August 7, 2016

23 Companies That Will Help You Travel The World For Free (And Maybe Even Pay You To Do It)

23 Companies That Will Help You Travel The World For Free (And Maybe Even Pay You To Do It)

23 Companies That Will Help You Travel The World For Free (And Maybe Even Pay You To Do It)



A free vacation in Spain
from Forbes.
English speakers willing to spend a week talking with foreigners can get a free vacation to Spain or Germany with Diverbo. (Courtesy of Diverbo)
Feel like you can’t afford to go on vacation? Think again.
A Wisconsin-based teacher and author with a passion for Spain, Abbey Algiers looks for inexpensive ways to take trips on her summer holidays. So when she discovered Diverbo — a company that offers free vacations for English speakers willing to spend a week mingling with foreigners in Spain or Germany to help them practice their language skills — she couldn’t believe it.
“It’s the best-kept secret on the planet,” she says.
The setting couldn’t have been more perfect: La Alberca, a tiny village four hours west of Madrid. Algiers spent the week chatting, enjoying Spanish tapas and wine and bonding with fellow travelers. The best part? Apart from paying for the flight there, the trip didn’t cost her a cent.
free vacation to Spain with Diverbo
Speaking English by a pool in Spain with Diverbo. (Courtesy of Diverbo)
Algiers loved it so much, she has done Diverbo two more times and is currently traveling in Portugal with a friend she met on her first trip. “This is a legit way to make lifelong friends from around the world,” she says.
Diverbo is part of a growing trend: companies that are giving new meaning to the phrase “business trip.” If you’re willing to do a little work while you’re on vacation, these companies will help you get most — if not all — of your travel costs covered.  Some will even pay you a stipend or a salary. It’s a trend that is taking off, especially among young female travelers who are new to the workforce and looking for affordable vacation options or for millennial women in search of ways to give back while on vacation.
A free trip and a chance to see the world? Sign us up! Here are 10 ideas and 23 companies to check out right now.
Practice English
Speak English? You’re in luck. Diverbo recruits English speakers to help foreigners in Spain and Germany practice their language skills. Even better: Diverbo prefers if you don’t speak Spanish or German. There’s not much downtime — you’ll spend most of the day “working” in small villages near Madrid, Munich, and Frankfurt. But it’s not a hardship: There are group dinners, parties, and even theater performances. There’s also an offshoot of Diverbo for teens.
WWOOF organic farm volunteers
WWOOF volunteers getting down and dirty on an organic farm. (Courtesy of WWOOF/Facebook)
Work On A Farm
Sue Coppard was a London secretary who volunteered on a farm with some friends back in 1971 and thought the idea was so great that she turned it into a business: WWOOF, which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The company has recently been rediscovered by a new generation of travelers that craves getting dirt under their fingernails. Here’s how it works: Farm owners post help-wanted ads on the site, and you can apply to do anything from sowing seeds to making cheese to gathering herbs. In return, the farm pays for your accommodations and food (you usually need to cover the flight). Volunteers typically work a few hours a day, then get time off to explore. There are opportunities everywhere from Costa Rica to Cambodia.
rescuing elephants at an eco lodge Thailand
Through Workaway, you can volunteer to rescue elephants at an eco-lodge in Thailand. (Courtesy of Workaway)
Volunteer
Are you willing to put in a little sweat equity on your next vacation in exchange for free meals and accommodations? The sharing economy has resulted in innovative resources for work-exchange programs. Workaway and HelpX connect travelers with locals around the globe looking for volunteer help. You could find yourself working for people like Alex and Allie, who own an eco-lodge in the Northern Thai mountains near Chiang Mai where they rescue elephants and support human rights. Or Pamelawho has a house in Provence and wants assistance gardening and cooking. Or there’s Rick and Lindy, a couple who needs workers for their cattle farm in New Zealand. Generally, volunteers work four or five hours a day, five days a week, then have the rest of the time to themselves. It’s a great way to affordably see a new place and live like a local.
Work In the Adventure Space
Want to spend a week or two skiing and snowboarding — and get paid to do it? The website AdventureWork lists jobs in the adventure space, some long-term postings but others for vacationers looking for a free trip. For instance, PGL hires ski reps at its resorts in France, Italy, Austria and the U.S. to accompany school groups. In exchange, PGL covers your room and food, in-resort expenses, lift passes, board hire and gives you a small stipend of $229 (£175)
Organize A Trip
Now here’s a sneaky way to get a free vacation: Plan a trip for a group of your friends or family. Many travel operators will cover your costs if you function as a trip leader. The rules change depending on the company, but as an example, YMT Vacations will give you a free vacation if you enlist 12 people to take a trip with them; if eight of the guests book their flight through YMT, your airfare is also covered. Other companies offering free trips to group leaders include Grand Circle Cruise LineSelect International ToursAll Abroad Travel and Merit Group Travel.
Host An Educational Trip
Are you a teacher who wants to take your students on a trip so that they can immerse themselves in what they’ve just studied? A number of educational travel companies provide free trips to teachers in order to get them to host trips for students. (Many will even throw in a free training trip beforehand, so that you can learn the ropes of hosting and guiding.) Some of the best outfitters include EFCHA Educational Tours, and Explorica.
Heritage Greece free roots trip
Heritage Greece invites young Greek adults to come “home” on a free trip. (Courtesy of Heritage Greece)
Explore Your Roots
Are you lucky enough to have roots somewhere else? Your home country might want you to come back and connect with your culture. For instance, the Hungarian Human Rights Foundation runs ReConnect Hungary to get young Hungarian-Americans ages 18-28 to take a two-week trip to learn about their history and traditions. The program covers airfare from New York to Budapest and two weeks of accommodations, meals, transportation, entertainment and programming. Countries with similar programs include Heritage Greece, aimed at accomplished college students of Greek heritage. Birthright Armenia reimburses expenses for Armenians ages 20-32 who will intern or volunteer for at least two months for a variety of organizations, including media outlets and NGOs. Love Boat Study Program is for people of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, ages 16-27. And Birthright Israel has helped over 500,000 Jewish young adults travel for free to Israel since the company was founded in 1999.
Travel Nurse on Route 66
Courtni Sladek, left, is a Pediatric ICU travel nurse who is exploring the country via her job and writing about it on her blog, So What’s Your Name Again? (Courtesy of Courtni Sladek)
Take Your Nursing Skills On The Road
If you’re a nurse, you can go mobile and travel for free to places like Florida or Hawaii — and get paid for it. The site TravelNursing.org offers opportunities around the country, with assignments lasting eight to 26 weeks. Compensation varies based on your skill level and the type of position you’re filling, but a traveling nurse can make as much as $10,000 a month, with food and housing often covered.
Become A House Sitter
Are you open to taking care of someone’s home – or even their pet — while on vacation? You might have a free place to stay for offering your services. Companies like Trusted Housesitters and HouseCarers connect travelers and people in need of sitters around the world.
Teach English
If you’re willing to teach English as a foreign language to non-English speakers, you can pretty much write your ticket. Some of the best resources for job hunters include TEFL.com and ESL Cafe, which list salaried jobs across the planet in search of your skills (typically, you don’t need to speak the home language). This isn’t something you’d do for a week-long vacation: Postings generally range from nine months to two years. Still, it’s a great way to have an extended (paid) vacation. 

