Tim Wallace
T.W. Wallace Construction
Arlington, Va.
Big50 1987

I've sponsored four employees through the green card process and helped two get their U.S. citizenship. Nine of my 13 employees are of Hispanic origin, primarily from Central America. They're loyal, they're very hard workers, they want to learn, they show up on time, they do their work.

The first thing you need to do is talk to a lawyer who specializes in this area. Find one who speaks to you in a straightforward manner — it's hard enough comprehending the bureaucratic language coming from the INS [the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. See “More Information”]. I work with a couple of lawyers I learned of through referrals.

The process isn't that time-consuming for me, as a business owner. I have to fill out some forms initially, basically establishing that my business is viable. Then I have to prove my need for this employee, and show that I have been trying to fill this position. INS is horribly slow — it can take four or five years to get the green card.

I also help employees pay their legal fees, which have run between $3,000 and $5,000 for a green card and about $9,000 for citizenship. Fees to the government are a pittance, by comparison. I basically give employees an interest-free loan that they pay back out of their bonuses. For instance, I fronted one gentleman $9,000 to get his citizenship. If his bonus is $3,000, I'll give him $1,000 but credit $2,000 to his interest-free loan. So he's still getting a bonus in hand, but he's also seeing his loan being paid down on the ledger sheet.

I feel that helping these workers is part of my social responsibility. If our immigration laws weren't in such disarray and so punitive in the first place, more immigrants would be here legally. I hire long term, so it gives me peace of mind to know that the government isn't going to come crashing down on my workers or on me. It's also nice for them, and for me, to know that they have a good, secure future here.

Michael Strong
Brothers Strong
Big50 1995

We've helped two subcontractors get their green cards and their citizenship. Both are painting contractors from Mexico.

If you attempt to work with the INS by saying you want to sponsor an employee, you'll go nowhere; that will work if you're sponsoring a software engineer from India, but not a construction worker from Mexico or Guatemala. Instead, there's a whole industry of Mexican nationals who run legal businesses that help immigrants get legalized. My subcontractors worked directly with them, learned what they needed to learn, and brought me a series of papers to sign.

Besides sponsoring them through the citizenship process, we've helped these subcontractors by loaning them money and cosigning notes for their vehicles and painting equipment. We've brought in manufacturers' representatives to conduct classes on proper product installation. We've brought them to networking events and written letters of recommendation. We've done everything we can to help them.

We're very family-oriented, and our efforts pay off with friendship and loyalty. It's amazingly personal with Hispanics. If I go to either of these men's houses, the biggest picture on their mantle is of me — bigger than the pictures of their mother or wife. I recently was asked to be the “uncle” of one man's daughter — a position of great prominence and pride. At her coming-out party, people from Columbia and Guatemala and El Salvador approached me one by one to thank me. All had been on these painting crews.

These relationships have also helped us become the remodeler of choice. We don't tolerate prejudice or any kind of discrimination. Either of these guys will push aside jobs to find time for us, and they finish projects neatly and on time.

More Information

Waiting periods for green cards (issued to “legal permanent residents”) and citizenship vary widely, depending on the number and the complexity of applications received. Temporary work permits are available in the interim. Legal fees also vary. Learn more from http://immigration.about.com or through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ( http://uscis.gov), which assumed INS duties in 2003. The American Immigration Lawyers Association ( www.aila.org) provides referrals for immigration lawyers.