When it comes to addressing immigration, Silicon Valley is not waiting for Washington. Many companies in the area are taking the lead in helping to integrate foreign-born employees and customers into Bay Area communities — including offering resources to help them along the path to citizenship. The writing is on the wall: the demographics are changing in California and beyond, due in large part to foreign immigration. Silicon Valley is among the areas being affected most, with foreign immigration jumping to more than 19,000 in 2013, up 52 percent from the previous year (July 2012 to July 2013), according to the 2014 Silicon Valley Index.
This kind of growth has solidified the Bay Area as one of the most diverse populations in the country, greatly influenced by the influx of high-skilled foreign workers who come for employment in the tech industry. This entrepreneurial spirit also attracts people from around the world who start companies, drive innovation and create jobs that require workers with engineering and science degrees. Domestic talent alone cannot fill these jobs.
In its report, Planning for a Better Future, California 2025, the Public Policy Institute of California, says that the state’s education system is not keeping up with the economy’s demands. In 2025, it is projected that 41 percent of all jobs in California will require a bachelor’s degree, however, only 35 percent of working-age adults in the state will have one — equating to a shortfall of one million college graduates.
“For decades, the best and brightest from around the world have come to Silicon Valley to innovate — over 40 percent of startups in this area were founded by immigrants,” says Emily Lam vice president of Health Care and Federal Issues for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. “But current U.S. immigration policies, along with growing opportunities in other countries, are keeping people out. Comprehensive immigration reform is urgently needed this year so U.S. companies can continue competing for talent in the global marketplace. At this moment, a quick search on dice.com shows there are almost 8,000 tech job openings for the San Jose Metro Area.”
|Leading Companies Partner with Bethlehem Project
(Above): Ali Noorani, executive director at the National Immigration Forum. [Photo: Amar D. Gupta | Siliconeer]
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Technology Credit Union has been working with The Bethlehem Project since July of 2013, not only offering their resources to its employees, they have also hosted two seminars for their members. The seminars are free and open to members and Tech CU employees.
Permanent resident employees at ABM, Nokia and DTZ will start receiving free citizenship assistance from their employers this month.
The announcement was made today at a press conference hosted by the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce.
These top companies will be teaming up with the Bethlehem Project to support workers in their pursuit of citizenship. The program is an effort in cities nationwide to help businesses assist their eligible immigrant employees with the naturalization process so they become full participants in the workplace, community and local economy.
“Immigration has shaped the landscape of Silicon Valley for the last century, and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It is one of the biggest influences on our businesses and economy, and one of the most important issues we face as a community,” said Barbara B. Kamm, president and CEO of Technology Credit Union. “We at Technology Credit Union support programs such as the Bethlehem Project because they provide much-needed resources and information for green card holders seeking citizenship. It’s important to our membership and to our community, and therefore it’s important to us.”
“One of the greatest economic generators for San Jose and Silicon Valley has always been the diversity of our region, and the Bethlehem Project is a wonderful resource for our business community,” said Jim Reed, vice president of Public Policy at the Silicon Valley San Jose Chamber of Commerce. “This partnership will only aid in maximizing the contributions that the immigrant community has already made to our region for over 200 years, and we are happy to welcome the Bethlehem Project to Silicon Valley.”
Through the Bethlehem Project, lawful permanent resident employees of these businesses will attend a citizenship information session. In the weeks to come, they will also receive free one-on-one citizenship legal assistance, civics and English test preparation, and help submitting the N-400 citizenship application.
“I am now an American citizen. Becoming an American has always been important for me because I can vote. I feel like I have a voice,” said Rosario Becerra, an ABM employee who has benefited from the Bethlehem Project. “ABM has made it possible to take classes at the worksite. This made it possible for me to learn and become more confident.”
With the San Jose launch, the Bethlehem Project has partnered with more than 50 businesses in five cities nationwide.
“Silicon Valley companies are taking the lead in providing critical assistance to their immigrant employees,” said Ali Noorani, executive director at the National Immigration Forum, which runs the Bethlehem Project. “It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. Businesses open the door for critical services to their employees, and employees have the chance to pursue their American Dream.”