August 5, 2016

What are the world's best airlines? - The world's best airline for 2016 - VIDEO


VIDEO:


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Farnborough, England (CNN)The world's best airline for 2016 is Emirates, according to a survey of millions of airline passengers conducted by Skytrax
The international airline, based in Dubai, won the top honors at Tuesday's Skytrax World Airline Awards ceremony at the Farnborough International Airshow in England. 
As jet engines screamed from the Farnborough airfield and thousands of visiting aviation geeks explored the airshow, smiling flight attendants dressed in brightly colored uniforms stepped to the stage as each award was announced. 
World's best airline named as...
Photos: World's best airline named as...
The survey underscores the consistency of the quality service among the world's top carriers, said Edward Plaisted, Skytrax CEO. 
"The Middle East airlines have continued to dominate," Plaisted said after the ceremony. "Virgin America continues dominating on the customer side in North America. Turkish Airlines is a big favorite."
The awards run the gamut from 73 categories from best economy class onboard catering to best airline staff to best seats to best cabin cleanliness. 
The top 10 best airlines were named as:
1. Emirates
2. Qatar Airways
3. Singapore Airlines
4. Cathay Pacific
5. ANA All Nippon Airways
6. Etihad Airways
7. Turkish Airlines
8. EVA Air
9. Qantas Airways
10. Lufthansa 
Other winners included: 
Transatlantic Airline: Lufthansa
Transpacific Airline: Eva Air
North American Regional Airline: Porter Airline
Airline Staff in Asia: ANA airlines
Regional European Airline: Aegean
Airline lounge: Star Alliance
Airline in Southern Europe: Turkish Airlines
Airline in Northern Europe: FinnAir
Airline in Western Europe: Lufthansa
Airline in Eastern Europe: Aeroflot
Airline in Africa: South African Airways
Airline in Australia/Pacific: Qantas
Airline in Central Asia: Air Astana
Airline in China: Hainan Airlines
Airline in Central America/Caribbean: Copa Airlines
Airline in S. America: LAN Airlines
Airline in N. America: Virgin America
Airline in Asia: Singapore Airlines
Airline in Middle East: Emirates
Airline in Europe: Turkish Airlines
Low-cost airline in Australia & Pacific: JetStar Airways
Low-cost airline in Asia: AirAsia
Low-cost airline in Central Asia & India: IndiGo
Low-cost airline in China: Spring Airlines
Low-cost airline in South America: Azul Brazil
Low-cost airline in North America: Virgin America
Low-cost airline in Europe: Norwegian
Lounge dining business class: Turkish
First class lounge dining: Air France
Airline staff service Africa: Ethiopia Airlines
Airline staff service Aus Pac: Qantas

