Former Peace Corps Volunteers Now Help Immigrants in Baltimore USCIS Field Office14 Jul 2015
When President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, he hoped that the government-run volunteer program would “promote world peace and friendship” by sending young Americans abroad to provide service in other nations. Fifty-four years later, more than 220 thousand Peace Corps volunteers have contributed to the socioeconomic development of 140 host countries. The Peace Corps continues to build cultural bridges between the United States and other nations, as thousands of volunteers offer their services every year in areas including education, health, and agriculture. And when they complete their service and return home to the United States, some Peace Corps members have an opportunity to make a positive impact in another realm – the world of immigration processing. [See Fast Facts, PeaceCorps.gov.]
Included in President Kennedy’s executive order establishing the Peace Corps was a provision that volunteers returning to the United States after service abroad would be granted access to some federal government jobs through non-competitive eligibility for a limited period. This means that volunteers who meet minimum qualifications for a government position may be hired without going through a formal interview or hiring process, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field offices throughout the country have taken advantage of the provision, hiring almost 60 former Peace Corps volunteers within the last two years. The USCIS field office in Baltimore currently employs 13 former members of the Peace Corps. Gregory Collett, district director for USCIS in Southwest Baltimore, explained in a recent interview with The Baltimore Sun that former volunteers make excellent immigration services employees because “they have been to diverse parts of the world, and they have good cultural experience, cultural compassion, and cultural sensitivity.” [See Former Peace Corps Volunteers Find New Roles in Baltimore’s Immigration Office, by Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun, 2.Jul.2015.]
Former Peace Corps volunteers who are now working for the USCIS agree that their experiences abroad have made them more caring and compassionate about the challenges of the immigration process. Aizaz Tareen was hired by the Baltimore field office two years ago as an immigration services officer after he returned to the U.S. from his Peace Corps services in Kenya. He told The Baltimore Sun that his initial sense of being an outsider when he arrived in Kenya provided him with a unique perspective towards immigrants trying to build new lives for themselves in America. “For me, this is someone’s life. When you’re doing multiple interviews, and you’re looking through someone’s file, it’s just paper. But you have to put yourself on the other side … you have to make sure you get it right.” And Anna Turosky, an immigration officer who completed her Peace Corps service in China and Bulgaria, says that her experience with citizens abroad gave her a newfound appreciation for the American dream and immigrants who come to here to pursue their goals. “We’re one of the final stages in their journey. They’re going to be the next citizens of the United States, and we’re going to make sure we’re giving the right benefit to the right person at the right time.”
While no statistics are currently available for how many total Peace Corps volunteers are working for government agencies, the Peace Corps plans to conduct a survey next year to gather concrete numbers. In the meantime, Collett believes that the Baltimore Field Office is one of the top USCIS locations when it comes to hiring former Peace Corps volunteers. And as they continue to impart the knowledge, compassion, and patience that they have gained during their respective services abroad to the immigrants they now serve, these unique immigration officials will help keep alive this nation’s renown for being the world’s melting pot.
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