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New Pittsburgh initiative attempts to bring more immigrants to city |

New Pittsburgh initiative attempts to bring more immigrants to city

Chris Harlan
| Thursday, May 29, 2014 12:08 a.m
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Yang Cai, 25, of Squirrel Hill, is a visiting scholar studying computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.

Yang Cai left his home in Beijing two years ago to become a visiting scholar, researching computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.

Alone, he unpacked his luggage and fixed his bed in his Squirrel Hill apartment. The next day, Cai opened a checking account at PNC Bank, where the teller showed him how to fill out a check for the first time.

“I still remember that, very inspiring and very kind,” Cai said. “I started feeling this city is very welcoming.”

Mayor Bill Peduto announced a citywide immigration initiative, Welcoming Pittsburgh, on Wednesday at the Kingsley Association in front of a coalition of immigrant and community-based nonprofits. Part of the nationwide grassroots network Welcoming America, the initiative will kick off with an advisory council that will draft policy recommendations.

It will aim to support resettling refugees, encourage immigrant-owned businesses and entice international students to live in the city. Betty Cruz, the city’s nonprofit and faith-based manager, said the first step is “tone-setting,” making new residents realize the local government is listening while bringing awareness to contributions of immigrant populations.

A 2011 Brookings Institution study said Pittsburgh has a slow-growing immigrant population compared with other metropolitan areas, but a large proportion is considered high-skilled. The city’s immigrant population grew by 13 percent between 2000 and 2009, the study found, and 76.4 percent of the new arrivals were college-educated.

Those who come here with education, work or research in mind often encounter cultural and conversational barriers, as literacy tutor Bill Campbell can attest.

“Some people come here and they have skills, but they don’t know how to talk to people,” he said. “They may be able to write their thesis, but they can’t speak to anyone.”

Campbell is a 14-year volunteer with the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, whose classes Cai attends weekly.

The classes are filled with doctors, computer scientists and high-tech workers from Oakland, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill and their spouses. They converse, they study grammar and they share stories of what brought them to America.

“You’re giving them something that is so basic to you but so important to them,” Campbell said.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review sports reporter. You can contact Chris via Twitter .

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