ORLEANS — When Eastham historian and selectman Donald Sparrow died in 2014, his obituary listed many accomplishments but stressed that “(h)e was most proud that his grandchildren were the 13th generation to attend school in Eastham.”
Now Perry and Maya Sparrow, the brother and sister co-owners of the Hot Chocolate Sparrow, have helped eight of the cafe’s seasonal workers sink their own roots into Cape Cod soil.
For many years, local employers have added staff in the summer by welcoming workers from other countries under the H2B visa program, which allows for seasonal stays. “The visa process has been getting harder and harder each year,” Perry Sparrow said in an interview. “There was uncertainty not knowing if we’d have a full workforce, a lot of stress and anxiety.”
What if those workers could obtain permanent resident status, the highly valued “green card?”
Sparrow talked things over with his staff from abroad. “They’d never really even mentioned it to me before,” he said. “I brought it up and they jumped at the idea. They’d love to be able to stay here full-time as well, to build a life in America and have the stability in America.”
So began a three-year quest for green cards under the Sparrow’s sponsorship and with the help of an immigration lawyer. “Originally, we applied for eight cards,” Sparrow said. “If you’re a direct relative or spouse or son or daughter, you can apply for an additional card on that application.”
H2B visa holders usually work in the States for a summer or a winter season, then return to their countries. While the cafe’s workers were applying for permanent resident status, they would have to remain in the U.S., so the Sparrows helped them get winter H2B visas for jobs in Vermont at Mt. Snow.
Finally, the Sparrow announced on Facebook that “all 8 applications have been approved, and Orleans now has more full time Cape Cod locals living here and supporting our community… They are wonderful people and after working on Cape Cod for decades, they have more than earned the opportunity to build a life in our great country.”
“We had known them and their families a long time,” Perry Sparrow said. “It was more than just getting labor. It was helping their families. It’s always good to bring people here who want to be here and work.”
A photo collage posted by the cafe shows the Tamayo family from the Philippines, Sheldon Stephenson (Jamaica), Raul and Paul Espinosa and Kim Baldivino with baby Kira (Philippines), and Ismail Kundev (Bulgaria) all celebrating their new status.
“Finally, my green card is in my hand. I am thankful for this,” said Yolanda Tamayo, who started working at the Sparrow in 2009. “I am so grateful to be part of this family. We are very supportive of each other.”
The Sparrows are considering helping another H2B visa family gain permanent resident status. That process may take another three years, but being part of 13 generations of Cape Codders helps you take the long view.