The work of the Bethlehem Project is made possible in San Jose by the support of the New Americans Campaign, the Grove Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation.
For companies like San Jose-based Technology Credit Union, a $1.7 billion financial institution with diverse membership that includes approximately 33 percent East Asian and South Asian members, the influx of new-to-country workers and foreign-born residents is top-of-mind as the organization looks for new ways to strengthen relationships with employees and customers. Through partnerships with organizations such as the National Immigration Forum, which works with businesses to help eligible immigrant employees with the citizenship process, and BAMM (Bay Area Mobility Management), a network that supports employee relocations, Tech CU is providing its employees and members with resources to help traverse the complex (and often expensive) path to citizenship. The credit union hosts a number of free seminars throughout the year with information and onsite help focused on such topics as becoming a citizen and sponsoring a green card for immediate family members.
“The seminars aren’t directly related to our financial products and services, but we are community-focused and there is an obvious need for this information amongst our members and employees, as well as in the community,” said Hemali Gajaria, project manager for Tech CU’s Global Members program. “By hosting events, we’re helping people and strengthening the Tech CU brand as a business that understands the needs of our customers and the areas we serve.”
(Above): Employees of Technology Credit Union make a diverse mix of immigrants and locals. [Amar D. Gupta | Siliconeer]
Helping foreign-born citizens is nothing new to Tech CU. For more than a decade, the credit union has been offering specialized financial services for new-to-country and foreign-born workers through its Global Members Program, which grew out of Tech CU’s association with high tech companies in the Bay Area. The program consists of a core set of products that help new-to-country workers set up their financial accounts and establish credit in the U.S., buy a car, send money internationally, and even secure travel medical insurance for visiting relatives. Once these individuals are established and begin thinking about their financial future, Tech CU can offer them mortgage, wealth management and even business banking services.
Nina Daruwalla joined Tech CU when she and her husband migrated to Silicon Valley in 2001. They opened their first checking account, went on to get a mortgage, and today, Daruwalla, who is a realtor with Coldwell Banker, has a business account with the credit union.
“When we came to the U.S., our company processed all the paperwork for securing our green cards. We’ve built a life here and will be applying for citizenship this summer,” said Daruwalla. “We’ve been lucky to have the support of my husband’s employer. For others, though, I know it’s more challenging.”
Immigration is a hot topic in Silicon Valley this year, with top companies and advocacy groups joining forces to push Washington towards meaningful reform. Groups such as FWD.us, which is supported by the who’s who of the tech elite, is helping to lead the charge. The group recently launched a nationwide membership campaign (https://fwd.nationbuilder.com/members) ($35 annually) for those who want to become more involved and support the movement. Other organizations are running print and social media campaigns, “fly-in” coalition trips to Washington, and even a series of “hackathons” headlined by big industry names.
(Above): Hemali Gajaria, Tech CU’s project manager for global members program, talks to Nina Daruwalla (r) at the TechCU Sunnyvale, Calif. branch. [Amar D. Gupta | Siliconeer]
Despite these efforts, augmented by the actions of more than 400 groups across the country, (including faith leaders, local businesses and law enforcement groups), many in Washington believe forward movement on immigration reform in 2014 will be unlikely due to the upcoming fall elections. For those caught in the crosshairs of immigration policy “as is,” information and assistance are more important than ever.
“Providing citizenship information to employees or customers is a win-win proposition for companies. It has no effect on the bottom line and gives those who are working here a chance to reap the socioeconomic benefits of citizenship, such as higher wages, job mobility, and civic engagement,” says Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “But it’s also much more than that — it gives them a chance to achieve their ‘American Dream.’”
It’s no surprise that free seminars hosted by companies like Tech CU are so popular. With insight, guidance, and even access to financial help, they are a gold mine to those who want to know more about the naturalization process. For the companies hosting, the seminars help strengthen their relationships with customers by building trust, and subsequently, creating the kind of brand loyalty.