June 12, 2016

Seven ways to get Green Card for International Students

Seven ways to get Green Card for International Students:

Job Sponsorship, Marriage, Asylum, Green Card lottery, Military Service, Sponsorship by parent or child, Sponsorship by Business owning relative, National Interest waiver and more.






Most international students leave their home country to study and pursue their dreams in a foreign country. However, it is very difficult to attain legal status in a foreign country to work and access the many privileges that citizens have.
A lot of people have tried but failed to gain legal status in foreign countries leaving them in the difficult position of being illegal immigrants. This is a terrible situation that leaves you unable to work and at the risk of being arrested and deported at all times.
Holding a Green card in the US is a great thing. You get all the rights and privileges of citizens except voting or running for public office. With a Green card, you can work at any place, get college financial aidscholarships and can live in the country indefinitely as long as you are a law abiding person. Committing some felony crimes can get you deported even if you have a Green card.
As an International Student however, you have one very big advantage in that you came into the country legally and hence are able to adjust your status to Green card holder through a number of ways. Currently, people who enter the US illegally are ineligible to get a Green card by any means.
Below are some ways an International Student can get a green card in the U.S.



Job Sponsorship.

If you are lucky to finish college, you may get a job and your company may sponsor you for a Green card. This is difficult especially if there are economic difficulties in the country and citizens are also looking for jobs. However, it's not impossible.  The company has to fill in immigration forms explaining why they want to hire a foreigner and show that they cannot find an equally qualified American citizen to fill that job. If there are many Americans qualified and willing to do that job, you will not get the visa. However, if you have specialized skills in high demand areas, and there are not many Americans with that kind of specialization, you have a big chance of getting approved for Green card. The skills in demand vary from time to time but if you are specialized in certain Scientific and Engineering & Health disciplines, there is a high likelihood of getting a Green card through job Sponsorship.
It may be easier for your company to sponsor you if they apply for the "National Interest Waiver". This is where they demonstrate that your employment will contribute to the National interest of the United States. Such cases are considered on an individual basis but past successful candidates have demonstrated that their admission will improve the US economy, improve wages and working conditions for US workers, improve education, housing, health or national security.

Asylum.

If you are in the US as an international Student and there is civil war or political upheavals in your home country that would risk your life to return, you may be eligible for political asylum. There are different laws governing asylum seekers and many criteria that one has to meet. Before applying for asylum, you must consult an immigration lawyerto advise if you are eligible.
Many people have applied and found themselves ineligible for asylumand later have difficulties getting Green card. This is because the immigration department now knows your intent to become an immigrant. Always remember that you came here as a Student with the understanding that you will return to your home country after college.
Another word of caution about immigration lawyers, please spend some money and hire a reputable lawyer who will not mess up your case.

Getting Married to US citizen or permanent Resident.

