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Program helps immigrant workforce find the road to citizenship in the workplace

South Florida Business Journal


April 23 2013

By Shaun Bevan

It all started with Bethlehem Steel in the early 1900s when they began providing free English language instruction to its immigrant workforce.

Nearly one hundred years later, the National Immigration Forum is taking Bethlehem’s idea one step further with a project dedicated to providing a path to citizenship for immigrant workers.

The forum’s Bethlehem Project began with a pilot several months ago in four cities including Miami, which has 520,000 workers who are eligible for citizenship. The other locations include Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Calif. and the Washington, D.C. metro area.

The project, which launched officially on Tuesday, provides a road map of sorts for accessible citizenship assistance through a three-step process and involves local businesses to provide the time and place for these sessions.

“I think sometimes people have a fear or don’t have an understanding of how the naturalization process works,” said Leonie Timothee, human resource director for the InterContinental Miami hotel, which is one of the South Florida businesses involved in the project. “To be able to have your job give you the opportunity and the time at the workplace gives the employee a comfort level that this is an organization we can rely on.”

The program comes at no costs and provides three levels of assistance beginning with:

<ul><li>Pre-screening workshop: Normally hosted within the workplace during breaks or before/after hours, these workshops will determine whether an employee is eligible for citizenship and will provide information about the application process.</li>

<li>Application workshop: Employees are invited to a application workshop either at the worksite or offsite. They receive in-person assistance and use a computer program to assist with determining edibility and completing the application.</li>

<li>Classroom instruction: The final step involves group and one-on-one classes either onsite or offsite to help employees pass the naturalization test along with providing English instruction.</li></ul>

Along with the InterContinental, the Betsy Hotel South Beach and Miami Dade College have joined the project to provide a venue for the workshops.

Timothee, who says her hotel has about 15 to 20 percent of employees eligible for the program, said the project provides a free benefit for employees that can help recruit workers for a business.

“You may not be able to provide the employee with a pay raise, but you can provide this free service for them,” she said. “And this may be a tool you can use to promote your recruitment. It shows you as being a responsible business and you can get your colleagues to be engaged.”

For a business, all they have to do is provide a location and the National Immigration Forum handles the rest, she said.

“All I do is create a signup sheet, which is very little hassle,” she said. “They come in and setup the room, the laptop and the presentation. All they need is the space to go from there.”

The National b hosted a press conference at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus on Tuesday to launch the Miami contingent of the Bethlehem project.For more information on the project go to www.joinbethlehemproject.org.

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