Every year, more than 700,000 green card holders are naturalized in the U.S. But in 2020, the numbers might be a little lower. The coronavirus pandemic has stopped some immigration services and postponed naturalization ceremonies.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)— the agency that manages the naturalization process — closed its offices in reaction to COVID-19. In addition to naturalization ceremonies, USCIS has suspended applicant interviews, which will only further increase the citizenship backlog. To make things even messier, USCIS has not announced when naturalization ceremonies will resume. So why are naturalization ceremonies so important?
The naturalization ceremony is a legal requirement on the path towards citizenship. After a complicated legal process and hundreds of dollars in filing fees, soon-to-be citizens reach the final milestone in their citizenship journey: they pledge their allegiance to the U.S and recite an oath to the Constitution.
Since U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services closed its doors, over 100,000 future Americans have been left in naturalization limbo. These would-be citizens have completed every step of the arduous immigration process, but now all they can do is wait. It is unknown how long before they can become full U.S. citizens and gain the right to vote — hopefully before the 2020 election. Remote naturalization ceremonies may be the solution to this problem.
The Australian government has taken its citizenship ceremonies online and has already conducted 170 online ceremonies with officials from the Department of Home Affairs. Australian Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge expects 90,000 people will receive their Australian citizenship through online ceremonies in the next six months. Can the same thing work in the U.S.?
A group of House Democrats has asked that the next coronavirus relief package allow U.S. Customs and Immigration Services to conduct naturalization ceremonies virtually.“Virtual naturalization would provide vital benefits to more than 100,000 people who are already approved to become our fellow citizens,” U.S. Representatives Norma J. Torres (D-Calif.) said. She continued by adding, “It would also ensure this nation, built and made prosperous by immigrants, continues that rich heritage despite the challenges of COVID-19.”
These House Democrats argue that remote naturalizations provide USCIS with flexibility even beyond the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. So, online naturalization ceremonies seem like a win-win, right?
Why is it important now?
Under the Trump administration, gaining citizenship has become a long, expensive, and complicated process. Right now, the immigration process is long and drawn out. It can take 10 years or more for a person in the U.S. on a visa to become a citizen. That includes the five years it can take to get a green card, and another five years to become eligible to apply for citizenship. And with country-specific backlogs, just getting a green card can take decades.
Becoming eligible to vote in all federal, state, and local elections is a high priority for many, but there are other benefits to citizenship. Gaining citizenship is a smart financial decision as U.S. citizens fare better economically. Research has also shown that naturalized immigrants earn an average of $3,200 more annually than eligible non-citizens. Naturalized citizens also increase their homeownership rate by 6.3%. Need more evidence that gaining citizenship is a good financial decision? If even half of the 9.3 million citizenship eligible immigrants were granted citizenship, it would boost America’s GDP by up to $52 billion a year. And that figure is from research done back in 2013 – today, that number is likely to be higher.
The benefits to U.S. citizenship are tangible and worth the effort, but because of that, some green card holders employed by your clients may be already trying to tackle the process themselves.
So what can you do as a law firm? What immigration law firms can do right now?
By being proactive and reaching out to your clients, you may be able to assist these individuals in gaining U.S. citizenship. Going the extra mile may even help your business during otherwise slow or challenging times.
In recent years, naturalizing has only gotten harder and more expensive. It is most likely because of these barriers that many immigrants who manage to secure U.S. permanent residency often fail to take the final steps to become U.S. citizens. In 2015, Believe it or not, only a third of citizenship-eligible green card holders — around 9.3 million people — were eligible to apply for citizenship that year have yet to apply for U.S. citizenship. Today, in 2020, that number is likely higher as well.
As the CEO of INSZoom, I can relate both professionally and personally in this situation. Back in the 1990s, I had an approved green card but delayed applying for U.S. citizenship. It took me years before I finally took the final step in my immigration journey.
Now, the citizenship application may become slower and more expensive if the Trump administration continues to overhaul immigration rules. If someone is eligible for citizenship today, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be tomorrow.
So if your clients’ employees are among these millions eligible for citizenship, encourage them to fully complete their immigration process!
Check if your corporate clients’ employees are eligible for US citizenship and encourage them to take that next step as soon as possible.
How can INSZoom help?
If it turns out that any of your clients’ employees are eligible to become U.S. citizens, they’ve already earned their place in this country. Let INSZoom help you help them cross the finish line.
While you do the important immigration work, INSZoom has robust reporting features that can help you discover who may be eligible for citizenship. Once you’ve figured that out, you can reach out to those clients and engage them accordingly. And if you need help with INSZoom reporting, reach out to your Zoom representative, or visit the INSZoom website.