Citizenship for Immigrants in Silicon Valley: Tech companies Join Bethlehem Project

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The Bethleham Project is helping people get their citizenship.

Kristina Drobot holds an American flag as she waits to be sworn-in as a U.S. citizen during naturalization ceremonies at the Old Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Legal immigrants in Silicon Valley may now have a better chance at citizenship: this week, several tech companies joined the Bethlehem Project, which provides free services for permanent resident card holders.

Nokia, DTZ, Technology Credit Union, and ABM are partnering with the nonprofit in order to help employees become full citizens. To foster that transition, the Bethlehem Project funds services such as citizenship test preparation and help with legal forms for green card holders. All services are provided on-site at the workplace for free.

Streamlining the citizenship process

For immigrants with permanent resident status—green card holders—the path to citizenship should be relatively easy.

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However, for many who are working long hours or don’t speak fluent English, finding the time and the wherewithal to wade through complex legal documents, study for and schedule a citizenship test, and get legal assistance can be prohibitive. Because of those factors, immigrants who technically qualify for citizenship often don’t take the step of actually obtaining that status.

That’s where the Bethlehem Project comes in. A year-old nonprofit, the organization partners with businesses in order to help permanent resident employees with all of the “nitty-gritty stuff” required along the path to citizenship. The Project connects a partnering business with a local service provider, such as a legal office or test preparation organization, and those organizations then offer classes on the company’s worksite. The Bethlehem Project picks up the tab.

Specifically, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Project will offer legal immigrants the chance to attend a citizenship information session, get free personal legal assistance, take a civics and English test preparation course, and submit the N-400 citizen application.

Why Silicon Valley?

Right now there are approximately 385,000 legal immigrants in Silicon Valley.

The importance of immigrants to the workforce is growing rapidly. Barbara B. Kamm, the CEO of Technology CU—one of the four companies that joined the Bethlehem Project this week—spoke to that issue in a company press release: “Immigration has shaped the landscape of Silicon Valley for the last century, and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future…it is one of the biggest influences on our businesses and economy, and one of the most important issues we face as a community.”

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Underscoring that feeling is research showing the benefit of citizenship. A study from the Migration Policy Institute in Washington indicates that when green card holders naturalize, they see an average wage increase of 5 percent. Additionally, citizens are able to earn 50 to 70 percent more than non-citizens.

Silicon Valley tech companies should see benefits, too, in terms of employee loyalty and productivity. Companies already partnering with the Bethlehem Project in Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami and Washington D.C. have expressed satisfaction, and 1,500 employees have already earned their citizenship.

Bethlehem Project organizers expect more Silicon Valley companies to sign up in coming weeks as awareness increases. Historically, the area has been at the forefront of the push for immigration reform.

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