Citizenship is a tough mountain to climb, especially under Trump

Good overview of some of the additional hurdles, including increased fees. But of note that the backlog dates from Obama:

Gaining citizenship is a long, expensive and complicated process — one that has gotten more so under the Trump administration.

As the system currently stands, it can take 10 years or more for a person who entered the United States on a visa to become a citizen. Just getting a green card can take at least five years. Becoming eligible to apply for citizenship as a permanent resident after that? Another five years.

If you get to that stage, you then fill out the N-400 form, submit it with a $640 filing fee and then ready yourself for the civics test, biometric appointment and potential further vetting. After clearing those last hurdles, you are home free — a bona fide U.S. citizen.

Except, for an increasing number of people, that process never really takes off.

Around 700,000 applications for citizenship remained pending at the end of 2019 — and wait times have doubled over the past two years to almost three years, according to a September report by the Colorado State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

“The substantial delay to naturalization created by the backlog negatively impacts voting rights, civil rights, and the administration of justice,” the report’s authors write.

A backlog results when the number of applications coming in exceed the ones processed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services staff, who are tasked with adjudicating immigration benefits. Citizenship applications tend to spike before general elections, so throughout history, there have been crests and troughs in backlogs as the agency tries to catch up to the fluctuating heap of incoming applications.

The most recent uptick in pending applications started during the Obama administration. According to Eric Cohen, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, technological updates instituted by the administration — meant to speed the processing along — actually led to delays due to unforeseen bugs. According to a 2017 report to Congress, the electronic platform initially faced “multiple technical problems, which negatively impacted processing times.”

The 2016 election year saw more applications than expected, as people rushed to apply before candidate Donald Trump could fulfill anti-immigration promises as president, so despite the technical hiccups demand continued to rise.

“It is my understanding that they underestimated the bump [in applications],” says Cohen, whose organization oversees the New American Campaign, a coalition of 150 organizations that provide legal help with naturalizations.

“The Trump effect was more profound than expected.”

The number of pending applications actually doubled under the Obama administration, from around 300,000 in 2010 to around 700,000 in early 2017, when Trump took office. Fast forward two years, at the end of fiscal 2019, when the administration boasted about its processing progress.

“The men and women of USCIS continue to administer our nation’s lawful immigration system, processing a large number of applications and requests while naturalizing 833,000 new U.S. citizens, an 11-year high,” Ken Cuccinelli, then serving as the acting director of USCIS, touted in an end-of-the-year email.

But on the back end, delays compound the backlog, critics say.

The failure to resolve them is partly the result of a tepid response on the part of the Trump administration to the surge in naturalization applications, according to some.

Cohen mentions two other contributing factors causing delays: more interviews and additional vetting, even in cases where neither are needed. He says he has heard stories of people vetted during the asylum process, then again when they sought to obtain their green cards, and then once more during the citizenship process. One elderly Iranian woman was so distraught during the final vetting that she broke down and withdrew her application, Cohen says.

“By doing super vetting, what you’re doing is discouraging people from applying, you’re giving people a really hard time during their interview process, and you’re taking much longer — 50 percent-plus longer,” he says. “Therefore, you’re doing fewer and fewer applications. So there are a lot of these bumps in the road that are there, I would say, purposely.”

USCIS maintains that it is “completing more citizenship applications, more efficiently and effectively — outperforming itself as an agency,” a spokesman said via email, and that “many factors relating to an individual’s case can affect processing times.”

In addition, the administration has put up what critics call the “second wall” — seemingly small rule changes, fee hikes and additional paperwork requirements that altogether make naturalization much more burdensome and prohibitive.

The one proposal advocates are most concerned about is a regulation that would, among other things, increase citizenship application fees from $640 to $1,170, and fees for green card applications from $1,225 to $2,195. It also would eliminate all fee waivers for these applications.

In a comment on the regulation, the National Partnership for New Americans, a group that helps immigrants naturalize, writes that the increase would leave tens of thousands of immigrants it serves unable to undergo naturalization.  It is “undermining the civic and economic benefits that are a direct result of welcoming and naturalizing millions,” the organization writes.

