When Iranian refugee Muhsin Kazemipour stepped into his first accounting class at Amarillo College, he knew it was a good fit. “I saw my classmates struggling through the class, and I really enjoyed it. It was like a fun puzzle to fix. After the first semester of those classes, I realized I was made to be an accountant,” he says.
As the chief financial officer of the United Way of Amarillo & Canyon, Kazemipour is happy to lend his skills to an organization dedicated to improving the lives of his fellow community members. But his talents are also significant for the U.S. economy as a whole, as accountants are in high demand.
In a 2015 survey from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, U.S. firms ranked “finding qualified staff” and “retaining qualified staff” as their top concerns. And the need for qualified accountants is only projected to increase. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2014 and 2024 employment of accountants and auditors will grow by 11 percent, faster than the average for U.S. occupations.
It’s the politicians, not us people, who are creating the strife.
For Kazemipour, earning a CPA is his proudest achievement to date. It is also the realization of what once felt like an impossible dream for a member of a persecuted religious minority. As a member of the Baha’i religion, Kazemipour was forbidden in Iran from advancing his studies past high school.
Kazemipour came to the United States as a refugee in 2006 at age 19. He lived in Seattle for six months, where he studied English — he didn’t speak a word — and prepared to apply to college. When he arrived in Amarillo, the first place he found on the map was Amarillo College, where he would later study business administration. He went on to receive a master’s degree in public accounting from West Texas A&M University, working at a local CPA firm, Johnson & Sheldon, PLLC, during his schooling. He received his CPA in 2016.
In February 2017, Kazemipour accepted the position of financial director at the United Way of Amarillo & Canyon. He says he’s delighted to help advance the organization’s mission of fighting poverty and increasing community access to education and healthcare. He is particularly inspired by a recent anti-poverty initiative that educates high school students about the economic benefits of waiting to start a family.
“If you wait until you get a degree and are married to have children, your chance of living in poverty is less than 2 percent,” he says.
Kazemipour says that all people, regardless of their ethnicity or national origin, want to pursue an education and lead a dignified life. “Middle Easterners don’t hate Americans,” he says. “I was 14 when 9/11 happened. The next day, nobody was happy or excited about it. We were all sad. What you see on media is not us.”
Kazemipour would like to see immigration and refugee policy that reflects the views of ordinary people, rather than politicians. Such a policy would keep the doors open for more future accountants — and many others who wish to bring their hard work and skills to this country. “It’s the politicians, not us people, who are creating the strife,” he says.