US immigration: Workers wanted

Construction sector fights to retain foreign-born employees with citizenship schemes and other incentives

Thomas Williams is a man on an unlikely mission. A white retired US naval officer living in Texas, he spends much of his time these days chasing after young Mexican-born workers and peppering them with questions about American history and government.

As odd as this might seem, it comes with his current job. Mr Williams, 58, works for KPost, a Dallas roofing company that has topped off such local landmarks as the Perot Museum and AT&T Stadium, home of the Cowboys, the American football club. Like construction groups across the US, KPost relies heavily on immigrants, mostly from nearby Mexico, to do lower-wage physical jobs, and is struggling to find enough workers to keep up with demand.

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Mr Williams is part of the KPost solution. To help reduce labour turnover, he is working to make US citizens out of his immigrant colleagues. The company lends employees who are US residents the money to apply for citizenship, about $900, and forgives the debt if they remain at KPost another year. Mr Williams, an imposing barrel-chested man, fills out the forms and drills applicants on the civics questions asked on naturalisation tests — paying particular attention to confusing north-of-the-border names.

By Gary Silverman for
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