CITIZENSHIP AND FINANCIAL EMPOWERMENT
Becoming a U.S. citizen is a unique moment to establish not only a national identity, but a financial identity as well. Research shows that naturalized citizens experience wage increases, have higher rates of homeownership¹ and health insurance², and are more likely to have a bank account than noncitizens. Despite these benefits, there are over 700,000 immigrants in New York City who have not taken the final step of becoming U.S. citizens.
Immigrants disproportionately struggle with low and unstable incomes, low levels of savings, and thin or nonexistent credit histories. Immigrant populations face additional obstacles to accessing financial services because of their immigration status, English proficiency, lack of trust in or understanding of the American financial system, and cultural and educational experience.
The New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) is firmly committed to connecting citizenship programming with financial empowerment services to ensure that individuals who are ready to obtain citizenship status are also connected to resources that help them achieve greater financial stability. In 2012, NYC MOIA launched a citizenship application assistance program called NYCitizenship, which has enabled over 2,700 individuals to apply for citizenship. All NYCitizenship participants were encouraged to participate in free financial counseling services designed to help participants sign up for checking and savings accounts, create and stick to budgets and take pro-active steps to reduce debt and improve credit scores.
However – despite the clear need for this assistance – many immigrants do not take advantage of the free financial counseling services offered.
- How can financial empowerment services be effectively integrated into the NYCitizenship program to maximize uptake and impact?
MOIA has joined with Citi Community Development and the Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability (DESIS) Lab at the Parsons School of Design to examine this challenge, and to develop a new approach that maximizes the economic benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen by weaving citizenship and financial empowerment together more effectively.
In March 2016, MOIA will re-launch its NYCitizenship program in partnership with the city’s three library systems. The new program will implement this new integrated service approach to better serve immigrant New Yorkers and contribute to the City’s efforts to help immigrant families rise out of poverty and stabilize communities
² 2013 U.S. Census data shows that while 46 percent of citizens nationwide have health insurance, only 12 percent of noncitizens nationwide have health insurance. In New York State, 36 percent of citizens have health insurance, while only 8 percent of noncitizens have health insurance. http://www.census.gov/data/developers/data-sets/acs-survey-3-year-data.html
The Naturalization Process
Applying for U.S. citizenship can be a complicated process. For most individuals, naturalization consists of the following steps:
– Meet with a citizenship specialist to be screened for eligibility;
– Gather information about his or her address history, employment history, marital history, criminal history, tax history, family members and their immigration statuses, history, and several other categories of personal information;
– Prepare the $680 application fee or apply for a fee waiver (for individuals with qualifying incomes);
– Complete and submit naturalization application forms with other supporting documents, typically with the assistance of a citizenship specialist;
– Study for and pass an English exam and a U.S. government and civics exam; and
– Take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
In March 2016, MOIA will launch a newly designed NYCitizenship program in partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and the Queens Library.
New York City’s public libraries are well situated to be a home for the NYCitizenship program. The libraries have become a safe, reliable place for immigrants to access free services like English conversation classes, financial literacy seminars, and courses on how to use a foreign degree to find a job in the United States. In 2014, nearly 2.8 million New Yorkers attended a class or workshop or some other event at their local library. Unsurprisingly, immigrants account for a large percentage of these library patrons.
NYCitizenship will place citizenship specialists at select library branches across the city to provide free citizenship application assistance and connect individuals to free financial counseling services available onsite at each of the participating branches. This program is supported by Citi Community Development, the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs promotes the well-being of immigrant communities by recommending policies and programs that facilitate successful integration of immigrant New Yorkers into the civic, economic, and cultural life of the City.
The New York City Public Library Systems
New York City has three public library systems that serve the five boroughs: Brooklyn Public Library, Queens Library and New York Public Library, which serves Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island. Together the three systems have 217 branches and see 40 million visitors each year. Offering a wide range of programs and services, the city’s public library branches are vital source of free information, education, recreation, and services for all New Yorkers.
Ed Reed / Mayoral Photography Office