Born in Afghanistan and only having moved to Dubuque in the summer of 2019, Rahim Akrami has exemplified the idea of public service. As an International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Fellow working in the city manager’s office, Rahim has been using his education (a Master’s in Public Administration) and his experience to help lead the City’s Equitable Poverty Prevention Plan (EPPP) – a top priority for the City Council. While Rahim’s work on the EPPP Project looked at long-term, strategic issues for the City, with the outbreak of COVID-19 he’s been forced to tackle more immediate issues: What impact has COVID-19 had on the livelihoods of Dubuquers? How do you get input from Dubuque residents when everyone
is stuck at home? Rahim’s deep belief in community engagement has had him experimenting, collaborating, and innovating in order to help the City hear residents’ voices in a time of isolation.
Yet while Rahim has been working to help others impacted by COVID-19, the disease has impacted his own ability to work and live in the U.S. As a recipient of Optional Practical Training (OPT) for foreign students with a visa, Rahim had been planning for what would have been a 24-month stint of working for the city manager’s office. But with the spread of COVID-19 and the closing of U.S. visa and immigration offices, Rahim was unable to renew his training, and was forced to leave his job at the City at the end of May. With the prospect of return to Afghanistan putting his personal safety at risk, Rahim has applied to stay in the U.S. and build his life here. But with the delays in our immigration system created by the ongoing health crisis, it will be months, if not longer, before a decision is made on Rahim’s application. For much of that time, Rahim will be allowed to wait in the U.S., but not allowed to work, as immigration regulations requires him to wait 150 days before getting his work authorization. Despite this, he remains optimistic and committed to the work he started in Dubuque. “On a personal level,” he says, “just doing service for people who need it the most is very fulfilling, and it helps to see your work make an impact.”