Leni Alvarez, current Head of Recruitment for Hola Code, lived her whole life in the U.S.—or so she thought. When Alvarez was 16 she learned that she was undocumented, and as her family faced increased scrutiny from government officials, they decided to voluntarily return back to Mexico. All of a sudden, Alvarez found herself back in the country that she was from, but a country that she had almost no experience in. Although Alvarez felt isolated, she was not alone. Alvarez was one of a number of deportees and returnees who came back to Mexico after living in the U.S. for a significant portion of their lives.
Often times, deportees and returnees who have spent significant amounts of time in the U.S. have serious trouble procuring employment, since the experience and education they received in the U.S. does not always transfer neatly to Mexico. When they do find employment, they are usually forced to accept a salary that is at or below Mexico’s average (13,239 pesos (~$843) a month) in order to feed themselves and their families. The problems deportees and returnees face when securing gainful employment is what ignited the formation of Hola Code.
Hola Code is a Mexico City based tech boot camp fashioned after Hack Reactor, a rigorous tech boot camp with campuses all over the U.S., but tailored to fit the specific needs of deportees and returnees. Once a student at Hola Code has been admitted to the program, they are immersed into an intensive 20 week course that trains them in tech and prepares them to be placed in high paying tech jobs that are appearing as a result of Mexico’s recent leaps in the tech industry.
According to Alvarez, the average student at Hola Code is 18-35 years old, had been living within the U.S. for about a decade or more and has already faced a significant amount of adversity just to make it to the program in Mexico City. The journey of a typical Hola Code student starts in an entrance city where deportees are first sent after deportation proceedings. Three of these entrance cities are located in Tamaulipas, a Mexican state which the U.S. State Department recently put on the “Do Not Travel List.” Many of these entrance cities are hours away from Mexico City, so a journey often hundreds of miles long to Mexico City lies ahead for anyone who decides to embark on it.
Some deportees have family that can provide them small amounts of financial support on their trek to Mexico City, but some students find themselves living in abject poverty—a few even have to resort to temporarily sleeping beneath overpasses. Once they arrive in Mexico City, they often have immediate difficulty getting housing and an interim job because they lack an INE card (a Mexican voter ID card that is often requested when applying), which technically makes many deportees and returnees undocumented in their own country. Fortunately for students at Hola Code, no INE card is required and they are provided a monthly stipend to hold themselves over until they graduate.
According to Alvarez, the average salary of a graduate from the Hola Code program is 33,000 pesos a month—well above the average salary in Mexico. This salary is often a life changing amount of money for students since it enables them to finally live comfortably and make enough to support their family.
How much does it cost students to attend Hola Code? Nothing. The program is offered to students for free in exchange for a promise that they will pay it forward in donations to Hola Code if they secure a job in tech that pays over 20,000 pesos a month. The culture of giving back at Hola Code is crucial to building community and ensuring that Hola Code can continue to give this life changing opportunity to others for years to come.
On top of an opportunity at a better life, Hola Code offers its students an environment to feel comfortable in and hope that one day they can make their country of origin a country they feel at home in once again.