The cost of becoming a US citizen is going up almost double the current fee.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently released a notice that it will raise the naturalization application fee to $1,170. This is an increase of 83% over the current fee of $640. The cost of applying for naturalization is already a barrier for many aspiring U.S. citizens.
USCIS also announced it will abolish available fee waivers for naturalization. With this change, USCIS has made clear its intent to reserve US citizenship for only the wealthiest immigrants.
“At a time where 40% of Americans cannot cover a $400 emergency expense, it’s not a stretch to see how this announced fee increase adds a greater financial burden to applicants and puts citizenship even further out of reach,” John C. Yang, president and executive director of Advancing Justice | AAJC.
“The Asian Americans Advancing Justice affiliation will oppose the fee increase and the elimination of naturalization-related fee waivers. We will work alongside partner immigrants’ rights advocates to ensure citizenship remains accessible and affordable to all.”
In response to the USCIS announcement, Asian Americans Advancing Justice affiliate organizations are urging eligible Americans to naturalize before these new measures take effect.
“This proposal is a blatant attempt to prevent low-income immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens. High filing fees are an insurmountable obstacle for many of the individuals Advancing Justice serves,” said Stephanie Cho of Advancing Justice – Atlanta.
“Naturalization is a crucial pathway to empowerment for marginalized communities of color in the South and an important protection for Asian Americans and other immigrant families. We strongly encourage community members who might be eligible to naturalize to attend one of our free citizenship clinics before the end of the year.”
Before these announced changes take effect, Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, Advancing Justice | AAJC, and Advancing Justice – Atlanta urge lawful permanent residents who have been considering applying for naturalization begin the process immediately while the current rules, including the fee waiver and reduced fee, are still in place.
The administration proposal would give priority to those would-be citizens who can prove that they would not be using any government assistance and are able to financially support themselves. Preference will be given to those who work in professions that would benefit the US.
At the same time, the administration would de-emphasize family reunification, which had been the main pool of new citizens.
Christine Chen, project director for Advancing Justice-LA, responded: “As an organization that assists thousands of naturalization applicants, of whom over 60% are low income, we recognize that this proposal will deeply hurt low-income immigrants and vulnerable communities of color.
“The message from this administration about who they deem ‘worthy’ of citizenship is loud and clear–that only those with means can apply. This change does not reflect our principles and values embedded in our history and our Constitution. This administration has repeatedly attacked immigrants and is committed to making it harder for low-income immigrants to access the nation’s lawful immigration system and become citizens.
Advancing Justice-LA and other immigration advocates encourage community members who may be eligible to apply for naturalization to contact our office to receive free legal assistance as soon as possible.
In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court Wednesday by a coalition of communities and immigrant aid organizations seeks to delay the implementation of the proposed rule. The complaint argues that Ken Cuccinelli’s appointment as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services violated federal law.
If the court agrees, Cuccinelli’s actions since taking over the agency in June would be invalid, including a new rule on application fee waivers for naturalization and other benefits. The plaintiffs have also asked for an injunction to prevent the implementation of the new waiver guidelines.
The City of Seattle and several immigrant services agencies, including Catholic Legal Immigration Network, and Immigrant Legal Resource Center, are named as plaintiffs in the complaint challenging the new rule and Cuccinelli’s appointment, which they say violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA).
“The American promise must be open to all,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a press release. “Wealth is not and should never be a requirement of being an American citizen. Seattle will fight for the promise of America and against a pay-to-play approach to citizenship.”
AAAJ affiliates in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. and our many partners involved in the New Americans Campaign, regularly hold citizenship workshops to provide low-cost, and in many cases free, legal assistance to guide eligible Americans through the naturalization application process. Information about upcoming workshops in the Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. metropolitan areas is available through Advancing Justice–LA’s multilingual helpline:
Chinese (Mandarin/Cantonese): 800-520-2356
English/Other: 888-349-9695 Download our fee waiver factsheet for more resources.
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