New program provides free assistance for low-income immigrants seeking naturalization

naturalize ny


Gov. Andrew Cuomo has launched a new program aimed at assisting immigrants through the complex and expensive process of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Under this new program, up to 2,000 immigrants will be eligible to submit naturalization applications free of charge, with the beneficiaries selected via a lottery system.

“Naturalize NY,” the first program of its kind, has been made possible by a public-private partnership between the state government, the New York Daily News, the Robin Hood Foundation, SUNY Albany, Stanford University and George Mason University.

There are nearly 1 million people in New York state who currently hold green cards and are eligible for citizenship.  A 2015 study conducted by the Urban Institute found the main reason for these immigrants not becoming citizens is the cost of the naturalization application, which costs approximately $700.  For low-income immigrants, it is already possible to get the federal naturalization fee waived, but the NaturalizeNY lottery is intended for immigrants who make between $30,240 and $60,480 a year.

For a person who makes $35,000 a year, the application fee costs an entire week’s pay.

“There are countless hardworking immigrants in New York who dream of becoming American citizens, but for many, the process is too costly and difficult to navigate,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

In addition to the lottery, the program will provide other free services to all immigrants including, information about the federal citizenship process, eligibility screenings, civics lessons and English classes. These free services and information will be offered at the 27 existing Opportunity Centers statewide, as well as online. “We are a nation of immigrants, and New York believes that diversity is our greatest asset,” Cuomo said.

The 2015 Urban Institute study 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 to New York of $823 million.

With immigration policies taking center stage this election season, the NaturalizeNY program makes it clear that New York stands on the progressive side of the controversial issue.

“We must make it easier, not harder for people to pursue legal pathways to citizenship,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal. “Recognizing this truth, the governor is taking a bold step that will help thousands of people realize their dream of American citizenship. More cities should follow New York’s lead.”