Immigrants: One Word For Many Groups, Possibilities

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A huge immigrant population of more than 30-million people is making its influence felt in the United States and offers credit unions significant opportunities.

That was the message sent during a colloquium hosted at the University of California, San Diego here by the Filene Research Institute and the Center for Credit Union Research.

Renowned migration expert Alejandro Portes, director of the Center for Migration and Development at Princeton University, told the colloquium that second-generation immigrant youth faces tremendous challenges in becoming acclimated to American society.

He urged participants to understand the immense differences in financial needs and resources among various immigrant groups, and called for the use of market research tools, including focus groups, to measure the attitudes of specific immigrant populations before a credit union implements programs to serve them.

Separately, Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., pointed out that the number of immigrants in the U.S. currently stands at 11.5% of the total population, and has risen by more than two million over the past 10 years.

Of the total foreign born population, Mexico contributes 29%; East Asia 18%; Europe 14%; and the Caribbean region 10%. Camarota says the size of the immigrant population presents enormous opportunities to financial institutions willing to invest the time and resources necessary to serve it.

"Among the immigrant population," said Camarota, "about 10% identify themselves as self-employed or entrepreneurs-essentially the same percentage as among the native-born population. That presents big opportunities for services such as business lending to groups that are currently underserved by the banking industry."

The World Council's David Grace reported that the International Remittance Network (IRnet), through which credit union members can send money internationally and domestically, is looking to tap an enormous market. More than $9 billion in remittances was sent from the U.S. to Mexico during 2001 alone.

"We need to understand that immigrants represent a population as diverse and segmented as our country itself, and that in order to be successful, we need to match our marketing and service operations to their specific needs," said Filene Research Institute Executive Director Robert Hoel.

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