“The agency is proposing to do this during the exact same time that citizenship application fees are beginning to rise in anticipation of the presidential election of 2020.”

UK’s expensive visa fees ‘could deter NHS staff and scientists’

Supply and demand theory would suggest the higher costs will have an impact on the numbers and attractiveness of the UK as an immigration destination:

The UK’s “sky-high” visa fees could deter vital NHS staff and the “brightest and best” scientists that Boris Johnson wants to attract with his new immigration policy, experts have warned.

Nurses, lab technicians, engineers and tech experts who currently flock to the UK from the EU may not be able to afford to do so if the prime minister’s proposed immigration overhaul becomes law.

At £1,220 per person, or £900 for those on the shortage occupation list, the fees are among the highest in the world – and this is before charges for using the NHS and costs for sponsoring employers are taken into account.

Comparisons with fee structures in other countries, published by the Institute for Government (IfG) thinktank, show that a family of five with a five-year work visa for one individual would have to pay £21,299 before they could enter in the country.

This includes the annual £400 health surcharge that must also be paid upfront per person. This is double the fee charged by Australia and about 30 times the amount charged by Canada, where it costs just over £10,000 for a family for five years. Germany charges £756 for entry for a family of that size.

The fee comparisons are equally stark for individuals. A single person who wants to come to the country will be charged up to £3,220 for five years. If they want to move to the UK with a spouse, the cost would rise to £6,500 for a five-year work stint.

UK visa fees compared with other countries
UK visa fees compared with other countries Photograph: Institute for Government

This compares with Canada, which charges £220 for an individual visa for three years; Germany, which charges £147; and France, which charges £2,075, according to the data supplied to the IfG. Luxembourg charges €50 (£42) for a visa and€80 for a residents permit.

Source: UK’s expensive visa fees ‘could deter NHS staff and scientists’

And on the gender impacts:

The British government’s plan for a post-Brexit immigration overhaul was designed to wean the economy off its reliance on cheap foreign labor. But in the process, women’s groups warned on Thursday, women will suffer disproportionately.

The new points-based system will give precedence to occupations in which women are underrepresented, favor male migrants over female and deepen gender inequality, according to the Women’s Budget Group, an independent network that promotes gender equality.

“The new immigration system roundly fails to understand the lived experience of women, many of whom are prevented from accessing paid work by the weight of unpaid work — caring for children, older people and those with disabilities — that successive governments rely upon them to do,” said Sophie Walker, the chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, a British feminist organization.

Under the new rules, which will be implemented next January, applicants will be required to receive a job offer with a salary of at least 25,600 pounds, about $33,300. The salary threshold will be lower in special cases where there might be a shortage in skills, such as in nursing.

By and large, however, that requirement will work against women, who are more likely to work in sectors like home and senior care that are relatively poorly compensated, even though the skill levels of such women are relatively high, women’s advocates say.

“Care workers’ average annual salaries stand at just £17,000, not because care work is ‘low-skilled,’ but because the work force is 80 percent female and therefore undervalued and underpaid,” says Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party.

Imposing the salary requirement would mean “shutting out care workers, piling pressure on women to take on yet more unpaid care, and widening the existing social care gap between need and provision,” she said.

Women are also four times more likely than men to leave paid work to shoulder unpaid caring responsibilities for children and older relatives. This is one cause of the gender pay gap and gender inequality, the Women’s Budget Group found.

As a result of these inequities, major industries like food production, hospitality, health and social care that rely on female migrant workers are likely to see staff shortages after the new measures are put into place.

In the points-based system, the government gives top priority to scientists, engineers, academics and graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, once again to the detriment of women because of the gender disparities in those professions.

“There is a great emphasis on wanting to attract scientists to the U.K. under the new system, but it is another well-known fact that women are underrepresented in the sciences,” said Adrienne Yong, a lecturer in law at the City Law School in London.

“That the U.K. will give a Ph.D. in STEM subjects 10 more points than Ph.D.s in other subjects already puts women on a back foot,” she said, “as there is already a problem with female students doing STEM subjects, much less continuing further education to a doctoral level with that specialism.”

