Bank of the West in San Francisco is promoting a new program that will provide unsecured credit cards to foreign nationals who have scant records as borrowers in the United States.

The $63 billion-asset bank, which is owned by BNP Paribas of France, plans to use the program to court high-skilled immigrants who have good jobs.

Once foreigners arrive in the United States, they often realize quickly they will need a credit card to rent a car or a hotel room. But it can be hard for them to establish credit, says Thierry Gabadou, a Bank of the West executive. That's especially true for immigrants from countries that have less developed systems of consumer credit.

"You arrive here, and you're basically told that you need debt, because you need to show you can manage debt," he says. "[That] is an amazing concept for someone arriving from overseas."

Often, financial institutions are only willing to offer new arrivals a secured card with a low credit limit, he adds. Those cards, which are also available to Americans with poor repayment histories, require the customer to put down a cash deposit to cover the issuer's credit risk.

The unsecured Bank of the West cards will carry credit limits of $3,000 to $12,000, depending on the customer's income, according to Gabadou.

To be eligible, expatriates must have at least a year of remaining U.S. residency, earn at $36,000 per year, have an eligible work visa, and have a customer relationship with Bank of the West.

The unsecured cards should allow immigrants to establish credit scores more quickly, which will allow them to access other forms of credit, according to Bank of the West.

"If you go to Avis or Hertz and don't have a credit card, they're going to kind of look at you funny," says Gabadou, head of the bank's international clientele group. "Especially if you have a foreign accent."

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