What is citizenship worth to you?

Matthew Jose

Director of Programs and Development

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The cost of citizenship has been skyrocketing recently and there is no end in sight.  Starting December 23, 2016, the cost to submit an application for naturalization will rise 6.6% from $680 to a total of $725.  In addition, the cost to submit an application for a certificate of citizenship (available to children under 18 who derive citizenship from their parents) is rising 95% from $600 to a total of $1,170.

There is a fee waiver for the application, available to all applicants who receive means-tested benefits from the state or federal government or who live at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.  But the process to have a fee waiver accepted can be unwieldy and mystifying.

Project Citizenship exists as a direct services organization to make sure that eligible legal permanent residents are not priced out of citizenship.  75% of the applicants that apply with the help of Project Citizenship are eligible to have the application fee waived.  In 2016, Project Citizenship and its partners around New England are expected to help save applicants over $2,000,000 in application fees.

But, the hidden costs associated with citizenship can add up quickly for individuals and, especially, families.  Private attorneys and other associated immigration businesses charge hundreds of dollars for each application prepared.  Mailing and printing materials as well as the lost wages from missing work create additional costs.  In short, cost is a barrier to citizenship.

Project Citizenship charges no administrative, printing, mailing, or preparation fee for any services provided.  The mission is to provide access to high quality, free services to any and all eligible legal permanent residents who want to become U.S.  citizens.

Despite having entirely free services, Project Citizenship does not sacrifice quality.  With a roster of over 500 active and trained volunteers, more than half of whom are attorneys, Project Citizenship is able to provide quality legal services.  Each volunteer is supervised by the Project Citizenship staff, comprised of two attorneys and two Board of Immigration Appeals Accredited members. Everyone involved in Project Citizenship’s mission works to break down the cost barrier and allow more people to access the benefit of citizenship.

While citizenship is not the only immigration benefit facing rising application costs, the increase in  costs disproportionately affect immigrants in a lower income class.  Nearly every form that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) produces has a cost increase.  The foreign investor visa, for example, is rising 185% from $6,230 to $17,795.  The cost spike for foreign investors makes sense given that the immigration benefit is the ability to invest in the American economy.

But, Project Citizenship and its partners believe that the immigration benefits that come from citizenship should not be reserved for the wealthy and privileged.  They work to ensure that everyone who wants to become an American citizen has access to the necessary resources and are not priced out of the process.  Access to the right information and support is the key ingredient to help all eligible legal permanent residents become citizens.  As the price of citizenship goes up, Project Citizenship will continue to extend its services to as many people as possible.

The hope is that all those who want to become American citizens are able to find the necessary resources to take this step.  Project Citizenship and its partners want to be a resource to make sure that no one is priced out of this benefit.  In order to do this work, we must have the support of communities and stakeholders who agree with our mission.

Today, we are calling for all Americans to renew their commitment to citizenship.  You can do this by volunteering at a local organization that helps prepare citizenship applications, donate to Project Citizenship and its partners to support this work in New England, and begin conversations in your community around what it means to be an American citizen.