On Wednesday, the cabinet minister responsible for migration policy, Priti Patel, suggested that around eight million “economically inactive” people in Britain could be trained to fill such shortages, but experts say that many of those people are women who are already providing full-time care for children and families.

“It feels like they just want us to fill the badly paid jobs while the men and foreigners will get the higher-paying jobs,” said Amy Pears, a mother of three who left her job as a professional caregiver and went on benefits in 2015 because she could not afford child care. “My mother is disabled, so between her and the three children I have my hands full.”

The Women’s Equality Party says that without substantial government investment in child and elder care, women are put into a position where they simply cannot work.

“These shortsighted plans are in fact more likely to exacerbate the shortages in formal care, leaving it to women to pick up unpaid and increase the number of ‘economically inactive’ full-time carers,” Ms. Reid said.

Women’s groups warned that shutting out foreign workers would put more pressure on women who are already in Britain, particularly caregivers.

“Without extra colleagues from abroad, U.K. carers are going to have even less time to do the job they’re employed to do and offer people the dignity they deserve,” Ms. Walker said. “This policy makes it an inevitability that this exhausted system will come under further strain, while female family members will increasingly be expected to pick up the pieces as the system continues to erode.”

Ms. Pears said that many of her European friends and former colleagues, who played important caregiving roles, would be locked out of the new system because they did not qualify for the salary threshold or education qualifications.

“These people are carrying a huge burden for our country, and the truth of the matter is we need them,” she said. “Without them we are putting our services at risk.”

Source: Women Will Be Hit Hard by U.K.’s New Immigration Rules, Experts WarnWith its minimum salary requirements, the new system would particularly affect female migrants, who tend to cluster in lower-paid occupations.By Ceylan Yeginsu

USA: New Immigration Fees To Hit Businesses Hard

Quite striking. Continues to strengthen the “Canadian advantage” in attracting high-skilled immigrants:

Will “Pay more for less service” be the Trump administration’s new marketing slogan for businesses dealing with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)? The administration plans to raise fees more than 50% for many business applications, while workers will need to pay more to become citizens or gain permanent residence.

On November 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a proposed rule that would increase fees across key business immigration categories, in essence, levying a tax increase on employers that access the global market for labor. The fee increases come at a time when U.S. job openings in 2019 outnumbered the unemployed by “the widest gap ever,” which, along with a large body of economic research, undermines the argument that immigrants prevent natives from finding jobs.

The fee increases are unlikely to reduce processing times at the agency because USCIS states in the rule that it will not change the policies that have created the longer delays. Lack of money does not seem to be the problem: The average USCIS case processing time increased by 91% between FY 2014 and FY 2018, at the same time the agency’s budget rose by 30%, according to USCIS data, notes the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). Processing times became longer at the agency even when the number of new cases dropped by over one million between FY 2017 and FY 2018.

Case processing times have increased in the past few years due to:

  • The USCIS director requiring adjudicators to no longer defer to prior adjudications when evaluating extension of status applications, which has led to a larger workload and compelled many experienced employees of tech companies to leave the United States.
  • The administration employing terms such as “heightened screening and vetting” of applications to justify resource-intensive checks without analysis as to their benefit.
  • USCIS transferring resources, including personnel, to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

A close reading of the proposed fee regulation indicates USCIS will continue and, in some cases, expand these policies.

Below is a summary of the proposed fee changes by visa category:

H-1B and L-1 Visas: The fee for L visa petitions will increase by 77%, rising from $460 to $815. The fee for an H-1B petition will rise by 22%, from $460 to $560.

If enacted, much higher fees will be imposed on companies with more than 50 employees that have at least 50% of their workforce in H-1B and L-1 status. USCIS proposes in the fee regulation to reinterpret the law to impose an additional $4,000 fee not just on initial H-1B petitions and a $4,500 fee on initial L-1 petitions, as is the current practice laid out in the statute (Public Law 114-113). USCIS also proposes to impose the fee for extensions when the fraud prevention and detection fee is not collected.

