Silvio shared his story as part of MECEP’s State of Working Maine 2023 report. Click here to read the full report.
Note: We are using a pseudonym to protect the storyteller’s privacy.
Silvio came to Maine in July as an asylum seeker from Angola. Unable to find housing, he is currently living in a Portland church while waiting to receive his work permit. His field of expertise is business administration.
I am currently living in a church. That’s the hardest part for me. Housing is the most difficult thing here in Maine. For somebody who is new and has no resources for finding a house, it is really hard. The system for applying for housing is difficult to navigate if you don’t understand how it works, and applying is difficult. I’ve applied on numerous housing sites and portals but there isn’t housing available. At the church, it’s just a big open space with many other people like me who don’t have housing. They feed us there and we have a place to sleep. I would be on the street if I didn’t have a place there at the church.
In Angola I went to university and worked for 20 years in logistics and business administration. My area of expertise was import and export. As an asylum seeker, I have to wait at least 180 days to get a work permit, so that’s a long process. But I have applied for it. I am taking English classes at the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center. I’d like to get a job in banking or logistics, but my first goal is improving my language skills, which will be key to getting a better job.
Reducing the time that people have to wait for a work permit is key, because when we’re depending on General Assistance we feel like it’s more money taken away from the government. What would work better is if they reduced the wait for the work permit to 45 or 60 days. That would help us be more independent. Depending on the government is not such a great thing because in the long run it’s more expensive. Reducing the waiting period will help us stabilize and get into the workforce.
In the beginning it was tough. I’m not going to lie; it was hard for me to navigate. But now I’m able to survive. I’m able to manage it because I’ve found a place to stay in the church, although the most difficult part is not having housing. But if I could put that part aside, Maine is a great place to live.