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Immigrant Credit Card Pilot Program Draws Attention

Bank of America (BofA) has announced the launch of a new pilot program which will issue credit cards to customers who don’t have a Social Security Number or credit history. The bank, however, will require its customers to have checking accounts with the bank for at least 3 months without an overdraft. The program will be confined to 51 branches in Los Angeles County, but there’s a possibility that it will be expanded later.

This news has caused a lot of dissent among general public and bank officials have received numerous angry calls after announcing their plans. Critics fear that the move will give illegal immigrants and terrorists access to substantial funds, but BofA’s spokesperson said that ID numbers are a valid means of identification in place of Social Security Numbers according to customer identification laws. Officials clarified that the program is not specifically aimed at illegal immigrants, its purpose being granting credit to people who lack solid credit histories.

Bank of America’s new program demonstrates the businesses’ approach to illegal immigrants. Companies realize that immigrants represent an entire new market of some 12 million customers who could be using their products if they were accommodated to their needs and possibilities. This once again raises the question of immigrant status and identification but it doesn’t mean that BofA is introducing anything new: identification cards issued by consulates have been used as legitimate identification for quite a while. With the new credit card, immigrants can build a good credit report and qualify for mortgages on acceptable terms, which opens the market to a significant number of new customers. Hispanic immigrants themselves seem to like the idea, because credit cards will help them cope with daily expenses, and some are already familiar with department store cards and such.

Bank of America has a long history of working with the Hispanic community, and is planning to continue developing that market. And while the society may try to push immigrants out of the economy, financial institutions are using the opportunity to promote their products and expand the business.

Bank of America is not the only institution that doesn’t require its customers to have a Social Security Number in order to use its services, thus potentially allowing immigrants access to credit. Wells Fargo and Citibank have also targeted the vast immigrant sector, making their products more easily accessible. These companies grant mortgages to immigrants who’ve lived for 2 years and more in the U.S., using taxpayer numbers for client identification. A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said the company is considering the possibility of offering credit cards to this type of customers, too. When Citibank started issuing cards to immigrants 3 years ago, no one complained about the initiative, even though its clients were only required to have taxpayer identification numbers. Financial experts think verifying a customer’s immigration status is not a bank’s job, and should be performed by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

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