Initiative Waives Naturalization Fee for 1,500 Eligible Low-Income Working Immigrants
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today launched the second round of "NaturalizeNY" – the first-of-its-kind public-private partnership to encourage eligible immigrants in New York State with becoming U.S. citizens. The initiative provides comprehensive support through the naturalization process – featuring free eligibility screenings, application assistance, naturalization exam preparation, and for round two, a lottery for up to 1,500 vouchers for low-income citizenship-eligible immigrants. NaturalizeNY is administered by the New York State Office for New Americans in partnership with the Robin Hood Foundation, New York Community Trust, universities including Stanford University, George Mason University, and SUNY Albany, and media organizations.
"The New York story is written by immigrants, who come from all over the world seeking a better life for themselves and their families as New Yorkers," Governor Cuomo said. "In these stormy times, we are sending a clear message – we welcome you into the New York family, where we know that our diversity is our strength."
NaturalizeNY is administered by the New York State Office for New Americans in partnership with the Robin Hood Foundation, New York Community Trust, universities including Stanford University, George Mason University, and SUNY Albany, and media organizations.
Governor Cuomo launched NaturalizeNY last July, and through its first six months, has helped more than 3,200 immigrant New Yorkers pursue United States citizenship, including over 2,250 low-income immigrants. Low-income immigrants, with the help of the program, can save on the cost of the federal application fee. The program features a lottery that awards naturalization application fee vouchers. Nearly 960 immigrant New Yorkers registered for the initial round of the randomized lottery in 2016, and 389 were awarded a fee voucher and submitted their application to the federal government last December. Up to 1,500 vouchers will be awarded in round two of the program.
In the second round, the program will continue to provide the resources to help thousands more citizenship-eligible New Yorkers, who may register for the program at www.NaturalizeNY.org.
"New York represents a land of opportunity and inclusion for all who come to be part of our family, grow our economy and help enrich the cultural life of our great state," New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said. "The incredible response to NaturalizeNY last year served as a testament to our state’s rich immigration history that still exists to this very day, stronger than ever. New York will continue its proud tradition of welcoming those who come here looking to achieve the American Dream."
NaturalizeNY provides free comprehensive support through the naturalization process, including eligibility screenings, application assistance, naturalization exam preparation, and federal fee waiver application assistance. In addition to expanding opportunity for New Yorkers, NaturalizeNY will also provide a boost to the state’s economy.
A 2015 study conducted by the Urban Institute found that, on average, there is an increase of 8.9 percent in earnings for immigrants who become citizens. The increased earnings lead to higher tax payments and lower reliance on public benefits. For New York City, this would mean that if all eligible immigrants become citizens there would be an increase in tax revenues of $789 million, which, along with a decrease in benefits use, would yield a net benefit of $823 million.
Lottery for Application Fee Voucher
According to the U.S. Census, there are 915,000 people in New York State who hold a green card and are eligible for citizenship, including approximately 654,720 in New York City. A 2015 study conducted by the Urban Institute found that a main reason these individuals have not applied for citizenship is related to the cost of the application. There is an application to have the federal fee waived for low-income immigrants, but for many working prospective applicants who earn too much to qualify for the waiver the cost of applying for citizenship can be a deterrent. For example, for an individual earning $35,000 a year, too much to qualify for a federal fee waiver, the cost of applying for citizenship works out to the equivalent of about a week’s pay.
To support up to 1,500 citizenship applicants, New York State, the Robin Hood Foundation and the New York Community Trust are investing more than $1.25 million to cover the $725 application fee through fee assistance vouchers. The funding will be paid directly to the federal government by the campaign partners and cover the full cost of the naturalization process. Vouchers will be awarded following the lottery in August, and administered by personnel from the Office for New Americans, SUNY Albany, Stanford University and George Mason University.
Eligibility depends on household size and income. Prospective applicants can do a pre-screening for citizenship, check their eligibility, and register for the lottery by visiting www.NaturalizeNY.org; additional information is available by calling the New Americans Hotline, at 1-800-566-7636.
