Wendy Kallergis is the president and chief executive of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, which promotes the interests of more than 160 hotels in and around Will Smith’s favorite city. She believes helping Miami’s immigrant workers gain citizenship is good for business. This has been lightly edited for clarity.
“I come from a family of Albanian and Romanian immigrants. My grandfather had a fruit stand in Bangor, Maine, where we grew up. My dad opened a supermarket, where I stocked the shelves. He went on to open two seafood and steak restaurants.
I understand what it means to come here to build something from the ground up. I am now in my dream job as President and CEO of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association. Our work with the National Immigration Forum’s New American Workforce is one of the most significant initiatives we have.
There are more than 110,000 hospitality industry employees in Miami. At last count, America’s hospitality industry was about 30-percent dependent on its foreign-born workforce.
We provide hospitality employees with workshops and the training to fill out the paperwork and take the test for citizenship.
They develop the self confidence to excel in their position — and way beyond that. They can now vote. Their children who are 18 and under automaticallybecome citizens.This aids in building our retention efforts and positively impacts the employer-employee relationship. In short: It’s good for business.
The New American Workforce program can truly change the life of an employee. Miami has more than 12 hotels participating — and growing. This program reminds us that we truly care about our employees and community.
We are anticipating between 7,500 and 10,000 more hotel rooms in the next 5 years. With growth comes jobs. Employees who become new American citizens will be able to purchase their own homes, I believe. They will continue to invest in the local economy and community.
Our international visitors surpassed domestic this past year. People come from everywhere, speaking every language. It’s truly an international city — and we want to reflect that in our workforce.
We hope to engage our hotel corporate offices to join the immigrant worker program. We already have Hyatt Regency Miami. Think of the impact we will have if Hyatt corporate signs up.
Next, we want to build our own mentorship program. We have so many talented high school kids who want to be in our industry. We have many local hospitality colleges and universities here to educate them. It is our responsibility — not just the government’s — to make sure we provide them the opportunities they deserve.”