A $12,000 Haircut

WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina—Amar welcomed me into his home with fruit and Syrian coffee. I had come for a haircut—the first Amar would give since leaving Egypt earlier this year.

Cutting hair is how the Damascus native supported his family while living in Cairo for nine years after escaping Syria’s civil war. He first started at age 15—about 20 years ago—and he’s loved doing it ever since.

“As soon as he got off the plane, it was like, ‘How can I be a barber?’” said Ben Marsh, a local Christian pastor helping Amar, his wife Salwah, and their two sons settle into their new life in America.

Five months after moving to North Carolina, Amar’s still trying to answer that question. His roadblock has been the state’s occupational licensing requirements for barbers—which, according to a 2018 brief from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, are the fifth most stringent such requirements in the country.

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