New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer called for the creation of a public-private New York City Citizenship Fund to help legal immigrants cover the cost of the federal application to become U.S. citizens.
Stringer has sent a letter to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs about launching the fund, which would be administered by the city as a 501(c)(3), like the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City or the Fund for Public Schools.
“Becoming a U.S. citizen is the dream of many immigrants in New York, but between application costs, legal fees, English classes and more, total costs can run in the thousands of dollars,” Stringer said in a press release Friday. “In the most expensive city in the country, the application fee alone – up 500% since 1989 to $725 today – creates a barrier for low- and middle-income immigrants.”
To ensure that more of the 670,000 eligible immigrants in the city can afford to apply for citizenship, the fund would offset the costs of citizenship applications for residents with incomes between 150% and 300% of the poverty line, or incomes of less than $61,260 per year for a family of three.
The Comptroller’s Office estimates that around 180,000 legal immigrants in the city are within 150% and 300% of the poverty line and would be potentially eligible for the program. The fund would use city dollars to cover the costs of the first 35,000 New Yorkers who apply, at an estimated cost of $20.7 million.
"Citizenship not only brings with it the security of not being subject to deportation and the ability to vote, but has also been shown to increase employment opportunities, earnings, and ultimately tax revenues in a way that is good for all New Yorkers," Stringer said in his report.
Stringer said that the initial city investment could then be leveraged to find additional private, charitable funds from those interested in helping their fellow New Yorkers become citizens.
Last year, Stringer released a report showing almost 50% of the city’s workforce are immigrants who collectively earn $100 billion annually in wages and 32% of total earnings in New York City.
“This investment will help mitigate one of the most significant cost hurdles in the citizenship process, protect families, and deliver long-term benefits for the city,” Stringer said.