Support for Naturalization in the States

The Pew Charitable Trusts Immigration and the States Project recently published an article on the amount of support for naturalization provided by state governments. The article focuses on three states: California, Illinois, and Washington.

California has a history of supporting naturalization efforts from the late ‘90s through the 2000s. This support ended in 2008 when the recession trimmed state budgets around the country. It resumed with the 2015 allocation of $15 million by the legislature to provide assistance for immigrants eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), as well as for naturalization. In the fiscal year that has just begun, the state has added an additional $15 million for immigration assistance, including naturalization services.

Illinois has a history of supporting naturalization and immigrant integration services, too. Until 2015, the state supported the New Americans Initiative, and partnered with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights to implement it. However, with a new governor taking office in 2015, support for immigrant integration services was zeroed out.

Washington sate provides funding for naturalization through two streams—the Naturalization Services Program and the New Americans Program.

A few other states also provide some support for naturalization.

The law specifies that priority for services, such as English as a Second Language and civics classes, application assistance, and other services to help prepare for naturalization, should go to immigrants who qualify for certain federal and state means-tested benefits unless their non-citizen status bars them from receiving such benefits.

This is a common concern of states. Certain federal means-tested benefits are not available to non-citizens (for instance, Supplemental Security Income, though there are exceptions). In some cases, states provide means-tested benefits similar to the federal benefits until the immigrant becomes a citizen, after which the immigrant will qualify for the federal benefit. In these cases, there is economic incentive, from the state’s perspective, to get immigrants through the citizenship process so they could qualify for federal benefits.

Missouri is another example. Its 2016 budget gives $200,000 to the Department of Mental Health to assist naturalization-eligible refugees or immigrants with special needs. Grants are awarded to qualified non-profit organizations based on a program’s effectiveness in helping senior refugees and immigrants acquire citizenship and their ability to qualify individuals for Medicare. The 2017 budget has a similar provision.

New York State’s 2015-2016 budget allocates $6.44 million for the state’s Office of New Americans for a variety of programs, including citizenship preparation and assistance with the naturalization process. The allocation is repeated in the 2016-2017 budget.

Currently, there are only a handful of states that invest in helping new Americans become citizens. However, we can expect that, in the future, more states will realize that attracting immigrants is in their economic interest. Those states would hopefully support an infrastructure that helps immigrants integrate and become citizens.


Posted on August 9, 2016

Our Impact

  • The Campaign has completed over 3,700 naturalization workshops and clinics.
  • Over 250,000 citizenship applications completed since July 2011.

    Saved aspiring citizens and their families over $206million in legal and application fees.
  • Adopted scalable technology. MP3 players, Google Voice, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services are being used to enhance naturalization service delivery.
  • Expanded New American Workforce (an effort to provide naturalization assistance within corporations) which has partnered with over 100 businesses across the nation, ranging from hotels in Miami to American Apparel in Los Angeles.
  • Deployed Citizenshipworks, an online tool, across the Campaign in multiple settings and languages. A newly redesigned platform guides applicants through through their citizenship application from start to finish and connects applicants to legal help at partnering non-profits.
  • Were instrumental in inspiring the US Citizenship and Immigration Service to support the Citizenship Corners initiative.
  • Created innovative partnerships with public libraries, school districts, universities, social service agencies, and employers, all of which yield not only greater numbers of applicants but also greater awareness of the naturalization process.
  • Deployed a large-scale volunteer recruitment program through an e-learning course.

    Reached diverse communities. Local partners consistently outreach and provide culturally competent and language-appropriate services.
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Who We're Helping

People come to America from all over the world with dreams of achieving a better life for themselves and their families and calling this great nation home. Eight million people who live, work, and pay taxes in this country are eligible for citizenship, yet only about eight percent of them naturalize each year. Find out more about these individuals and the barriers they face.Read More