By, to the Ethiopian Community

The United States (US) promotes family unity and allows citizens to petition for certain relatives to come and live permanently in the country. And to bring one’s parents to the US, two main steps must be followed.

The first is that the US immigration agency must approve the filed visa application for the parent. Secondly, the parents should contact the local US consulate to complete the processing for an immigrant visa. But if the parent lives legally inside the country, all that needs to be done is to adjust the status to that of a lawful permanent resident through a form provided by the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). In this manner, many parents are brought by their children to make a living in the US.

Most of us may think that it is difficult for an elder to find a job in the US. The difficulty is often attributed to their lack of education, inability or limited ability to speak English, unfamiliarity with American culture, their age and similar lack of background for an American workplace. That is, more often than not, all correct. After I came to the US, I have realised that there are opportunities for senior Ethiopian immigrants, particularly for mothers, to work and earn enough money. I can thus argue that America is a land of opportunities not only for the young but its grey-haired immigrants too.

Most Ethiopians live in and around Washington D.C. than any other capital in the world except Addis Abeba, as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has reported,. In the last couple of years, I too have noticed that an Ethiopian who comes to America often assumes the US capital’s metro area as the ideal place to reside in. And it is this ever-increasing number of Diaspora that is creating the opportunities for elderly Ethiopian immigrants to participate in the labour market.

Making the connection is not hard. Few things are as universal as parenting. But for a person raising a child in an alien country, parenting can be an exciting yet challenging experience. I have firsthand experience in this count and have compared the difference. I have also observed many Ethiopian immigrants in the US who already have kids, or are planning to have one, often worrying about who is going to take care of their kids when they have to go to work.

In Ethiopia, if both parents work, it is common to hire a nanny or a housekeeper. The housekeeper will also be responsible for cleaning, cooking, and maintaining other household chores. But this is not common in the US. The three most common solutions to this problem are hiring a nanny, putting kids in a daycare centre or having parents look after the baby.

The US does not lack trusted websites to find a nanny, but most Ethiopian immigrants prefer an Ethiopian elderly- not available in the official labour market. And I am one of those people.

It stands to reason that Ethiopian nannies make parents feel as if they are part of the family. From the discussions I had with friends, the choice is a personal one and comprises several different aspects that need to be taken into consideration. For instance, hiring an Ethiopian elder that does not have the necessary professional training required in the US for nannies could disincentivise parents from hiring one.

Unfortunately, there are no websites or agencies that one can contact to hire an elderly Ethiopian. But there are other means of reaching customers; the most popular being job vacancy announcements on walls in places where most Ethiopians frequently get services from such as supermarkets, restaurants and groceries. Or it could be by contacting agents, by word of mouth from friends or the classified ads on Atref Advertisements, an advertising paper established in 2002 to serve the Ethiopian community. My wife and I used the first two options and had a chance to hire two elderly Ethiopians in two separate instances.

The second one was through a hiring agent though, and I was surprised to find that he had a list of Ethiopian nannies with their basic information such as name, age, education status, language skill, employment type (full or part-time), vacation day requirement, experiences, phone number and address. And based on these parameters, the agent would help customers find their best match.

The agent advises on how to deal with part-time and full-time employees and payment details. He does not enforce a specific amount, though, as the payment is negotiable.  The agent usually favour the employer more than the employee, since that is where their commission is coming from. A standard share is equal to the first week’s salary of the newly hired nanny.

Although most parents only come to America to visit their children, in reality, the existing labour market by the Ethiopian community is pulling some to stay and work. This once again confirms the familiar dictum that America is a land of opportunities.

I had a chance to converse with the two nannies if they were comfortable with their job and the money they earned. I asked this question because there is the distorted assumption among the community that the profession is undignified. But, both nannies informed me that as they do not get any support from either the government or a non-government organisation back in Ethiopia, they are forced to become dependent on their children abroad. Thus, they are glad to come to the US and help out.

Indeed studies show that in Ethiopia, an adequate public pension system has not yet been developed. Hence a pension from employment, a secured means of income for the elderly, until very recently existed only for those who have had government employment. Once they retire, former public servants have a small monthly income in the form of pension. Others who never had the opportunity to be a public employee, but retired before 2011, have no source of income at retirement.

In my conversation with the nannies, I was also interested in learning where they spend the money they earn. They told me that they have never spent it on US soil. They either save it or send it back to Ethiopia. They have a detailed understanding of the purchasing power of the dollar. They always convert the dollar into Birr whenever they talk about their monthly income, usually referring to the parallel market and not the official bank exchange rate as that means less profit.

Their average monthly salary ranges from 1000 to 1300 dollars, depending on the number and age of children they have to take care of. Very recently, I was informed that the current parallel market in Ethiopia is “hot” and that my nanny had remitted 4000 dollars.

Does it not make sense to invite our mothers to the US and let them work, then?

I have also found out that the cost of inviting fathers to visit the US is higher than that of mothers. This is because, if a mother is willing to work even for a year, she can make more than 12,000 dollars. But as far as my experience has allowed me to see, there are no such job opportunities for the elderly Ethiopian males in the US labour market. It shall be no coincidence then to see more female Ethiopian elders in the D.C. metro area than the latter.

By Zelalem Yirga
Zelalem Yirga is a former lecturer and assistant professor at Bahir Dar University currently working as a system engineer at GEICO, US. He could be reached at

Published on Nov 04,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 914]



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