USA Immigration News
New Program to Help U.S. Immigrants in Maryland Gain U.S. Citizenship
Monday, 7 November 2011
Immigrants in Maryland can now get financial assistance to become a U.S. citizen from a new microfinance program introduced by CASA de Maryland, the state's largest advocacy group for immigrants.
The innovative program is designed to help legal permanent residents seeking to become naturalized citizens cover the cost of gaining U.S. citizenship. The program, which is supported by immigrant advocacy group CASA de Maryland and state public officials, would offer hundreds of thousands of Green Card holders loans for application fees, lead classes in citizenship, financial education and other costs associated with naturalization.
"The fee to enter the process of naturalization has tripled over the past few years. It now costs around $675, and that's a lot of money for the many U.S. immigrants struggling to maintain jobs", says Casa De Maryland's executive director Gustavo Torres. He indicated the program targets "low-income" immigrants, but organizers have not set any income restrictions.
Borrowers will be required to repay the loan over a six-month period at an interest rate of 8.5 to 9 percent. Applicants will pay a $25 application fee that will be returned upon full repayment of the loan. "We want folks to attain citizenship. We want them to learn about the economic system. We want them to be better aware of their financial opportunities and to be able to take advantage of them," CASA said. "This is a win-win."
According to recent statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, about 12.4 million permanent residents live in the United States and the majority are eligible to become naturalized citizens, or soon will be. It also shows that more people are choosing to naturalize. In the Districts of Maryland and Virginia, the number of naturalizations has more than doubled in the past decade, increasing from 13,770 in fiscal 2001 to 35,354 in fiscal 2010.
"Our country's aspiring citizens face numerous barriers to achieving their dream of citizenship and this microloan program helps ease one of those obstacles," said Mr. Torres. "Hundreds of thousands of immigrants in Maryland contribute every day to our state; becoming a citizen finalizes a long pathway of full integration."
Currently, it is open only to legal permanent residents in Maryland, but leaders hope to expand the program if it's successful.
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