Becoming an American citizen has significant advantages.
Protection from deportation, freedom of travel, access to more well-paying jobs, tax deductions, social security income, and the right to vote are just a handful of benefits that help naturalized Americans succeed and build generational wealth.
U.S. citizenship is particularly valuable for one specific group: immigrant entrepreneurs. These dedicated business owners provide millions of jobs and contribute billions of dollars to America’s economy every year.
In San Diego County, nearly 65,000 immigrant entrepreneurs want to become naturalized U.S. citizens but lack the resources to cover the legal costs of doing so.
Immigration is one of our four policy action areas here at Business For Good. Therefore, we’re thrilled to partner with the Employee Rights Center (ERC) to co-host two Citizenship Drive Workshops in 2023—on Saturday, March 25 and Saturday, June 24.
Citizenship Drive Workshops give San Diego immigrant entrepreneurs a legal assessment of their unique citizenship case and access to the funding needed to complete their naturalization process.
All workshop participants are eligible for a no-interest loan to cover their legal costs. But if BFG raises enough money, we can cover the entire cost for them. Read on to learn how the Citizenship Drives work, who they help, and their lasting impacts.
The partnership of Business For Good and Employee Rights Center
Business For Good and the Employee Rights Center, along with other values-aligned community stakeholders, have partnered on various policy actions in San Diego for years.
In 2022, BFG wanted to step up our work together. The BFG Immigration Committee connected with ERC to help directly fund more Citizenship Drive Workshops in San Diego.
The workshops help Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs, or “green card holders”) with the required citizenship filing costs and attorney’s fees.
“In the past, BFG donated space and food for these drives, which was so helpful,” said Juan Pablo Sanchez, Immigration Committee Chair, BFG Board Member, and owner of Super Cocina. “But because BFG grew so much in 2022, it was the first year we could help out with funding, too.”
Thanks in part to BFG, the Citizenship Drive Workshops now have a revolving fund of about $40,000.
But the workshops would’ve hardly been realized without the driving force of the Employee Rights Center.
Founded in 1999, ERC offers all San Diego area workers—particularly disadvantaged workers without union representation—education and advocacy regarding their workplace issues. It is the only 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in our region that offers legal services regarding employment, immigration, and health law.
ERC operates as a major hub for immigrant families throughout San Diego County. It is a founding member of both the San Diego Immigration Rights Consortium (SDIRC) and San Diego Rapid Response Network (SDRRN).
One crucial aspect of ERC is its incredible outreach programs. The Center provides many free community workshops with its community partners—such as Business For Good—to hundreds of workers yearly seeking workplace justice.
“ERC decided to co-host two Citizenship Drive Workshops with BFG because both our organizations are committed to creating a more inclusive and equitable region where both businesses and employees thrive,” said Alor Calderon, Director of ERC. “It’s clear from the data and our clients for the last 10 years that becoming a U.S. citizen directly leads to higher levels of income and wealth and higher levels of well-being for San Diego families.”
What the Citizenship Drive Workshops are and how they help
First and foremost, all of our Citizenship Drive Workshops are free of charge to participants and have no cap on enrollment.
Workshop participants will learn from legal reviewers whether they’re eligible to apply for U.S. naturalization. If so, they are also eligible for a no-interest loan to pay for their legal fees. But BFG hopes to raise enough money through donations to pay their fees in full.
What to expect at the workshops
All workshop participants get a free assessment and review of their unique citizenship situation. They can also speak with a legal reviewer to ask important questions. Here’s how it works:
- Evaluation process—Each naturalization applicant’s case goes through an evaluation process to determine whether they meet all the eligibility requirements and whether the case is a simple or complex one.
- Simple case applicants—Eligible applicants with simple cases are asked to fill out an N-400 form and meet with an experienced immigration attorney to review their completed application before filling it.
- Complex case applicants—Eligible applicants with complex cases are given scheduled consultations with an experienced immigration attorney to determine whether they should proceed with the application or not.
Who can attend?
- Open to all Legal Permanent Resident business owners in the City of San Diego—Workshop participants must be an LPR who owns a business in Districts 3, 4, 7, 8, and 9 in the City of San Diego. Family members of LPR business owners may attend along with them.
- Walk-ins are welcome—Participants are asked to register in advance, but walk-ins are welcomed too.
Donate to the Citizenship Drive Workshops to cover all costs for participants
The fee to apply for citizenship is costly. It is currently $725, soon to be $760. For context, the fee to naturalize was just $95 in 1997, or around $180 in today’s dollars (when adjusted for inflation).
But this is just the filing fee. It does not include the cost of getting the paperwork together, and seeking extended legal assistance with questions and concerns beforehand, to ensure the application is completed correctly.
Naturalization processing time can take 6-24 months—a lengthy process that can be made even longer if the original application contains errors.
“What we have learned from research conducted by Manual Pastor at the University of Southern California is that the fee does matter,” said Alor. “The more it costs, the longer it takes for individuals to save enough to apply and, certainly, it discourages many others to apply in the first place.”
Immigrants give more than they take. It’s that simple. And immigrant entrepreneurs throughout the U.S. not only provide for themselves and their families, but they also help revitalize neighborhoods, cities, and regions that have seen economic decline. This is certainly the case for burgeoning areas in San Diego such as Barrio Logan, City Heights, Chula Vista, and more.
The Citizenship Drive Workshops help return a piece of the impact to immigrant business owners that so many of them have already made on San Diego County for decades.
Donate now to our Citizenship Drive Workshops and help thousands of eligible San Diego immigrant entrepreneurs gain U.S. citizenship to build real success for generations to come.