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Chobani-Walmart Venture Aims to Give Immigrant Workers a Boost

Sept. 9, 2019, 6:01 PM

Major brand names are teaming up to provide services such as free legal aid and English classes to immigrant workers.

Chobani LLC and Walmart Inc. are founders and co-chairs of the Corporate Roundtable for the New American Workforce, which aims to give corporations ideas and resources to provide benefits designed with immigrant workers in mind. Driscoll’s Inc., Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Holdings Inc., Marriott International Inc., Lyft Inc., Target Corp., Tyson Foods Inc., and Uber Technologies Inc. are among companies taking part in the effort.

Participating businesses are using their own funds to provide legal advice and English lessons free of charge to their foreign-born workers.

We’re at a “moment in time when companies are really willing to really press into this much more” and emphasize the benefits of hiring and developing immigrant workers, said Jennie Murray, director of integration programs at the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based advocacy organization that’s backing the effort.

Companies are “making the business case” for continuing to bring in foreign labor, she told Bloomberg Law.

“Since its foundation, the United States has been a home to immigrants, who come with dreams and in search of greater opportunities,” the businesses said in a sign-on letter.

The foreign-born percentage of the working population increased from 13.1% in 2000 to 17.4% in 2018, showing the “necessity to support immigrant integration at work and in society,” the letter said.

“As a company whose network represents over 50% of foreign-born workers, it is our responsibility to stand in solidarity with immigrants that contribute so much to our company’s success,” said Soren Bjorn, president of Driscoll’s of the Americas. “We join other companies and industries in the Corporate Roundtable to collaborate on ways to best welcome and support a diverse workforce into our country.”

“We know that our business, as well as our communities and our country, are stronger when people of all identities are given opportunity and access,” Chobani said in a statement. “We’re proud to stand with our fellow Roundtable members that are working to create that opportunity for people and their families who have come to this country in search of a better life.

Immigration Limits

The Trump administration has taken steps to reform the legal immigration system, in addition to cracking down on illegal immigration. Various policies have led to increased denials of skilled-worker visa applications, while cuts to other immigration programs have started to dry up the supply of workers at the low-skill end of the spectrum.

A broad immigration plan President Donald Trump floated in May would award green cards based on “merit” rather than factors such as family ties. The current immigration system puts downward pressure on wages and forces low-skilled, low-income Americans to compete with foreign nationals, he said.

That message hasn’t resonated with corporate America, which sees cuts to its immigrant workforce at both ends of the skills spectrum doing damage to the bottom line. “It’s starting to hurt,” Murray said.

While the Corporate Roundtable program’s main offerings are free legal aid to help with the naturalization process and English language classes, the initiative is also aimed at combating the view that helping immigrant workers reduces opportunities for the U.S.-born.

“Every single person in the American workforce benefits” when immigrant workers have the skills “they need to thrive,” Murray said.

Other Challenges

Businesses have challenged the administration’s immigration policies in other ways.

Many companies have pursued litigation over visa denials, particularly when it comes to the popular H-1B specialty occupation visa.

Others have publicly come out in support of programs the administration has attempted to cut, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and Temporary Protected Status, both of which have been kept alive by the courts.

The National Immigration Forum launched a similar project six years ago to help smaller employers in eight metropolitan areas provide benefits to immigrant workers. Since then, some 400 businesses have taken part.

The project initially relied on grant money for the benefits and services, but now participating businesses provide their own funding.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nora Macaluso at nmacaluso@bloomberglaw.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com