The easiest way to get a green card is to marry a US citizen. Your spouse will then sponsor you for Green card as a family member. While this is an easy method if done right, it carries a lot of dangers.
The rule of thumb is to ensure you have a real marriage. Get married for love with the intention to stay together as a family and not just for green card. While filing your Green card papers, you'll be required to show that you have a real marriage.
Some things you may be asked to prove are: if you live together, how you met, if you know intimate details about each other, if you have children, if the US citizen's family knows about the foreign spouse and many other things to prove that you are married for real. While many American parents are wary of their children marrying foreigners because of the Green card issue, if you show them that you really love their son or daughter, most parents are very cooperative.
If your application is successful, you will get a Two year temporary green card. After two years, you will then get a permanent Green Card if you are still married. This two year period is to ensure that your marriage was real. If your marriage fails before the two year period, you have to show that you were truly married but things just did not work out, otherwise you may not get your permanent Green Card. In all cases while dealing with immigration issues, consult a reputable lawyer.The same thing applies if you marry a green card holder. However, if the Green card holder got his or her green card through marriage, they cannot sponsor you until they become citizens.
If your American spouse is abusive and threatens to divorce you and have you deported, you can still get your greencard if you can prove they abused you. Again, consult your lawyer first.

Green Card lottery.

The Electronic Diversity Visa lottery is another way one can get a Green card to the US. The lottery is held every year and application period is between October to November.
As the name suggests, this is a lottery and there is no guarantee to win. But it's still worth the try. There are some minimum requirements though. One has to have finished high school. Some countries with a lot of immigrants into the US are not eligible.

Military Service.

Enrolling to serve in the US Military, whether Army, Air force, Navy, Marines or National Guard is another way to get a Green card for an International Student. There is however a catch 22 rule that states that you cannot join the Military if you don't already have a green card or work authorization. I will show you some ways around this rule.
There are some career fields in high demand by the military, like nurses, doctors, psychologists e.t.c. and an international student who has been in the US for about two years may be eligible to join even if they don't have a green card.
If you have finished college and got your Optional Practical Training (OPT) work permit, this gives you the right to work for anyone in the US for one year, which theoretically means you can also work for the Military. The best way to find out is to speak with a military recruiter about these eligibility criteria. Military recruiters can be found in every college in the US. They are always looking for recruits and will be very happy to help you out. If one recruiter gives you discouraging news, talk to another recruiter from another Military branch. He or she may have different ideas.
Even if you get into the Military, you must hire a lawyer to pursue your green card application because it will not happen automatically.

Sponsorship by a US Citizen parent or child.

Another unlikely way to get a green card as an international student is to be sponsored by a US citizen parent or child. This is rare because most likely, your parents and/or children live in your home country. The sponsor has to be at least 18 years of age. Most international students are young and are not likely to have adult children, hence making this method even more unlikely.
However in the rare case that an international student has a US citizen parent or child, they can sponsor you for green card.

Sponsorship by a business owning relative.

If your relative owns a substantial business in the US, they may be able to sponsor you to work for them. There are however many rules governing this kind of sponsorship and it is advisable to speak to a immigration lawyer.

Final Word of Advice.

When trying to get a Green card, it is always advisable to consult a reputable immigration lawyer to guide you through the complicated process. Lawyers cost a lot of money but considering the cost of failure, they are worth every dime they charge.
Another thing to note is to never commit a crime while in the US. While there are situations where people provoke you, it is advisable to be the better person and let things go. Don't do anything stupid that will get you in police records because if you commit a felony, you will be disqualified from getting a green card.

June 11, 2016

Draft bill would boost H-1B worker pay for big visa users

Draft bill would boost H-1B worker pay for big visa users

Pay for H-1B workers may increase significantly if a draft bill authored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) gets the bipartisan backing it will need to pass Congress.

The bill primarily relies on salary to distribute the visas. Firms that pay salaries well above the prevailing wage will have the best chance of getting a visa.

Lofgren has been working with Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), whose support in the GOP-controlled House is critical. The measure is now being distributed to stakeholders for feedback.

The "High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2015" has been in the works since last year, is already drafted and appears to be complete. But that doesn't mean it will actually be introduced. Both sides continue to talk and there are no immediate plans to move forward on the legislation.

(To read the official summary of the bill, download the PDF.) 

The H-1B visa is currently distributed via a lottery because requests for visas routinely exceed the annual 85,000-visa cap. While the bill doesn't eliminate the lottery in its entirety, it minimizes its importance.

The proposal is designed to encourage employers to pay 150% or 200% of the prevailing wage level. These employers will probably be assured of visa approval.

The prevailing wage system has four levels. Level 1 is for entry level; level 4 for the most experienced and capable employees. Prevailing wages vary widely nationally, depending on location.

