How does it feel to leave your home and move to America? Massi Faizee knows that conflicting mix of excitement and sadness well, for he has experienced it from both sides of the table. And he knows he’s not the only one in the area who’s felt this way.
Fargo’s immigrant population is growing, and immigrants contribute much to the city and in the workplace. At LSSND, many of our employees are immigrants, and their stories are valuable to share.
Faizee, a Resettlement Specialist for New Americans at LSSND, moved to Fargo from Afghanistan on September 11, 2014. He started working at LSSND as a part-time interpreter in April 2016, then took on his current role in resettlement in June 2016. In his job, he helps immigrants who arrive in North Dakota. “It’s interesting because I went through the same situation, and now I can give back,” Faizee said.
Before coming to the U.S., Faizee worked for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He started out in human resources for an American company called DynCorp International, eventually moving to serve as a finance coordinator, a travel coordinator, and then finally an aircraft technical interpreter with the U.S. Army. It was good work, but when he was offered the opportunity to move to America, he took it. Working for Americans in Afghanistan meant that his life was threatened by those who did not like the United States.
The chance to immigrate came in the form of the "Special Immigrant Visa for Afghans," which is offered to people who help Americans overseas. It took three years to go through the process of preparing to move to America. Faizee applied to immigrate in 2011, and by 2014, his security check-ups and paperwork were finally done. When he received his visa, he only had 15 days until it expired, requiring quick action. At the time, he was engaged to be married to his then-fiancée. He would move to the U.S. first, and she would join him later. He rushed to arrange the wedding before he had to leave, which was no small task. In Afghanistan, weddings are huge affairs that call for inviting numerous friends and families and booking the venue can take time. With hard work, Faizee pulled it off and was married just a few days before he departed from his home to America—to his new home in Fargo.
Faizee had chosen North Dakota as his destination because of a cousin who used to live there. “She told me that Fargo was a good small city,” Faizee said. “It had lots of opportunities for education, and the housing was cheap.” The winters, he recalls her saying, were cold, but he felt he could handle it.
The idea of leaving for this frigid land brought about conflicting feelings. Faizee said, “For most people, it’s hard to leave their home country, but I didn’t have a choice because my life was not safe, and my family wasn’t either because of my work. So when I got my visa, I was really excited. In a way it was hard, but exciting.” Faizee added, “It was my dream to come and continue my education and live in a peaceful country.”
It took 17 hours of travel for Faizee to arrive in Fargo, and when he did, his case manager met him at the airport and brought him to his new home: a one-bedroom apartment. Everything had been arranged for him—there was a bed, furniture, food, even a ready-to-eat meal.
“I was so happy when I saw there was an apartment completely for me,” Faizee said. In an unfamiliar country, simple things like owning your own apartment help you feel at home.
He spent the next month getting settled, applying for his social security number, going through health screenings, and completing an English language course, which he passed easily. Then, after two months, his wife joined him, aided by the same LSSND case manager, on November 5, 2014.
One of his goals in coming to America was to pursue higher education. Back in Afghanistan, Faizee had graduated from high school but did not continue schooling afterward because of financial hardships. Faizee enrolled in Minnesota State Community and Technical College, continuing his HR education, and recently graduated in December 2017 with his Associate Degree. Meanwhile, he worked as a cashier in Hornbacher’s, then joined LSSND in 2016 to first work as an interpreter and then as his current title with Refugee Resettlement.
Now at home in Fargo, Faizee helps immigrants like himself adjust to life in the U.S. It’s not easy, but having someone like Faizee who can understand their situations and empathize with them is important.
“I had this passion to work with people and help people, so when I serve refugees, I know what they’re feeling because I went through the same experience,” Faizee said. “Refugees come here because of hardships. I had war experience, and my country was not safe, with decades of war, so these people, when they come, have the same feeling. I can understand them. This really motivates me to help them.”
With this line of work, Faizee is constantly learning new things—his education did not end when he graduated from college. He said, “I learned when you’re in this room facing people of different backgrounds and cultures, you’re all going to perceive things differently. So in every interaction, you can learn new things from their perspectives.”
Refugees indeed bring a lot to this country, and those in North Dakota are no exception. According to a 2017 study done by the Fargo Human Relations Commission, not only are first-generation immigrants cost-positive to North Dakota by approximately $3250 per individual, but they also contribute greatly to the economy, and various employers such as Sanford Health and Cardinal IG have said that their businesses owe much of what they have become to their immigrant and refugee employees. A working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research similarly points out how immigrants benefit the community and finds that by the time refugees who entered the U.S. as adults have lived here for 20 years, they will have paid around $21,000 more in taxes than they received in benefits. They more than compensate for the help they were given upon entering America—they actively contribute.
“I want people to know that these refugees suffered a lot during their lifetimes,” Faizee said. “When they come here, they contribute a lot. They help the economy, they bring new cultures, tastes, food. In Fargo there are several Ethnic restaurants […] They bring different languages too. Their children go to school, and in the future they will become our doctors, engineers, and teachers. People think refugees are a burden, but that’s not the case.”
During Immigrant Heritage Month, we celebrate the contributions of immigrants like Faizee who have made their home in America. Our nation, a country of immigrants, is rich with diverse backgrounds and cultures, and Faizee strives to make those he serves feel at home—and to make them smile. Faizee described the rewarding feeling his job brings: “When you see happiness in their faces, it really makes your day.”
Compiled by Michelle Foster, LSSND Communications