Candidates for citizenship wave American flags during a naturalization ceremony. Courtesy Department of Homeland Security

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and major local employers have launched an effort to help 204,000 area employees who hold green cards become American citizens.

The chamber, Hunter Industries, Palomar Health and the San Diego County Hotel and Motel Association joined the National Immigration Forum to announce the launch of the New American Workforce project in San Diego.

“We are excited to participate in this program to help our employees with permanent resident status obtain their citizenship. They are an important part of our community and will make great U.S. citizens,” said Greg Hunter, CEO of Hunter Industries, which makes irrigation systems.

“Citizenship offers opportunities not just for employees but for our businesses and our city,”said Paola Avila, executive director of the chamber’s Mexico Business Center. “We’re excited for this partnership, which will help businesses with recruitment, loyalty and retention, and goodwill in the community.”

The project is targeting three metro areas in California that combined have more than 2 million workers eligible for citizenship:

  • Los Angeles – 1.5 million eligible for citizenship
  • San Jose/Silicon Valley – 536,000 eligible for citizenship
  • San Diego – 204,000 eligible for citizenship

The project was formerly known as the Bethlehem Project in honor of Bethlehem Steel, which in 1915 became one of the first American employers to provide free English language instruction to its immigrant workforce.

A two-step process will help employees with green cards apply for citizenship. First, immigration professionals will provide an introduction to the citizenship process at workshops held during breaks, or before or after work hours.

Next, employees are invited to an application session and receive one-on-one assistance to complete the application. Optional civics instruction is also available under the program because immigrants must possess a basic knowledge of U.S. history and proficiency in English.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.