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Financial Education for Asylum Seekers in Vermont

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Imagine that you are a refugee and have moved to a foreign country where you don’t understand the language. You don’t have a job to support yourself and your family. You aren’t familiar with the customs or the manner of conducting business.  The banking system where you came from is nonexistent, in disarray, or simply different than you are accustomed to.  Does the word “overwhelmed” come to mind?

Burlington is the largest city in Vermont, which is home to many diverse cultures and new arrivals who establish residency in its communities. Consequently, the city offers financial education for asylum seekers in Vermont. Through a partnership with the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO) and their Asylum Seekers Assistance Project, immigrants are given exposure to the U.S. banking system, allowing individuals to become acclimated with financial life in the United States.

Through a subdivision of CVOEO’s Financial Futures Program, new immigrants are introduced to the social and economic fabric of Vermont through an educational initiative that allows them to navigate a new economic reality. Classroom and individual mentoring allows new arrivals access to the financial tools they need for success. During the program, participants are exposed to topics such as financial skill building and planning, budgeting, matched savings for key goals, and even micro business development. A specific skill set is enhanced through programs like “Spend Smart,” and “Keys to Credit—reviewing a credit report.” One-on-one mentoring for personal budget building and classroom interaction are also included. All of these efforts serve to familiarize new arrivals with finance, to make their first encounters at the credit union or bank less intimidating.

 

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Contrary to popular belief, Asylum seekers arrive in the U.S. without the financial assistance of the federal government. Many are not immediately eligible for government benefits and are dependent upon the generosity of family, friends, and local non-profit organizations. It’s one of the reasons that many ethnic groups remain tight knit, wishing to maintain traditions and aspects of their own culture. The Asylum Seekers Program was established to aid with a small stipend which is privately funded, and helps participants to start the transition to their new American life.

When a person completes CVOEO’s program they are provided with a completion certificate which is then presented to area financial institutions, demonstrating an understanding of the U.S. banking system and enabling participants to succeed in navigating monetary practices which may be different than their country of origin. Time after time, proud recipients present their certificates to their credit union or bank representative. This is an important first step, which for many will lead to employment, citizenship, home ownership, and assimilation into the community.

As Vermont welcomes people from all across the globe, we increase the diversity of our state while supporting those who seek a better life for themselves and their families. Virtually all of U.S. citizens are the descendants of immigrants or are immigrants themselves, including those who call themselves Vermonters, have established roots, and call these Green Mountains home.

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