SAN FRANCISCO -- As cities across the nation celebrate National Citizenship Month, San Francisco is promoting an innovative program to make citizenship more accessible for those who can’t afford the fee.
San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs and the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative will host a free workshop on September 7, 2019 at Microsoft to help eligible green card holders apply for citizenship and get help covering the cost. The workshop is part of San Francisco’s partnership with Cities for Citizenship (C4C) initiative, a national network of 86 cities and counties that promote citizenship efforts across the country. Funded by Citi Community Development, Cities for Citizenship is celebrating its fifth anniversary this September.
“Never has it been more critical for immigrants to use their voices, naturalize and assume their rightful roles as Americans,” said Adrienne Pon, executive director of the Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs and the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission. “Six years ago, we launched the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative to encourage civic participation and citizenship among eligible Legal Permanent Residents. We are committed to helping as many immigrants as possible get the assistance they need to participate. Our democracy depends on it.”
It currently costs $725 to apply for U.S. citizenship. Those who can’t afford the fee can apply for a fee waiver. But the administration has announced plans to make changes to the fee waiver form. Instead of proving their eligibility through the use of public benefits, applicants would have to prove their income in other ways.
In anticipation of potential changes to the fee waiver form, San Francisco may be uniquely positioned to help immigrants who can’t afford the application fee. That’s because the City works with local non-profit organization Mission Asset Fund to help applicants cover the cost.
The City of San Francisco provides a 50% match through Mission Asset Fund, for applicants who live, work or attend school in San Francisco. Today, applicants can use the 50% match to pay the filing fee for naturalization or other immigration benefits including Temporary Protected Status (TPS), U visas for crime victims, family petitions, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Mission Asset Fund, which operates nationally, is also working to expand its offerings. “We’re doubling the number of zero-interest loans to help people that can’t cover the cost of applying to do so now,” said Mission Asset Fund CEO José Quiñonez. “Over 8 million eligible immigrants can apply for US citizenship; we want to help those who can’t cover the $725 cost of applying.”
In the past six years, the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative has helped nearly 9,000 people complete naturalization applications and provided legal screenings to nearly 14,000 immigrants. Funded by the City and local foundation partners, the Initiative has held 46 free workshops across the city and saved applicants a total of more than $4 million in application fees.
Last year, the Initiative launched a collaboration with the San Francisco International Airport to allow employees and their families to apply for citizenship at the airport. The Initiative is also continuing its Lawyers in the Library partnership with the San Francisco Public Library, where applicants can get help applying for citizenship in computer-based workshops.
Anni Chung, president and CEO of Self-Help for the Elderly, the lead organization for the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative, said that as the 2020 elections get closer, more San Franciscans are interested in helping volunteer for naturalization clinics.
“For our September 7, 2019 naturalization workshop, we posted the request for volunteers online and one hour later, all the positions were signed up. The ‘race’ for citizenship is on, and there are hundreds of volunteers eager to help,” she said.
The free workshop will be held on Saturday, September 7, 2019 at Microsoft, 1355 Market Street, 3rd Floor, in San Francisco, from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. No appointment is needed.
About the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative
The San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative was established in 2013 by the late Mayor Edwin M. Lee as a public-private partnership between local foundations and the City and County of San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs (OCEIA) and was created to promote citizenship and civic participation among San Francisco’s naturalization-eligible immigrants.
Learn more: www.sfcitizenship.org