to follow family already here. But life in an inflationary Seattle is not easy and language barriers and immigration status are two significant obstacles for recent arrivals trying to access social services as they establish their lives.
Qianwei Wu, a 23-year-old non-English speaking Chinese immigrant who arrived in Seattle in April 2020 to be with family, said living in Seattle is difficult on her wages from a Chinese nail salon near Westlake that mainly serves Chinese customers. With a meager salary and a limited customer group, she can barely save money every month.
Tian Zhou, a 29-year-old Chinese immigrant who is currently applying for a work visa, talked about the unsustainability of his part-time job working for Fantuan Delivery, an online food ordering and delivering platform that mainly serves Chinese people.
“We earn $8 per order but the salary isn’t stable. Sometimes there are lots of orders and sometimes there aren’t,” said Zhou, who immigrated to the United States in August 2019. The interviews with Wu and Zhou were conducted in Chinese.
“Another problem is that the system assigns orders for us. There are times when there’s a shortage of delivery personnel, so the distance between each order’s location is pretty far away. In that case income would be negligible because I would pay extra gas money on the way.”
Neither of the jobs provides benefits, such as health insurance.
Yong Lim Oshie, the program supervisor of the department of employment for the non-profit Asian Counseling and Referral Services, an organization that offers culturally appropriate social services for Asian Americans, said the jobs for non-English speaking immigrants are few. One of the most common jobs ACRS refers people to are housekeeping positions in big hotels, such as the Sheraton or Westin, since they pay at least $20 per hour and have benefits.
However, this job also has its limitations and requires physical labor. It’s unfriendly to older immigrants.
“I’ve seen old people who just came from China who are 60 years old and tried to do the work. It’s impossible for them to do that,” Oshie said.
The system provided for non-English speaking immigrants is inconsistent, which is another challenge. According to Oshie, many of her clients don’t get the resources they need when applying for welfare from larger social service organizations, such as the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and the Employment and Security Department in Seattle.
“Their services are slow. When the clients go to apply for welfare, one worker tells them this is what you need, and when they go to another one, they don’t get approved and are asked for more information. It depends on who you talk to,” Oshie said.
Shomya Tripathy, the director of policies and civic engagement at ACRS, addressed the same concern.
“One of the biggest flaws in our system is that people’s immigration status dictates what type of services can be accessible to them,” Tripathy said . The undocumented people who don’t have ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) or SSN (Social Security Number) cannot get financial assistance from the government when they have trouble finding jobs.
Missing information is another big problem for Chinese immigrants trying to access social services in Seattle. In an informal survey of non-English speaking workers in Fantuan Delivery conducted over five days, four out of five food deliverers said they didn’t know about ACRS and what it provides.
“We should think about how to connect people to resources,” said Peggy Liao, the language access program and policy specialist at the City of Seattle. “Many people don’t have time to really sit down and search for more information. Some of them don’t even know which keyword to put in their search engine.”
Liao suggests that creating supportive communities composed only of immigrants with similar backgrounds would establish a strong bond among them, enabling them to offer mutual support and exchange information with one another.
Tripathy added: “It’s also important for us to center the most marginalized communities.”
Compared with the upper and lower classes, the interests of the middle class are more easily overlooked. Tripathy emphasized the significance of adopting an intersectional approach when developing policies: “For example middle-income South Asians should also be given attention. From centering the people who hit the hardest, we’ll be able to create policies and programs that work for all people,” Tripathy said.