The Korea Times
More immigrant grandparents coming to US to babysit
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.