San Jose International Airport first in U.S. to offer citizenship services for employees

February 15, 2017

NBC Bay Area

By Lisa Fernandez

Mineta San Jose International is the first airport in the United States to provide citizenship services for its employees and their families in the country.

That announcement was made Wednesday at SJC by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and leaders from the National Immigration Forum’s New American Workforce, the only worksite citizenship program in the country, according to Jennie Murray, director of the Forum’s integration programs.

Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said about 800 of the airport’s roughly 5,000 “badged” employees are possible candidates for the pioneering program.

In a nutshell, airport employees who want to become citizens of the United States can now go to the HR office at work, and be guided by three accredited staff members working at the International Rescue Committee to complete the citizenship process. The fee: $725 that is paid to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a $90 additional price to pay the support staff. Employees’ family members are eligible for the legal services help, too.

The Washington, D.C.-based New American Workforce is in eight cities already, Murray said, and already partners with many hotels, retailers and manufacturing sites. After SJC, she said that Miami International Airport was also interested in possibly signing up for such services.

Barnes acknowledged that while immigration certainly has been a hot topic across the country lately, the desire to streamline citizenship application process for the airport workers started “way before the election.” Still, she stressed, that “the current political climate may be a factor,” and that employees who feel more stable where they live and work are “happier and more productive.”

Of the large Bay Area cities that include Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley, San Jose is notably not a formal sanctuary city.

Still, San Jose has taken steps to make the heart of Silicon Valley a welcoming place for immigrants. In 2015, the city approved its first Office of Immigrant Affairs, following the lead of cities such as San Franciso and Los Angeles. At the time, the effort was launched as part of a push by the council to help the thousands of San Jose residents who would have been able to take advantage of the new executive actions by President Barack Obama to shield illegal immigrants from deportation.

Liccardo did not address the sanctuary city status, perse, at the announcement of the new citizenship services. And a spokesman did not immediately return an email seeking comment. But the mayor did stress the importance of immigrants to San Jose.

“As a city where 40 percent of our residents are immigrants, San Jose serves as the quintessential melting pot where people from all around the world enrich our culture, spur our innovation and reinvigorate our collective passion for freedom,” Liccardo said. “We remain committed to helping more of our immigrant residents pursue a path to citizenship because every new voice makes our community stronger.”