“USCIS’s proposed change in how it interprets the applicability of the Public Law 114-113 fee is unreasonable and clearly unlawful as it runs counter to clear statutory language indicating the 50/50 fees should only apply to petition filings where the fraud prevention and detection fee is also required,” according to Vic Goel, managing partner of Goel & Anderson, LLC. “Given that this proposed interpretation is also diametrically opposite to USCIS’s own longstanding interpretation of this provision, it raises questions about the agency’s motivations for this change after so many years.” (See here for more on the legislative history.)

Other High-Skilled Employment Visas: USCIS is increasing a range of high-skilled visa petitions by more than 50%. Petitions for O visas (extraordinary ability/achievement) would rise by 55%, from $460 to $715. Fees would increase by 53%, from $460 to $705, for petitions for the TN (NAFTA professionals), E (treaty traders and investors), P (athletes/entertainers), Q (cultural exchange) and R (religious workers) categories, as well as for H-3 visas for training. USCIS will change the current I-129 form, now used for multiple categories, and rename the forms based on the visa type.

Premium Processing: USCIS proposes to change premium processing. The cost will remain the same. However, USCIS will now process a case within 15 business days, rather than the current 15 calendar days. That means it will take longer for employers to receive decisions when paying the additional $1,440 premium processing fee.

H-2A and H-2B Visas: The current fee for H-2A (seasonal agricultural) and H-2B (seasonal nonagricultural) petitions is $460. USCIS proposes to raise the fee for H-2A to $860 and H-2B to $725 for petitions with named workers and limiting an application to 25 workers. Costs for employers could rise considerably, since H-2A and H-2B petitions can now list 100 or more workers.

Increasing Costs for Workers, Including for Adjustment of Status: In its comments to the proposed fee rule, AILA notes applicants for adjustment of status (obtaining permanent residence inside the U.S.) will “see at least a 75% increase in the total cost of filing forms I-485 [for adjustment of status], I-765 [for employment authorization] and I-131 [for a travel document].” That is because USCIS will now charge separate fees for the three forms.

USCIS would increase the cost of the application to become a U.S. citizen by more than 80%, rising from $640 to $1,170 (although a separate $85 biometrics fee would be eliminated). USCIS would also raise the cost for an asylum applicant to apply for an employment authorization document from the current zero to $490, one of many policy changes to discourage asylum applications.

Doug Rand of Boundless said in an interview to anticipate at least two or three months into 2020 before a final rule on the fee increases is published. He believes lawsuits and preliminary injunctions are both possible.

Businesses are not pleased with the USCIS proposal to raise fees. “Many companies . . . consider this proposal as imposing increased costs on them for, at best, the same suboptimal services they current receive from USCIS,” commented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The best way to understand the plan to increase fees is as another tax or tariff. It is aimed at admitting fewer immigrants, foreign-born workers and professionals by taxing them more. Given America’s demographic issues, the country’s demand for labor and the increasing importance of high-skilled workers, economists would question the wisdom of the administration’s policies.

Source: New Immigration Fees To Hit Businesses Hard

UK: Government faces high court challenge over ‘utterly shameful’ £1000 child citizenship fee

As it should. Cost recovery is justifiable (administrative cost), making of government service a money-making enterprise is not:

The Home Office is set to face a High Court challenge over the £1,012 fee it charges to register a child as a British citizen, after a judicial review of the charge was brought by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens.

Amnesty International UK has been supporting the litigation to challenge the profit-making element of the fee, calling for an immediate end to the Government’s “shameless profiteering” off children’s rights. Mishcon de Reya are providing pro bono support to the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens on the case.

With the current administrative processing cost at only £372 per application, a profit of £640 is made by the Home Office for the registration of each child.

The landmark case is being brought by two children, known as A and O, and will be heard in the High Court at a three-day hearing on 26-28 November. If successful, the final ruling could have implications for an estimated 120,000 people in the UK.

In a statement submitted as part of the proceedings, O, aged 12, says:

“I was born in England in 2007. I have never travelled to another country. I don’t want to tell my friends that I am not British like them because I’m scared. I worry that if my friends find out, they won’t understand that I really am British like them.

“I enjoy playing netball for my school team. My team have been abroad twice for netball tournaments, but I could not travel because I do not have my British passport.

“I was born here and feel all of me is British. This is my home. I’ve got nowhere else but here.”