In Gainesville, Fla., for instance, the prevailing wage for a level 4 computer programmer is $67,621. In San Francisco, it's $123,885.

A level 4 salary that is 200% of prevailing wage for a programmer in Gainesville would be $135,242. In San Francisco, it would be $247,770. (For prevailing wage information see the Foreign Labor Certification Data Center.)

The San Francisco employer doesn't gain an advantage over the Gainesville employer in the visa distribution because of the higher pay differential. What's important is a company's willingness to pay a percentage above the prevailing wage.

And wages alone don't set a priority in the visa distribution. Priority is given first to employers "that hire mainly U.S. workers." Next in line are H-1B dependent employers.

There are different thresholds for determining dependency, but for large users a dependent employer is someone with 15% or more of their employees on temporary visas.

The legislation sets aside 20% of the annual allocation of H-1B visas to firms with 50 or fewer employees. Small and start-up businesses would not be subject to the wage-based allocation.

For H-1B-dependent employers, the bill changes the $60,000 salary exemption level to a formula that would raise the minimum to about $130,000, based on the 35th percentile above the median for the most recent national annual wage for Computer and Mathematical Occupations.

H-1B dependent firms pay salaries of at least $60,000 - a figure set in 1998 - to get an exemption from rules that bar them from displacing a U.S. worker. The bill also eliminates the master's degree exemption.

But the legislation also includes what may be a new loophole by excluding workers from this higher wage if their employer has petitioned for permanent residence or a green card.

The bill also eliminates per-country caps on green cards. Employment-based green cards are capped at 140,000 a year, with no more than 7% from any one country. Such a move would help green card applicants in China and India, in particular, who make up the majority of those seeking permanent residency.

Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Howard University, sees a number of problems with the legislation. The high wage required of H-1B dependent firms, such as Infosys, Cognizant and Tata Consultancy Services, may help non-dependent firms, such as IBM and Accenture, said Hira.

All these firms compete in the IT services sector, but non-dependent firms can continue paying the prevailing wage at level 1 for a 40% discount over an American worker, said Hira.

And, he said, visa-dependent firms could develop workarounds. A dependent employer could avoid paying the $130,000 wage by attesting that they won't displace U.S. workers. But Hira suspects affected firms may "figure out ways to meet the letter of the regulations but not the spirit."

Dan Costa, the director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, believes a more direct approach is possible. "I think it's crazy that they would just create a new, more expensive exemption for replacing U.S. workers, rather than just prohibit altogether the ability of companies to replace U.S. workers with H-1Bs," said Costa.

The visa-dependent firms can apply for green cards for all their workers to get around the dependence status, as well as bring in more L-1 visa workers (another temporary visa used for company transfers). The green card exemption is a "huge loophole," said Hira.

Other strategies by dependent firms could also include merging with non-dependent firms, said Hira.


June 5, 2016

This Is THE Best Beach In America, According To Dr. Beach - List 2016

This Is THE Best Beach In America, According To Dr. Beach

The shores of America are looking mighty fine.

