Puerto Ri­cans strug­gling to find ca­reers in Florida Hit­ting the same bar­ri­ers most mi­grants face

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Kaisha Toledo was study­ing for a doc­tor­ate in psy­chol­ogy in Puerto Rico, but af­ter four years in Florida, she still hasn’t found a per­ma­nent job in her field. Ri­cardo Ne­gron passed the bar on the is­land, but still can’t work as a lawyer in Florida. Car­los Martinez got his nurs­ing li­cense in Puerto Rico, but still serves up lat­tes as a Star­bucks man­ager in Or­lando.

Res­i­dents of the US ter­ri­tory have been US cit­i­zens for a cen­tury now, and should have a built-in ad­van­tage as Amer­i­cans when they move to the main­land. But as the is­land’s best and bright­est join an ex­o­dus of nearly half a mil­lion Puerto Ri­cans com­ing state­side to es­cape the ter­ri­tory’s 10-year eco­nomic re­ces­sion, they’re hit­ting the same bar­ri­ers most mi­grants face: lan­guage dif­fi­cul­ties, costly cer­ti­fi­ca­tions, con­fus­ing re­quire­ments and cul­ture clashes.

“We don’t know the sys­tem yet that well, so we’re learn­ing on a learn­ing curve,” Toledo told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “We just find that jobs are very spe­cific and they say you need to have two or three years of ex­pe­ri­ence, but it’s like, ‘OK, but if you don’t open the door for me, how will I be able to get that ex­pe­ri­ence?’”

Deep cuts

Puerto Rico’s In­sti­tuto de Es­tadis­ti­cas said man­agers and pro­fes­sional work­ers made up the largest cat­e­gory of peo­ple mov­ing from the is­land in 2015. Since then, the is­land’s 3.4 mil­lion peo­ple have en­dured mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar debt de­faults, soar­ing fore­clo­sures, a crum­bling pen­sion sys­tem, states of emer­gency at gov­ern­ment agen­cies, deep cuts in ed­u­ca­tion and an un­em­ploy­ment rate of 12 per­cent, nearly triple the main­land rate.

“Ev­ery­body is leav­ing the is­land, from the neu­ro­sur­geon to the jan­i­tor,” said Vi­cente Feli­ciano, an econ­o­mist in Puerto Rico. “Young peo­ple are leav­ing, and thus, you have fewer tax­pay­ers to sup­port an in­creas­ingly el­derly pop­u­la­tion.” New York was their top des­ti­na­tion dur­ing the last ma­jor mi­gra­tion wave in the 1940s and 1950s, but now Cen­tral Florida is where they land, with more than 1 mil­lion Puerto Ri­cans liv­ing in the state.

“There’s the weather, and you will find Puerto Ri­cans, you will find the food, ev­ery­where. So it’s the next best thing to be­ing home with­out hav­ing the is­sues,” said Ne­gron. Be­fore leav­ing the is­land in 2015, Ne­gron had lined up a le­gal as­sis­tant job at an Or­lando law firm. But af­ter ar­riv­ing, his po­si­tion was cut. He now runs a com­mu­nity cen­ter and says he lacks the time or the money to take three months off to study for the Florida bar.

“I would have to shut my­self in to study, and I’m like, ‘How am I go­ing to live? I’m not go­ing to get more stu­dent loans to study,’” Ne­gron said. Martinez has worked at a theme park, a ho­tel and a store since he left the is­land three years ago, but he still hasn’t found a nurs­ing job be­cause he hasn’t found the time or money needed for the prep class needed to study for his li­cense in Florida. “At the mo­ment, I can’t do it,” Martinez said. “I got to make money.”

Many Puerto Ri­cans move from the is­land with­out the proper prepa­ra­tion, said Sami Haiman-Mar­rero, who runs a mar­ket­ing and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment firm in Or­lando. With her friend, Jackie Men­dez, she now of­fers ori­en­ta­tion ses­sions to new ar­rivals on how to adapt to life and work­place norms in cen­tral Florida. “You can’t kiss your co-work­ers on the cheek ... Don’t start talk­ing about per­sonal things ... You are sup­posed to be there at five min­utes to the hour and be ready to work ... You need to have com­mand of English,” Mar­rero said.

Jan­ice Dones, who moved from Puerto Rico a year ago and at­tended a re­cent ori­en­ta­tion said, “It some­times doesn’t feel like we are part of the coun­try.” Her feel­ings re­flect a com­mon re­frain among is­lan­ders - es­pe­cially those who voted for state­hood in a non-bind­ing ref­er­en­dum this month - that Puerto Ri­cans are treated like sec­ond-class cit­i­zens. Gov. Ri­cardo Ros­sello now hopes to per­suade Congress to make the US ter­ri­tory the 51st state, which is un­likely un­der Repub­li­can con­trol, since Puerto Ri­cans tend to fa­vor Democrats. “We have been a colony for 500 years, and we have had US cit­i­zen­ship for 100 years, but it’s been a sec­ond-class one,” Ros­sello said af­ter declar­ing vic­tory.

Mean­while, peo­ple like Toledo just want a chance to work as pro­fes­sion­als again. When she moved to Or­lando four years ago, Toledo got a job as a men­tal health ther­a­pist and case man­ager at a pri­vate com­pany, but soon the com­pany ran out of money and stopped pay­ing her. She found a job at an­other com­pany, but that also didn’t pay what she had been promised. She even­tu­ally found a job out of her field, as a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer. She loves it, but misses the ful­fill­ment of work­ing with autis­tic kids. “Ev­ery­body is try­ing to make a bet­ter life,” Toledo said. “I hope peo­ple will look at peo­ple like me, who have stud­ied, and give them an op­por­tu­nity.” —AP

OR­LANDO: In this Satur­day, June 24, 2017 photo, newly ar­rived Puerto Ri­cans to the main­land lis­ten to Sami Haiman-Mar­rero, left, as she speaks dur­ing an ori­en­ta­tion ses­sion. —AP

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