Every four years, as the country approaches presidential elections, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, receives a significant increase in naturalization applications. This rise is an expression of many long-time residents’ desire to achieve the dream of United States citizenship and participate in one of our most fundamental and valued traditions: open and fair elections. Often, these are our neighbors who, after years of contributing to our communities, have decided they were ready to fully participate in all of the privileges of their home. Unfortunately, this periodic jump in applications leads to processing backlogs — delaying the process for many Lawful Permanent Residents, or LPRs. As organizations that serve immigrant communities, you may ask how can we rise to the challenge and encourage eligible immigrants to apply as soon as possible.
The 2020 presidential election will be here before we know it, bringing along with it the natural increase in applications and possible processing delays. Additionally, with the anticipated increase in the fee for N-400 applications and changes to requirements and qualifications for the fee waiver, there is additional urgency to assist Lawful Permanent Residents to submit applications as soon as possible.
Here are a few ideas from CLINIC to help you implement innovative strategies that increase enthusiasm around naturalization and access to quality legal help and resources.
Organize group application workshops in your community
Well-organized and widely promoted group naturalization application workshops are an effective and efficient way for your organization to assist large numbers of LPRs complete their naturalization applications. Consider finding other organizations to collaborate with and holding pre-screening events to help maximize the impact of your workshop. Seek out local New Americans Campaign, or NAC, organizations in your community to form strong partnerships and learn about NAC best practices in naturalization work.
Embrace online citizenship platforms like Citizenshipworks
Citizenshipworks allows applicants to independently complete their naturalization applications on devices connected to the internet. Introduce participants to the platform and help them register using any method you use to connect with your audience, including on social media and at naturalization presentations. Also, using CitizenshipWorks at naturalization events allows applicants to complete their application more quickly, as well as reduces wait times and the need for volunteers.
Recruit ambassadors who can encourage your community to act
When information comes from trusted individuals, it resonates well with your intended audience. Scout your community for these people. They can be local celebrities or simply a person of good standing in your area. Their job will be to help promote the benefits of naturalization and direct LPRs to Citizenshipworks and naturalization workshops. Encourage them to use social media to reach supporters or use local media to speak out or run public service announcements.
Identify and target underserved members of your community
Make it a priority to reach out to smaller underserved immigrant communities, learn what needs they have and work to promote naturalization and provide application assistance. In many instances, this may require you to partner with organizations that have closer ties to those communities.
Develop partnerships that can help advance your organization’s naturalization goals
Relationships with local and state governments, representatives from local USCIS field offices, or other key people or government agencies will be important as you encourage eligible immigrants to apply. A partnership at this level can bring significant resources, attention and credibility to your work, emphasizing to eligible groups the importance of applying for citizenship.
Educate your community as often as you can
A recent NAC study found that 60 percent of LPRs had never been informed or approached about naturalization, citing uncertainty as their hesitancy in applying. Immigration advocacy organizations should provide strong, concise messaging with consistent themes — naturalization is important, and help and resources are available.
As you think about how to put these tips into action, consider the following: on average, 93 percent of applicants pass the naturalization test. This is due in large part to the availability of free citizenship study materials. USCIS has online resources and promotional materials that can be posted in offices or intake areas. Highlighting information about full and partial fee waivers can inspire low-income families to apply. The use of revolving loan funds or grants for application fees can also aid these applicants. Organizations can also direct clients towards local NAC events or contact local NAC partners to discuss how they can help contribute to nearby events and collaborative efforts.
Although the 2020 elections may seem far away, the naturalization backlog is already rising. Will applications received in December 2019 be approved in time to register to vote? How much will the fee for N-400 applications be raised? Will requirements for fee waivers be tightened? When will changes be implemented? Immigrants shouldn’t wait to find out. By beginning to encourage new applicants now and serving those already expressing interest in the process, community-based organizations and immigration legal services providers are helping to secure the future of all U.S. citizens, while underscoring our nation’s democratic values.
For more information on how your organization can participate in the 2020 drive toward citizenship, check out the following resources: