Talent-hungry employers offer workers naturalization help

Amazon.com Inc. is at the forefront of efforts to help workers obtain citizenship and other immigration benefits, an effort to attract and retain talent, as government officials and business groups consider immigrants as the key to meeting labor needs in the United States.

The e-commerce giant “Welcoming door” program targets refugees and other humanitarian immigrant workers such as asylum seekers with assistance that includes reimbursement of work permits. The program also provides lawful permanent residents with legal support for their naturalization applications.

Amazon began offering the benefits to workers in the United States in April and will expand them to other countries later this year, spokeswoman Ellie Russell said.

The California Farm Bureau Federation, an organization of farmers and ranchers in the state, announced similar plans late last year.

A significant portion of California’s agricultural workforce includes lawful permanent residents. These workers — who are typically older, more experienced and more skilled — are also the type of employees most important for farmers and ranchers to retain, said C. Bryan Little, director of labor affairs. at the California Farm Bureau Federation.

“A lot of these people are in key jobs in these agricultural establishments,” he said. “We want to give them the opportunity to become an employer of choice in their community.

Both initiatives demonstrate the premium employers are willing to place on retaining their immigrant workforce. They are also being rolled out as many industries face new hiring challenges – a challenge farmers faced for years before the current labor shortage.

“It’s all about employee retention,” said David Bier, associate director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute. “Staff turnover is a huge cost to employers because you don’t just have lost productivity and worker downtime. You also have the added cost of finding and training a new replacement.

Immigrants have made an outsized contribution to US labor force growth since 2010, Goldman Sachs analysis finds found. But the pace of new immigration has declined over the past two years.

It makes more sense for employers to sink a few hundred dollars to keep valuable employees who may have job choices, Bier said.

win-win

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh recently called on lawmakers to overhaul the US immigration system, saying simply adding more temporary visas is not enough to make up for labor shortages. But even as Congress makes green cards and citizenship more widely available, high fees — and a complex application process — prevent workers from obtaining full citizenship.

About 67% of naturalized citizens borrowed from high-interest sources like credit cards or payday lenders to fund the $725 naturalization fee that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services charges. , according a survey of BlueHub Capital, a non-profit community financial organization. The survey included more than 1,200 respondents who were non-citizen or naturalized immigrants between 2016 and 2021.

The organization this year launched a platform called One Percent America to offer low-interest loans to help green card holders afford to become citizens.

“We’re not giving people the option to afford those USCIS fees,” said Jaime Escott, vice president of marketing at BlueHub.

Private sector employers pay large sums to sponsor workers for employment-based visas. But because citizenship isn’t required for work eligibility, “companies typically stop at that point and don’t see the need to cover those costs,” said Helena Coric, senior program manager at integration with the National Immigration Forum, which partners with Amazon and the California Farm Bureau Federation to provide legal services for naturalization.

Completing this process provides immigrants with more security and the ability to reunite with immediate family members faster than they could with a green card.

“Being able to promote that benefit when the employee logs in is huge,” Coric said. “Knowing that an employer is going to provide this deeply discounted legal assistance can really increase retention, especially if that employer ends up extending the benefit to an immediate family member as well.”

Few exemptions

USCIS promoted naturalization opportunities by conducting outreach to immigrant communities, providing educational tools and running a social media campaign to encourage eligible people to apply for citizenship, a doorman said. – word of the agency.

The agency also has a process to waive fees for certain forms and will offer to adjust fees charged for immigration and naturalization benefits for the first time since 2016, the spokesperson said.

Immigration advocates, however, point out that fee waivers are only available to the poorest immigrants. Immigrants may qualify for a naturalization fee waiver if their annual income is below 150% of the federal poverty level, or about $20,000.

USCIS Director Ur Jaddou touted an upcoming update to the agency’s fee schedule during an April congressional hearing on the agency’s budget request for fiscal year 2023.

The agency’s latest attempt to update the charges under the Trump administration has been blocked by a federal court in a case alleging then-serving Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf was unlawfully carrying out his role. Advocacy groups that sued also showed that the increased fees would place an unfair burden on low-income immigrants, the court heard.

The Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of USCIS, valued that there were 9.2 million green card holders in the United States eligible to become citizens as of January 2021. States such as New York and local governments such as the City and County of San Francisco and Montgomery County , Maryland, have launched their own citizenship assistance programs. to facilitate its application.

The effectiveness of these programs shows that cost is a significant barrier, said Jorge Loweree, director of policy at the American Immigration Council.

Other Immigration Fees

The financial burdens of the immigration system are not limited to naturalization. Applicants for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers protection from deportation and work authorization, pay $495 to renew their status.

“It’s a huge sum that we have to give to the government every two years,” said Juliana Macedo do Nascimento, deputy director of federal advocacy at United We Dream.

Although the program’s long-term status remains uncertain, universities, employers, and nonprofits have all provided DACA recipients with financial assistance to renew their coverages. For those who aren’t employees or students of these institutions, there’s often “just not enough money in the nonprofit world to pay everyone in need,” Macedo said. Nascimento.

The reality is that USCIS operations depend on collecting money from the people it provides services to, Loweree said. Going forward, the agency may shift some of those costs to people in categories better able to pay them, he said.

“If anyone has demonstrated that they are fully committed to this country and want to participate fully in our democracy, we should welcome them to the United States with open arms,” he said.