A study released by the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (USC-CSII), entitled “Nurturing Naturalization: Could Lowering the Fee Help?,” found that language obstacles and the high price tag required to apply for U.S. citizenship are the top reasons holding illegal immigrants back from applying. According to The Capital Times, the $680 fee required by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to apply for citizenship hinders low-income immigrants from participating fully in the community.
According to the USC-CSII study released on February 14, in the last decade and a half the fees have dramatically increased, creating a barrier for individuals who work in low-income jobs. In 1997, the fee was $95. Janice Beers, director of Immigrant and Refugee Services at Jewish Social Services of Madison, Wisconsin, told The Capital Times that some people who are working cannot afford to pay the fee and it can be waived if a family is in need.
“Previous research has demonstrated that naturalization can improve incomes and enhance civic participation,” the study’s authors explained. “For a nation of immigrants, encouraging naturalization and full participation in our civic and economic life would seem to be one of those goals on which many Americans can agree – and so it seems entirely appropriate to change the fee structure to reduce the financial barriers to integrating fully into our society, economy and democracy.”
Older immigrants often struggle with learning English, even though there are free and low-cost classes available throughout the country. Applicants are required to take a civics and English test, but this overwhelming task is often impossible for older adults. Waivers are available if applicants meet specific requirements, including proof of a medical condition that would hinder their ability to learn a new language.