Tyson Foods commits $1M to help its workers become U.S. citizens

FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2006, file photo, a car passes in front of a Tyson Foods Inc., sign at Tyson headquarters in Springdale.

Tyson Foods is stepping up its effort to support immigrant workers who wish to become U.S. citizens.

According to census data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute, many workers in the meat processing industry come from places such as Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Burma or Cuba; work for low wages in difficult conditions; and are classified as noncitizens.

To help workers on their path to becoming U.S. citizens, Tyson set up a program that offers immigrants legal services and resources, with help from nonprofit organizations. In the past year, the Tyson Immigration Partnership has helped more than 500 workers at the seven locations where the program was offered.

The company on Tuesday said it will commit $1 million to continue supporting workers in this way, with plans to expand the program to 40 locations in 14 states.

"We care about our team members and want to help them achieve their goals, including those who have dreams of becoming U.S. citizens and having greater access to opportunities our country has to offer," John R. Tyson, executive vice president and chief sustainability officer at Tyson, said in a written statement.

"We're working hard to help team members who want and need assistance with their lawful immigration status or the complex and expensive process of becoming a citizen," he said. "We want to be the most sought-after place to work, and this is one way we hope to do that."

As part of the program, Tyson is working with nonprofits Arkansas Immigrant Defense and Immigrant Connection, based in Kansas, to help immigrants with legal services such as employment authorization renewals and petitions for citizenship.

A large hurdle for many is the cost to become a citizen. Through Tyson's program, workers are able to file for citizenship online at no cost and get reimbursed for government fees when they submit their applications. Tyson said reimbursements can be as much as $725.

Immigrant Connection is set to host monthly meetings for Tyson workers at 27 locations across the country, while Arkansas Immigrant Defense visits with workers at 13 locations in Arkansas.

Expanded immigration services are part of Tyson's efforts to recruit and retain workers as the industry continues to struggle with labor issues. Employers over the years have increased wages, offered bonuses, enhanced benefits and more to entice people to work during a global pandemic.

In addition to better wages and benefits, Tyson is testing subsidized and onsite childcare, as well as seven health centers located near processing plants. Competitors such as Cargill and Pilgrim's Pride, owned by JBS, have invested millions of dollars in covid-19 relief efforts for workers. They also support immigration reform that makes it easier for undocumented workers to obtain legal working status in the U.S. to fill labor gaps, but few if any have mechanisms in place to help their workers obtain citizenship.

Meatpacking plants have become targets of immigration raids in recent years. In the summer of 2019, immigration authorities picked up 658 workers at seven plants across Mississippi over the course of one day.