Solange Valdez-Symonds, Director at the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, said:

“Tens of thousands of children who were born in this country are being charged exorbitant fees to register their citizenship rights. The futures of these children are slowly and silently being chipped away. Such barefaced profiteering from children by the Home Office is utterly shameful.

“Children’s rights are not for sale. We hope the High Court challenge will rightly bring an end to this injustice.”

Campaigners call on UK Government to stop blocking children’s rights

Ahead of tomorrow’s hearing, campaigners from Amnesty UK’s Children Human Rights Network will hand in 30,000-strong petition to Home Office calling for immediate end to the fee.

The campaigners will be building a wall outside the Home Office with messages of support from activists across the UK [pictures available].

They will be joined by some of the children affected by the profiteering fee, including 16-year-old Daniel, who came to this country with his mother when he was three years-old and was granted his British citizenship last year, he said:

“My mother saved what she could but sometimes she didn’t eat properly so she could do this. At the time we had some support from the council but my mother was not then permitted to work except unpaid as a volunteer with a charity. It has been really difficult for my mother.”

Judicial review

The judicial review claim asks the Home Office to:

i) Set the registration fee at no more than the administrative cost;

ii) introduce a fee waiver for children who cannot afford the fee; and

iii) provide a fee exemption for children in local authority care.

Source: UK: Government faces high court challenge over ‘utterly shameful’ £1000 child citizenship fee

Number of immigrants becoming Canadian citizens drops

CBC’s take on the StatsCan report, largely based on my interview (All in a Day):

Fewer Canadian immigrants became citizens in 2016 than 1996, according to a new study released by Statistics Canada this week, though more recent developments  may be addressing some of the issues at play.

The citizenship rate among recent immigrants was just over 75 per cent in 1996, but declined to 60 per cent in 2016.

“There are a number of factors that created the decline,” said Andrew Griffith, a former director-general with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, on CBC Radio’s All in a Day Thursday.

Griffith said that part of the reason may be financial.

The processing fee for citizenship used to be $200, but the amount was increased to $630 under the previous Conservative government, Griffith said.

“If you look at a family of four, you’re talking about $1,500 or so,” he said. “That’s a significant burden.”

The Liberals were re-elected to a minority government last month with a platform that included eliminating this application fee.

There was a spike in citizenship applications late in 2017, after the period covered by the study, when the federal government relaxed some of the residency and language rules.

Complicated language

Another issue, according to Griffith, is that more complex language is used in the new citizenship study guide.

In order to obtain citizenship, people must take a written test on Canada and the government.

The guide was revised about a decade ago, and Griffith said it includes more sophisticated language.

As a result, people with lower levels of education can have a harder time.

“You’re creating an additional barrier that doesn’t need to be there,” he said.

He added that it’s possible to simplify the language in the study guide without simplifying the content.

Big decline in East Asian immigrants

The study also revealed the decline in citizenship rates was most pronounced among East Asian immigrants.

In 1996 the citizenship rate among East Asian immigrants was at 83 per cent, but that was down to 45 per cent by 2016.

Chinese immigrants drove the majority of this decline, according to Statistics Canada, which may demonstrate their changing preference for keeping Chinese citizenship while the country experiences significant economic growth.

In comparison, the rate among immigrants from western Europe, South America and the United States remained stable or slightly declined.

The percentage of recent immigrants obtaining Canadian citizenship is seeing a noticeable decline especially among those with lower family incomes, levels of education, and knowledge of English or French. In this hour…a former director with Citizenship and Immigration tells us why this is the case. 10:23

Being a citizen gives new Canadians the ability to enter or leave Canada freely, the right to a Canadian passport, as well as the right to vote in Canadian elections.

But Griffith also emphasized how the broader Canadian public benefits from having new citizens.

“Immigrants who choose to become Canadians tend to be more involved in Canadian society, more engaged in Canadian society, contribute more to Canadian society,” he said.

“So there’s a mix of that private benefit to the individual and public benefits to society.”