There are an estimated 464,000 immigrant New Yorkers eligible to have the naturalization application fee waived by the federal government. Many are unaware they are eligible to apply for free. To date, NaturalizeNY has helped over 2,250 people access a waiver through the program’s free eligibility screenings and assistance in filling out a fee waiver application.
The Federal Fee Waiver is available to individuals whose household income is 150 percent or below the Federal Poverty Guidelines, while the NaturalizeNY Lottery is open to those who are at 150 percent – 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director, Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of New York said, "Not only should we warmly welcome newcomers, but we should genuinely seek to integrate immigrants and refugees into New York. This means providing opportunities for success that newcomers have come to this country to achieve. Doing this helps all New Yorkers as immigrants have contributed so much of their energy, talent and vitality to make New York the business, civic and cultural leader it has always been. NaturalizeNY is another way to make sure that immigrants are offered the chance to become more fully part of our communities and make ongoing contributions to their new home."
Shawn Morehead, a program director at The New York Community Trust, and Veyom Bahl, a managing director at Robin Hood, said, "NaturalizeNY offers low-income, working immigrants a unique opportunity to become US citizens and achieve greater economic stability. We are proud to partner in this effort and open the door for the immigrant community to overcome the financial barriers to naturalization."
José Calderón, President of the Hispanic Federation said, "The work being carried out under NaturalizeNY is crucial for our community. Its impact and resonance is even more important now given the state of politics in Washington D.C. The Hispanic Federation is thrilled to once again be part of this effort and deeply grateful for the commitment that both Governor Cuomo and Secretary of State Rosado have made to ensure its success. We look forward to continuing to work closely with them and the state's Office for New Americans to protect and uplift our immigrant community."
Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director of the Asian American Federation, said, "At our ONA center, we are seeing a dramatic increase in demand from New Yorkers for citizenship services. One of the biggest obstacles for low-income and working families is the high cost of the application fee. We applaud Governor Cuomo and our colleagues at the New York State Office for New Americans for creating an opportunity for at least 1,500 low income New Yorkers to become U.S. citizens, removing one of the toughest barriers for many working New Yorkers. These days when newcomers are being vilified, we appreciate the visionary steps of our leaders to ensure that all those who make New York home are welcomed and valued."
Allan Wernick, Director of CUNY Citizenship Now! said, "CUNY Citizenship Now! is pleased to support and partner in the NaturalizeNY initiative in its second year! As the nation’s largest university-based citizenship and immigration law service program, helping thousands of New Yorkers, there is a growing need for citizenship application assistance. Citizenship Now! and our hundreds of volunteers, look forward to partnering with New York’s Office for New Americans in helping New York immigrants overcome the financial barriers to citizenship."
Building on New York’s Leading Efforts
NaturalizeNY is part of Governor Cuomo’s efforts to help immigrants and minority populations fully participate in New York’s civic and economic life.
In 2011, his first year in office, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 26, requiring State agencies that provide direct public services to offer free interpretation and translation services to members of the public for vital forms and instructions. Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, New York State also:
- Established the New York State Office for New Americans – the first state-level immigrant office created by statute in the nation – to assist newcomers in the State who are eager to contribute to our economy and become part of the family of New York.
- Launched a comprehensive initiative to protect immigrants from immigration-related fraud, which included signing legislation making it a felony to commit immigrant assistance services fraud.
Most recently, Governor Cuomo launched the Task Force to End Worker Exploitation and the Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force to ensure that workers are being treated fairly and for business owners to better understand their rights and responsibilities.
Becoming a U.S. Citizen
The federal government only grants U.S. citizenship to immigrants with lawful status after the individual fulfills the requirements established by Congress. The process of becoming a citizen, referred to as naturalization, generally includes an extensive application to the federal government, submission of fingerprints to be used for a criminal background check by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, passing a language and civics exam, and an interview with a federal immigration officer. After this process, an immigrant is not yet a U.S. citizen until after the individual takes the Oath of Allegiance at a citizenship ceremony.