Encouraging Citizenship: A Win-Win for Businesses, Their Employees and Our Economy

Two-hundred-twenty-six years ago, the U.S. Constitutional Convention signed the document our nation looks to as a beacon for guidance on the toughest issues we face.

Sept. 17, "Constitution Day and Citizenship Day" gives us an opportunity to recognize and celebrate all who have become or aspire to become citizens of the United States, pledging to "support and defend the Constitution and law of the United States of America."

On this Citizenship Day, we must recognize the many benefits citizenship brings to immigrants and to our country. We are a better place when immigrants follow through, become citizens and become fully accountable in our American democracy.

Naturalization also has clear economic benefits: According to a December study by the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California, income rises an average of 8 to 11 percent when immigrants become citizens. That boost has significant ripple effects for their children, their communities and the nation as a whole.

To encourage citizenship is to encourage a stronger American economy.

And as this Citizenship Day dawns, businesses in Miami, Los Angeles, San Jose and Washington, D.C., are realizing a different kind of citizenship benefit: the positive effects on work culture, productivity and publicity that result when they help their hardworking employees pursue their dreams of becoming full-fledged Americans.

Across sectors in these cities, businesses are participating in the Bethlehem Project, a win-win for businesses and their aspiring-citizen employees. A program of the National Immigration Forum and funded in large part by the New Americans Campaign, the project works with businesses to offer free citizenship help at the workplace. Local service providers step in to help with legal services and English and civics training for the citizenship application.

Just today, the Hyatt Regency Washington is launching its participation with a citizenship session for employees, while Baptist Health South Florida is adding a third participating location. These and other businesses recognize that for too many legal immigrants, the steps toward becoming a citizen are riddled with difficult, confusing and sometimes contradictory obstacles.

An application for citizenship costs around $2,700 out of pocket for a combination of legal assistance fees and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services application fee. In addition, long work hours and limited preparatory class availability can serve as deterrents for some aspiring citizens who otherwise would study for and take the mandatory verbal and written English tests and verbal civics assessment test.

What better day than Citizenship Day for businesses to recognize these obstacles and help their employees pursue their own dreams and contribute fully to our country.

And what better day for all of us to honor the mosaic of immigrants who make America great.

The men who signed our Constitution 226 years ago envisioned the United States of America as a land of opportunity. Today, businesses are seizing the opportunity to build on that vision -- and our nation is stronger for it.