Source: Nov. 14, 2019: New study shows decline in percentage of recent immigrants obtaining Canadian citizenship10:24

New Trump Administration Proposal Would Charge Asylum Seekers an Application Fee

More fulsome article and information than posted previously. Not to improve service but to pay for ICE. Clear intent to reduce immigration and citizenship uptake:

The Trump administration on Friday proposed hiking a range of fees assessed on those pursuing legal immigration and citizenship, as well as for the first time charging those fleeing persecution for seeking protection in the United States.

The rule, which will be published on Thursday and will have a monthlong comment period, would increase citizenship fees more than 60 percent, to $1,170 from $725, for most applicants. For some, the increase would reach 83 percent. The government would also begin charging asylum seekers $50 for applications and $490 for work permits, a move that would make the United States one of four countries to charge people for asylum.

It would also increase renewal fees for hundreds of thousands of participants of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. That group, known as “Dreamers,”would need to pay $765, rather than $495, for a renewal request. The fee hike comes days before the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the validity of President Trump’s justification to terminate DACA.

“Once again, this administration is attempting to use every tool at its disposal to restrict legal immigration and even U.S. citizenship,” said Doug Rand, a founder of Boundless Immigration, a technology company in Seattle that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship. “It’s an unprecedented weaponization of government fees.”

Trump wants to nearly double US citizenship application fees

Yet another deliberate barrier to citizenship. Hard to see how the processing costs could be that high (over twice Canada’s, which, of course, the re-elected Liberal government has promised to eliminate):

The Trump administration is considering raising the cost of U.S. citizenship applications, according to a Department of Homeland Security rule filed on Friday.

The fee for the U.S. citizenship application would increase to $1,170 – from $640, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

A number of other cost increases were proposed, as well as the addition of a $50 fee for asylum applications.

According to the document, a biennial fee review determined that current fees “do not recover the full costs of providing adjudication and naturalization services” at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Without an increase in funding, the government predicts the agency would experience an average annual shortfall of $1.2 billion.

The Department of Homeland Security has proposed adjusting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration fees “by a weighted average increase of 21 percent,” in addition to adding fees for some benefit requests. U.S. immigration services is primarily funded by fees charged to applicants and petitioners.

Written comments must be submitted within 30 days from the date the rule is published in the federal register, which will be on Thursday.

The last time the fee schedule was adjusted was at the end of 2016.

Source: Trump wants to nearly double US citizenship application fees

Opinion: Applying for US Citizenship Should be Free

Ironically, just as the Liberal platform came out promising to eliminate citizenship fees, saw this US advocacy piece:

It shouldn’t cost a cent for an immigrant to apply for United States citizenship. Here’s why:

After residing in the United States with their green card for five years (or many more), having “good moral character” and maintaining limited travel, immigrants visit us so we can assist with preparing their application and prepping them for their interview. While the thousands of immigrants come to our Citizenship Department at CASA in Maryland, meet ALL of the requirements for citizenship, more than half of them cannot afford the exorbitant price tag that comes along with applying. It’s wrong.

Over the last 34 years, the fee for naturalization has risen exponentially from $35 in 1985 to an incredible $725 to apply today. With the fee on the rise, many eligible immigrants fear that they will never be able to apply for citizenship in their lifetime. The message that we are sending to our immigrants is clear: sure, you can become a citizen…if you can afford it. In alignment with President Trump’s recent attack on poor immigrants with the passing of the recent public charge ruling, the fee itself discriminates against low-income folks who should be able to naturalize easily.

It’s important to note that the $725 fee doesn’t come close to the total financial burden in actual costs that immigrants have invested in the process. Many applying are also paying hundreds of dollars for English classes, U.S. history and government classes, legal fees, transportation fees, and are already sacrificing chunks of their paychecks when taking off from work to complete the process.

Why do green card holders want to get their citizenship? Because it grants them a long list of benefits from voting in elections for candidates that represent their interests to having access to better jobs and overall better economic prosperity. Additionally, with the administration’s heinous language and policies on immigration, even immigrants who are residing in the U.S. legally fear for deportation more than ever, though they have a right to U.S. citizenship after meeting the requirements.

The bottom line is this: Money should not be a barrier to U.S. citizenship.

