Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the third round of the NaturalizeNY program – the first-of-its-kind public-private partnership to encourage eligible immigrants in New York State in becoming U.S. citizens – set a new engagement record in 2018 with 6,100 New Yorkers seeking naturalization. NaturalizeNY offered vouchers to cover naturalization fees this year to more than half of the 1,400 eligible lottery applicants from across the world, and another 4,700 individuals were introduced to the federal fee waiver program. Citizenship benefits immigrants through stronger protections from deportation, the right to vote and run for elected office, and the ability to assist more family members with immigrating to the United States.
"In New York, we welcome immigrants with open arms to join our communities, help grow our economy and enrich the cultural life of our state," Governor Cuomo said. "The record-breaking number of New Yorkers participating in the NaturalizeNY program sends a clear message to the federal government that while they try to build wall, we will always break down barriers to inclusion and help those who come here looking to achieve the American Dream."
"My grandparents struggled with poverty in Ireland and came to the United States looking for a better life," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "Regardless of what occurs in Washington, we are providing the resources and services immigrants need to ensure their rights and protections. We remain committed to helping them become citizens as they raise families, become entrepreneurs, start small businesses, and pursue new lives in communities throughout New York."
This year, individuals from more than 100 countries across the world applied for the program, with 428 applicants from the Dominican Republic,114 from Ecuador and 89 from Colombia registering for the lottery. A tally of total lottery applicants for all three years and countries of origin is available here.
NaturalizeNY has covered naturalization costs for 1,684 low-income immigrants since 2016. As in previous years, eligible applicants are entered into a lottery for a voucher to cover the $725 naturalization application fee. NaturalizeNY, via Governor Cuomo's Office for New Americans, also provides free comprehensive support through the naturalization process, including eligibility screenings, application assistance, naturalization exam preparation, and federal fee waiver application assistance. The program offered vouchers to 768 eligible applicants in 2018.
In addition to expanding opportunity for New Yorkers, NaturalizeNY also provides a boost to the state's economy. Immigrants who become citizens see an almost 9 percent increase in earnings, according to a 2015 Urban Institute study. This leads to higher tax revenue and lower reliance on public benefits.
The federal government only grants U.S. citizenship to immigrants with lawful status after the individual fulfills the requirements established by Congress. The process of becoming a citizen, referred to as naturalization, generally includes an extensive application to the federal government, submission of fingerprints to be used for a criminal background check by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, passing a language and civics exam, and an interview with a federal immigration officer. After this process, an immigrant is not yet a U.S. citizen until after the individual takes the Oath of Allegiance at a citizenship ceremony.
NaturalizeNY lifts the financial barrier to citizenship faced by New Yorkers, creating opportunity for immigrants and New York's diverse communities. According to the U.S. Census, 915,000 New Yorkers hold a green card and are eligible for citizenship, including approximately 654,720 individuals in New York City. Recent research from Stanford University's Immigration Policy Lab found that the cost of the application was a major barrier to these immigrants seeking citizenship. The threshold to have the federal fee waived means New Yorkers could be blocked from becoming citizens because of the financial barrier. For example, an individual earning $35,000 a year makes too much to qualify for a federal fee waiver, and the cost of applying for citizenship works out to the equivalent of about a week's pay. While the federal fee waiver is available to individuals whose household income is at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, NaturalizeNY is open to those who are at 150 – 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
NaturalizeNY is administered and supported by Governor Cuomo's Office for New Americans in partnership with Robin Hood, New York Community Trust, Stanford University's Immigration Policy Lab, as well as faculty from SUNY Albany and George Mason University. Program partners, including the City University of New York, Catholic Charities, and Hispanic Federation, provide invaluable outreach and registration support.
New York State Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said, "NaturalizeNY gives hope and opportunity to immigrants from around the world. We are proud to see this program break records and put more New Yorkers on a path to citizenship. The Office for New Americans and the Liberty Defense Project – both housed within the New York Department of State – will continue to work tirelessly to assist all immigrant New Yorkers seeking to make better lives for themselves and their families."
Senator Luis Sepúlveda said, "There are too many hardworking immigrants in New York who dream of becoming American citizens, but are unable to complete the process because of the prohibitive expenses. NaturalizeNY presents a much-needed opportunity for immigrants in our state to attain American citizenship by covering the costly application fee. I applaud Governor Cuomo for addressing this issue and making citizenship more accessible to our immigrant communities."
Assemblymember Michaelle C. Solages, Chair of the State Assembly's Taskforce on New Americans, said, "The United States was founded on the idea that we are a nation of immigrants and that we gain strength from diversity. Now, more than ever, citizenship has become a pin of safety for our immigrant communities. I commend Governor Cuomo for his efforts in ensuring accessibility to naturalization services for New Yorkers."
Assemblymember Victor M. Pichardo, Incoming Chair of the State Assembly's Taskforce on New Americans, said, "We commend Governor Cuomo for his commitment to New Yorkers. As chair of the Task Force on New Americans, I am excited to work on these issues."
Professor Allan Wernick, Director of CUNY Citizenship Now!, said, "Citizenship is a privilege, but also a right. CUNY Citizenship Now! is pleased to be part of the important NaturalizeNY initiative."
Frankie Miranda, Executive Vice President of Hispanic Federation, said, "I applaud Governor Cuomo for his continued commitment to advancing immigrant communities – especially with the current national political climate. Innovative solutions like NaturalizeNY not only bring the American dream closer for immigrant families, but allows New York to benefit from the energy and entrepreneurial spirit that traditionally contributes to our local and state economy. We are proud to be an inaugural partner of this program. Over the past three years, we've helped introduce this program to the communities that we work with, registering hundreds of people for the NaturalizeNY lottery. Financial barriers should never stand in the way of citizenship."
Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Director of Catholic Charities said, "Catholic Charities is proud to participate in and support NaturalizeNY. This program has allowed many New Yorkers who already have enriched and contributed to our communities to further achieve their dream of becoming US citizens. In these anxious times, New York's ongoing support for immigrants and refugees is critical to continuing the welcoming legacy of this state and this country."
Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director of the Asian American Federation said, "Through our Office for New Americans Opportunity Center, AAF and our partner organizations helped 273 immigrants complete their citizenship applications by providing in-language support in Urdu, Uzbek, Spanish, and other languages. During this time of great fear and uncertainty, we are grateful for Governor Cuomo's leadership in supporting the work that community-based organizations do to help newcomers naturalize and become citizens. His efforts to create pathways towards naturalization is a recognition of the fact that immigrants continue to be the lifeblood of this country. The Asian American Federation is encouraged by the growing requests for naturalization assistance, and we look forward to helping new Americans attain citizenship in the coming years!"
Any New York immigrant seeking immigration assistance is urged to contact the New Americans Hotline at 800-566-7636 or by visiting an ONA Opportunity Center.