 
      Beach rankings are a dime a dozen, but if you’re looking for the authority on the matter, Dr. Beach is it.
      Every year, Stephen P. Leatherman, a coastal scientist who teaches at Florida International University, evaluates the nation’s beaches based on 50 hand-selected criteria. He scores everything from sand softness, air temperature and wave size to creature comforts, safety features and even two types of noise (transportation and crowds).
      His annual lists can be so powerful that when Hawaii’s Waimanalo Beach topped last year’s list, locals — and even Leatherman himself — worried the fame would ruin the quaint and quiet beach.
      ERIC BRODER VAN DYKE VIA GETTY IMAGES
      Who dethroned Waimanalo Bay Beach Park from Dr. Beach’s No. 1 spot? Scroll for this year’s list.
      Unsurprisingly, beaches in the Aloha State have dominated the top spot for thepast few years, and 2016 is no exception. But the east coast also makes a strong showing in the top 10. Florida takes up at least three spots — proving that the west coast might not actually be the best coast. 
      If Dr. Beach’s rankings reveal anything, it’s that America’s shores are looking mighty fine.
      So, which sandy spots made the doctor’s short list this year? Scroll down to find out.
      • 10 Beachwalker Park Kiawah Island, South Carolina
        Robert Kirk via Getty Images
      • “This is a nature-lovers coast so visitors should pack their canoes and kayaks to paddle through the tidal inlets,” says Dr. Beach. “It is also fun to walk or bicycle down to Captain Sam’s Inlet to see thousands of birds. The water is not clear here, but it is clean and provides fantastic seafood for low-country cooking. There is concern about the proposal to build 50 houses and a steel revetment on the sand spit in terms of its impact on animal life and visitor access.”
      • 9 Caladesi Island State Park, Florida
        ASSOCIATED PRESS
      • “Caladesi is reached by pedestrian ferry boat, private boats or a long walk north from Clearwater Beach — the inlet is closed so Caladesi is no longer a true island, but still a great getaway,” Dr. Beach says. “The white beach composed of crystalline quartz sand which is soft and cushy at the water’s edge, inviting one to take a dip in the sparkling clear waters. There are boardwalk trails, but my favorite is the kayak and canoe trails through the mangroves to see the large blue herons and other birds that frequent this wonderful natural area.”
      • 8 Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York
        ASSOCIATED PRESS
      • Dr. Beach says, “Coopers Beach is located on the south shore of Long Island, New York, shielded from the cold Labrador currents, in the beautiful village of Southampton. As the first ‘Gold Coast’ in the country, Coopers Beach is hundreds of yards wide, made of grainy white quartz sand. The beach is backed by large sand dunes covered by American beach grass interspersed with large and extravagant mansions. Some of the best beach access in the Hamptons exists on Coopers Beach, and a snack bar serving lunch and drinks can be found here as well.”
      • 7 Coronado Beach, San Diego, California
        Dr. Beach
      • “Coronado Beach is the toast of Southern California; it is a veritable oasis by the sea, measuring hundreds of yards wide,” says Dr. Beach. “With its lush subtropical vegetation, unique Mediterranean climate, and fine sparkling sand, beach-goers flock to this beach for great ship-watching and the summer’s warm and mild surf. The local landmark, Hotel del Coronado, was built over a hundred years ago, offering spectacular architecture and Old World elegance. Kings, sheiks, actors, and actresses have stayed at Hotel del Coronado, where food and drinks are served on the beach, and the hotel provides a great location for celebrities.”
      • 6 Grayton Beach State Park, Florida
        ASSOCIATED PRESS
      • Dr. Beach says, “This beach boasts of its sugar-white sand and emerald green water where development has been restrained so big sand dunes still dominate the landscape. At the same time, all the amenities of great restaurants and accommodations are close by in the old town of Grayton Beach or Seaside. Many people choose to camp in this wonderful state park that also features tidal lakes and freshwater ponds. Former Governor Bob Graham told me that this was his favorite beach.”
      • 5 Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
        Kim Grant via Getty Images
      • “Coast Guard Beach, accessible by bicycle or shuttle bus from the Salt Pond Visitor’s Center, was formed where a sand spit attached to the glacial cliffs,” says Dr. Beach. “The sand is fairly coarse so the beach slopes steeply into the water. The picturesque old Coast Guard station still sits atop the glacial bluffs, allowing for a spectacular view down upon the Nauset Spit barrier system and bay. During the summer, beach-goers take quick, refreshing dips in the ocean as water temperatures only reach 60-70 degrees.”
      • 4 Ocracoke Lifeguard Beach, North Carolina
        alex grichenko via Getty Images
      • “Ocracoke, once the home of Blackbeard the pirate, is still a special place—it is my favorite getaway beach,” Dr. Beach adds. “Here you will find some of the wildest beaches in the country. Big surf dominates in late summer so families with children may want to come earlier in the year. Don’t come here expecting to play golf or stay at the Ritz; the main pursuits are swimming, shelling and enjoying a walk through the old cementery on a foggy night. This island can still be reached by a free state ferry.”
      • 3 Kapalua Bay, Hawaiian island of Maui
        Ann Cecil via Getty Images
      • “Kapalua is a perfect beach for swimming and snorkeling in the clear, azure waters that are protected by two headlands formed long ago by lava flows into the sea,” says Dr. Beach. “This beautiful crescent-shaped, white sand beach is bounded by these rocky anchors where good restaurants can be found. The fine coral sand beach slopes gradually into the deeper water where the rocky bottom is punctuated with corals that attract vividly-colored tropical fish. You can buy fish food and rent snorkeling gear at the concession hut on the north end of the beach.”
      • 2 Siesta Beach, Sarasota, Florida
        Pola Damonte via Getty Images via Getty Images
      • “With some of the finest, whitest sand in the world, this beach attracts sand collectors from all over,” adds Dr. Beach. “Siesta Beach has clear, warm waters ideal for swimming. The beach is hundreds of yards wide in the shape of a crescent, due to anchoring of onshore rocks to the south. This beach is great for volleyball and other types of recreational fitness.”
      • 1 Hanauma Bay, Hawaiian island of Oahu
        Basic Elements Photography via Getty Images
      • Dr. Beach adds, “This idyllic, crescent-shaped coral sand beach that has formed in this ocean-breached volcano is stunning in every respect. Hanauma Bay provides the best snorkeling in Hawaii in safe, [calm] water. Thousands of tropical fish await your visit in shallow water and close to shore. Come early as the parking lot fills up quickly.”