Many people argue that these immigration fees are necessary, since the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that processes citizenship applications, doesn’t get funding directly from the government. But perhaps, this is a signal that Congress should allocate taxpayer money to cover citizenship processing fees.

Applying for citizenship should cost nothing. As U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) mentioned in a recent interview in regard to his proposed bill to increase access to fee waivers, “Citizenship promotes integration, civic responsibility, and a sense of community, which ultimately benefits all Americans.”

There are currently fee waivers available for low-income immigrants that an applicant can apply for based on their income level, their receipt of means-tested benefits, or financial hardship. However, the income-based requirement, that requires applicants to prove their income was at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guideline, doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of those who are in need.

I personally know many families who take out personal loans to afford the fee. Keep in mind that nearly half of the US population doesn’t have just $300 to cover an unanticipated expense.

To make things worse, USCIS has recently proposed to stop granting waivers for applicants who currently receive means tested benefits like Medicaid. In other words, USCIS has basically decided that only their office can determine whether a person needs assistance or not – despite state benefit granting agencies assessing need-based eligibility for years.

To those who are eligible for citizenship, apply now if you want to have a chance at voting in the 2020 election. Many local and state governments and non-profit organizations have temporary solutions to assist green card holders with the fee. For example, Montgomery County has partnered with CASA to provide ascholarship for residents of the county applying for citizenship. Other organizations like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) and other members of the National Partnership for New Americans, are working hard to come up with solutions to make the fee more affordable for applicants. But this cannot be a permanent solution.

As a country, this cannot be how we treat people who have sacrificed everything to be here and who have contributed so deeply, both culturally and economically, to the core of our country. The physical and emotional cost of immigrating to a new country is high enough. When it comes to the brotherhood and sisterhood of our American family, a majority of immigrants, to us, are already United States citizens. Now it’s time for Congress to lift the financial hardship and make it possible for them to act as full citizens.

Source: Opinion: Applying for US Citizenship Should be Free

Liberal promise to wipe out citizenship fees would cost $100M a year

Not much media coverage or commentary to date:

The Liberals are promising to eliminate the application fee for Canadian citizenship, removing what some immigrant advocates have called a key barrier for many newcomers.

Tucked in the party’s platform released Sunday is a promise to make the path to citizenship “more affordable.” The estimated cost is $400 million over four years.

“Becoming a citizen allows new immigrants to fully participate in Canadian society and the process of granting citizenship is a government service, not something that should be paid for with a user fee,” the platform reads. “To make citizenship more affordable, we will make the application process free for those who have fulfilled the requirements needed to obtain it.”

The processing fee is now $530, which was hiked from $100 by the previous Conservative government. There is also a $100 “right of citizenship” fee.

Cost is considered a hurdle for many newcomers hoping to become Canadian citizens, especially low-income refugee families.

The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) has pressed the government to eliminate it.

Added costs for citizenship

“The application fee is only one of the costs people have to assume — for example, many people have to pay for a test to prove they speak English or French well enough,” said CCR executive director Janet Dench.

Andrew Griffith, a former senior immigration official and author on immigration issues, said while he has long railed against the “steep” increase brought in by the Conservatives, he doesn’t see the need to eliminate fees entirely.

Becoming a citizen benefits Canada in terms of improved integration and participation and benefits the citizen with the right to a Canadian passport and voting rights, he said. Griffith said a fee of $300 would reflect that balance.

Shouldn’t be free

“Waiving the fees completely, at a cost of some $100 million a year, is excessive and will likely be perceived as political positioning to attract immigrant voters, rather than being evidence-based,” he said.

“To my knowledge, no Western country offers free citizenship.”

According to Elections Canada, there were 337,265 Canadian citizens added to the national register since the 2015 election.

In 2017, the Liberals loosened some rules around citizenship. They reduced the length of time that would-be citizens must be physically present in Canada. They lowered the age range for language and knowledge requirements. The fee remained the same.

In a statement to CBC, Ahmed Hussen, the immigration minister who is seeking re-election as an MP, said the promise stems from consultations on how to improve the system.

“We heard from groups across the country who have said that the prohibitive fees were stopping families from finally becoming Canadian. Currently, the cost of applying for citizenship for an average family of four is almost $1,500,” he said.

