Gervin shared his story as part of MECEP’s State of Working Maine 2022 report. Click here to view the full report, as well as other workers’ stories.
Gervin Kah is a telecommunications engineer and former member of the Gabonese National Assembly who arrived in Maine in early 2022, seeking asylum. Although Gervin’s qualifications include a degree in network administration and computer maintenance, laws regarding asylum seekers currently prohibit him from working. Starting from the time his asylum application is received, he must wait a minimum of 180 days before he is allowed to apply for a work permit and a Social Security card. Sometimes the process takes far longer.
“Asylum seekers usually wait three weeks for acknowledgment the application was received, but I waited four months for mine,” Gervin told MECEP. With that delay, it’s likely Gervin will wait a full year before he can start applying for jobs.
I’ve now been waiting for 10 months. I hope to start working in January,” Gervin said. For skilled workers anxious to support themselves and provide for their families, the wait can be painful.
“I want to have a house and take care of myself, my friends, and my family. It’s difficult to support myself without working,” Gervin said. “I feel stressed, impatient, scared, sad, and hopeful.”
While he waits, living in temporary housing in a Motel 6, Gervin keeps himself busy with English lessons at Portland Adult Education, membership in the Portland Rotary Club, and volunteering at the Red Cross Blood Donor Center and his church food pantry. Despite the difficult path to employment for new Mainers, Gervin wants his new neighbors to know how grateful he is to those helping him settle in.
“I’m so happy to be here because I have faith and hope and I have started to make friends. I want to give thanks to the American people, the city of Portland, and the organizations that help immigrants,” Gervin said. “I hope Americans respect immigrants because we want to work. Many of us are talented professionals and we can help society.”