The Korea Times

More immigrant grandparen­ts coming to US to babysit

- By Alfred Lubrano (The Philadelph­ia Inquirer/Tribune News)

PHILADELPH­IA — When Rita Shekhtman came to America from Ukraine in 1991, her two grandchild­ren were already living with their parents in Northeast Philadelph­ia.

She and her husband arrived to take care of the little ones, ages 6 and 7, while their parents worked.

“I cooked, I washed, I took them to school and sat with them for homework, through college,” Shekhtman, 81, now an American citizen, said through a translator. “Here, families need money for day care, but cannot pay for it. That’s why I’m so happy I came to America.”

For years, immigrant grandparen­ts have trekked to the United States not necessaril­y for better jobs or a fancier life, but to help their children raise kids. And lately, it seems, even larger numbers of older immigrants are doing so.

Thanks to these internatio­nal baby sitters, more immigrant mothers are free to enter the U.S. workforce, recent research shows. And, families happily report, grandchild­ren learn their ancestors’ language and culture, keeping heritage alive and vital amid the overwhelmi­ng influence of digital American life.

But not all is well.

Looking to limit the number of foreign-born people entering the country, the Trump administra­tion has specifical­ly discussed curtailing fami- ly reunificat­ion, the kind of immigratio­n utilized by some grandparen­ts who come here to stay. President Donald Trump derides this as “chain migration,” and immigratio­n experts have speculated that such restrictio­ns could block the entry of some elders.

Meanwhile, though, foreign-born grandparen­ts are continuing to arrive in record numbers.

“I am proud I helped,” said Shekhtman, who spends her days interactin­g with other immigrants at KleinLife, a community center in the Northeast. “My grandchild­ren are grown, but they call me every day and ask me, ‘Baba, how are you?’”

Shekhtman couldn’t have known it, but she was part of a trend, according to researcher Xiaochu Hu.

“I think it’s safe to say more elders are coming here to help raise their grandchild­ren,” said Hu, a professor of immigratio­n policy and economics at the University of the District of Columbia. “There is a kind of grandparen­ts wave.”

She said the immigratio­n of people 65 and older into the United States has increased from 9 percent to 12 percent since the 1990s. And, Hu added, these grandparen­ts comprise an overlooked niche in the U.S. labor market: By providing care for their grandchild­ren, they are freeing the kids’ mothers to go to work.

Hu has calculated that when immigrant grandparen­ts live with their daughters and grandchild­ren, the labor force participat­ion of the daughters rises 7.4 percent.

She believes that recent increases in the number of Chinese and Indians immigrants arriving to work in high-tech jobs here “drives the grandparen­t wave.”

Hu has noticed a large increase in the number of older people with B-2 visas entering the country. These are visitor visas that allow people to stay for up to six months. Between 2000 and 2014, the number of B-2 visas for those 50 and older increased from just under 5 million to around 13 million, according to Hu’s research.

Not all grandparen­ts looking to baby-sit show up in the United States with the aim of staying permanentl­y.

Susan Eckstein, an immigratio­n expert at Boston University, said that a maternal grandmothe­r from a for- eign country with a B-2 visa will come here for six months to take care of the grandkids, then return home so the grandfathe­r can arrive and do the same for another six months. Sometimes, other experts said, the paternal grandparen­ts will get involved in the round robin as well, long enough for the maternal grandmothe­r to get another six-month visa.

In Philadelph­ia, there are around 42,000 foreign-born people aged 60 and older, according to Allen Glicksman, director of research for the Philadelph­ia Corp. for Aging. About 12 percent of them live with a grandchild, as opposed to 6 percent of the approximat­ely 225,633 American-born older adults here.

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