June 14, 2019

Harris, Colleagues Introduce Bicameral Bill to Preserve and Expand Access to Naturalization

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris joined Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and 5 of their colleagues in introducing the Citizenship Affordability Act, legislation to preserve and expand access to citizenship by ensuring legal residents who are eligible for naturalization, but struggling to afford its cost, can access waivers to reduce or eliminate fees associated with the process.

“We are and have always been a nation of immigrants, and we should do all we can to provide a pathway to citizenship for those who have come here in search of a better life,” said Senator Harris. “I’m proud to co-sponsor this legislation that will ensure that the cost of the naturalization process is not a barrier to becoming a full and active participant in our civic life. Our diversity is our strength, and we must foster it.”

Currently, aspiring American citizens eligible for naturalization are required to pay USCIS an application fee of $640 plus $85 biometric fee for a total of $725 per applicant. Those expenses can quickly snowball if people must pay for lawyers, English classes, and civics test preparation. If several family members are applying, costs multiply. Legal residents who earn less than 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level can apply for a full fee waiver and a reduced fee for those earning less than 200 percent. The fee waivers do not apply to those making between 200 and 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, many of whom still struggle to afford the fees associated with naturalization. USCIS is proposing changing the eligibility requirements for fee waivers and limit access to the naturalization fee waiver.  This legislation would preserve and expand who is eligible for a fee waiver and ensure citizenship is affordable to all who are legally eligible to apply.

The Citizenship Affordability Act is supported by national and local organizations such as NALEO, UnidosUS, National Partnership for New Americans, Church World Service, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), American Friends Service Committee NJ, HIAS Pennsylvania, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, Refugee Women’s Alliance (Seattle, WA), Sunflower Community Action, Kansas People’s Action, Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, Nebraska Appleseed, Promise Arizona and Dream Big Nevada.

The Citizenship Affordability Act would:

  • Make permanent full and partial income-based Naturalization Fee Waivers.
  • Codify the full fee waiver for naturalization fees for: filing to preserve residence for naturalization purposes; filing an application for certificate of citizenship; filing an application for a replacement naturalization or citizenship document; the filing of an application for citizenship and issuance of certificate under section 322 of the Immigration and Nationality Act; and biometrics capture and background checks.
  • Codify and raise to 250 percent of the federal poverty level the partial fee waiver for the same fees.
  • Require the Secretary of Homeland Security to consider the receipt of means-tested benefits as evidence of eligibility for the fee waivers.

Joining Senators Harris and Menendez on this bill are Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV),  Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

The text of the bill can be found here.

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