Source: Liberal promise to wipe out citizenship fees would cost $100M a year

CIC news also covered the platform commitment:

Analysis: Why the Liberals are proposing a Municipal Nominee Program and free citizenship applications

On Canada Day, let’s reconsider the high cost of citizenship

While I have long advocated for a decrease in citizenship fees, given the mix of personal and public benefits of citizenship, her points on permanent residency fees miss the fact that these only cover processing costs, not the more than $1 billion the government spends on settlement services such as language training.

Both Conservative and Liberal governments in their substantial funding for settlement services demonstrate their recognition of the public, not just personal, benefits of immigration.

Similarly, while citizenship data (administrative and Census) show some groups adversely affected by the 2014-15 fee increases and other changes, visible minorities form close to 80 percent of all immigrants, so hard to make the case that this is a major barrier:

At any international airport, the passport of those making their way through customs could be a source of envy or a source of pity, quietly communicating the perceived quality of life lived by its holder. Voluminous emigration and immigration have turned citizenship into the “most significant class lottery remaining in the modern world,” in the words of one journalist. Perhaps recognizing this, many countries including Canada have successfully capitalized on immigration.

The path to Canadian citizenship has gone through a series of changes. In the past, in addition to being able to marry into citizenship, one could literally buy citizenship – a program Quebec continues to this day. Currently, the journey to citizenship begins with permanent residency. Apart from transitioning from a student or worker to a permanent resident, other options include using foreign entry programs such as Family Sponsorship, Economic, and Business Immigration.

Regardless of the option, in addition to the application cost comes a payment of $490 for the right of permanent residence fee, without which permanent residence status is not granted. Protected persons are exempt from this expense.

Introduced in 1995 and levied on individuals seeking permanent residency,first at a hefty price of $975, the fee is seen as “a partial compensation for benefits which accrue to the person who acquires permanent resident status and helps to defray various costs incurred in delivering the immigration program.” But this may not have been the only reason for its introduction.

The right of permanent residence fee (then called right of landing fee) came at a time when there was an increase in immigrants from Asia and the Middle East and a plummet in the numbers originating from the U.S. and Europe.

In a world where economic parity is heavily influenced by gender and colour, this fee continues to be a major impediment for many and is especially intensified if one is a woman of colour. Exceptions made for protected persons aside, and though levied regardless of the country of origin, it favours those with economic stature, which in today’s world continues to be withheld from women and people of colour, thereby contributing to inequities in education and employment opportunities.

After proving one’s worth as an upstanding permanent resident, if financial means allow, then the next step toward active civic engagement is in the form of an application for citizenship (bumped to $530 from $100 in 2015) which, once again, could be loaded with added costs.

In total, the price paid to acquire Canadian citizenship quickly escalates, approximately amounting to between $3,000 and $4,000 (or more) and may include translation fees; lawyer’s fees that could be as steep as $400 for a consultation; medical exams and diagnostic testing, which aren’t covered by provincial health care plans; official language testing by a third party; miscellaneous costs such as citizenship certificates; permanent resident card renewal; photographs, conveyance and mailing. And this is without factoring the expenses associated with holding the status as an international student or worker (before applying for permanent residency) within Canada.

In 2017, Canada should have received more than $78-million from 159,262 economic immigrants, solely based on the right of permanent residence fee, many of whom pay this amount even before arriving to Canada. Once here, if these individuals choose to pursue citizenship, then once again it translates into millions of dollars wending their way to government coffers.

There is privilege attached to becoming a Canadian citizen. But it isn’t something that is easily afforded for many. Of the total cost of the arduous, emotional and financially stressful path to citizenship, approximately 15 per cent to 20 per cent is directed toward buying the permanent residence and citizenship rights – to be able to belong, to be able to vote, and most importantly, to be able to call oneself Canadian. The fact remains that, today, the current immigration system, consciously or unconsciously, promotes gender and economic disparity globally. In a world where immigration is more than just a means to move from one country to another, it is time to recognize what this has evolved into – a booming business that only profits certain countries.

Source: On Canada Day, let’s reconsider the high cost of citizenship