By Wendy Kallergis and Robert Hill
The Miami hospitality industry has long been a champion of hospitality and driver of employment, and we now have a prime opportunity to show a whole new kind of hospitality: by supporting our employees who aspire to become American citizens.
Several of our local hotels and the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association have joined The Bethlehem Project, a chance to be hospitality ambassadors within our community. The Bethlehem Project, a program of the National Immigration Forum, offers free services to businesses in order to assist their eligible employees in the citizenship process, right onsite.
Our neighbors include 520,000 South Floridians who are legal permanent residents, eligible to become U.S. Citizens today. We know many of them as valued employees in our extensive network of hotels and motels, and we are pleased to have the opportunity to assist them in becoming fully active members of our society.
The benefits of citizenship are extensive. They include the ability to travel with a U.S. passport, the opportunity for families to reunite, the responsibility to vote and opportunity to run for political office, and the full legal status that allows people to put down roots and contribute fully to our community and our country — with nothing holding them back.
However, becoming a citizen is not an easy process. An aspiring American often must spend more than $2,700 in legal assistance and application fees, as well as learn English and study for the civics exam. On top of all that, the application process is both long and time-consuming.
Enter The Bethlehem Project, which offers partnerships with trusted legal-service providers that allow applicants to save as much as $2,000 of these fees, and also provide English and civics training right at the worksite. The kicker: All of the Bethlehem Project’s benefits are completely free to the employer.
Business and citizenship is a win-win partnership. Beyond the important benefit of assisting employees to fully achieve the American dream, additional benefits for business include celebrating diversity in the workforce; boosting employee recruitment; building employee loyalty and retention; creating an inclusive work culture that aids productivity; generating goodwill amid a growing foreign-born consumer demographic in a competitive market; and creating positive publicity opportunities. Offering this excellent benefit to our employees does not affect our bottom line, which allows us to continue to compete as “choice-employers.”
We at the InterContinental Miami and the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association are excited to partner with the Bethlehem Project for this unique opportunity to offer hospitality to our own community and support to our employees. We have already begun to offer these services at the InterContinental® Miami and have recognized the many benefits to our team morale and company goals. Already, four colleagues are in the final stages of the citizenship process as a result of our partnership with the Bethlehem Project.
In addition, we are excited to announce the new addition of several local businesses: Trump International Beach Resort, Double Tree by Hilton, Hilton Bentley, Dream South Beach, and Shore Club. In total, 10 local hotels and organizations have joined us as Bethlehem Project partners and are active in this incredible opportunity for business and the community.
Wendy Kallergis is the CEO of the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association. Robert Hill is the General Manager of InterContinental® Miami.