    June 4, 2016

    For Many New US Citizens This Year, Voting is a Priority

    For Many New US Citizens This Year, Voting is a Priority



    MOUNT VERNON, VIRGINIA—
    On the sprawling estate of the nation's first U.S. president at Mount Vernon, Virginia, 100 people raise their right hands and pledge allegiance to their new country. It's the final step in a naturalization process that has taken some of them years to complete.
    "I am very, very, very happy," said Maha Rafeh, an Egyptian native. Her smile is framed by a green hijab artfully draped over her head, and she waves a small American flag. Nearby, her son and daughter capture every second of this life-changing moment on cellphones. Rafeh has been working toward this for 10 years.
    "I can't imagine I reach this moment, now after hard time," she said.
    This naturalization ceremony is the last step in the process for people born outside the United States and seeking to become Americans. The event is held to swear in green card holders who have fulfilled specific requirements set by Congress: a command of the English language and knowledge of U.S. government and history, biometric scanning, and about $680 in fees.
    After these candidates, hailing from 53 countries, take the oath of allegiance to the U.S. Constitution,  an actress playing Martha Washington — the country's first first lady — offers greetings and tea to some of the newly minted Americans. They and their loved ones celebrate the milestone with hugs and kisses, taking snapshots set against the backdrop of first President George Washington's home, just south of the nation's capital.
    Such ceremonies take place across the country throughout the year. In 2015, nearly 730,000 residents were naturalized, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS.
    "Compared to last year, USCIS has seen an increase in naturalization applications," Jim McKinney, public affairs officer for USCIS, told VOA by email.
    In an election year where the issue of immigration has been brought to the forefront, McKinney would not speculate on the reason for the increase.
    "Application numbers ebb and flow from year to year, and even within the year," he said.
    Rights, responsibilities
    Among these new citizens is a palpable sense of their newfound rights and responsibilities. For Friederike Kaiser, who comes from Canada, U.S. politics was of great interest before she was even in the country.
    "Being able to vote is something I'm really looking forward to," she said.
    The wife of a U.S. serviceman, she says she has been following the presidential race closely and considering the candidates.
    "It's been a really interesting election cycle already, and it's just beginning," she said. "We still have a long way to go before November."
    The naturalization ceremony is the last step in the process for people born outside of the United States seeking to become Americans. (J. Oni/VOA)
    The naturalization ceremony is the last step in the process for people born outside of the United States seeking to become Americans. (J. Oni/VOA)
    For Magalia Letlow, originally from Guyana, a chance to have a say on how the government is run is also a priority, along with better employment opportunities.
    "Being able to get more jobs, that's the best thing, that more doors are going to be open for me," she said. Many information technology and government jobs require U.S. citizenship.
    A government job was, in fact, Romel Gayagoy's path to citizenship. Born in the Philippines and brought up in Miami, Florida, he serves in the U.S. military. Most naturalization applicants have to spend at least five years as permanent residents, but members of the U.S. armed forces and recently discharged service members can obtain U.S. citizenship more quickly. For Gayagoy, it made sense to use the expedited track while serving the country he calls home.
    "I feel like I've been a U.S. citizen for a long time, but this seals the deal," said the officer, dressed in his Army uniform. "It's an honor."
    Egyptian-American Rafeh giggles as she shows off her naturalization certificate — the proof that she is now entitled to the same benefits as anyone born in the U.S. Along with her excitement for the day is a profound appreciation for what she sees as a sense of order in the U.S.
    "Everyone follows the law. Everyone respects the law." When asked, however, what she loves most about the U.S., her excitement wells up again: "Everything."
    WATCH: 100 New US Citizens Are Sworn In
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