South Carolina residents may be surprised to learn that there are almost 9 million permanent residents living legally in the United States who have not sought citizenship. While green card holders may work and live in America, they are not able to vote, they do not qualify for certain government jobs and they must contend with travel restrictions when they venture overseas. Polls show that the vast majority of these residents hope to one day become American citizens, but several barriers to naturalization are preventing them from moving forward.
Many of these permanent residents are struggling to make ends meet, and the $680 naturalization fee is often a burden that they are unable to meet. Immigration authorities now allow this fee to be paid by credit card, which gives applicants a way to pay in installments, but calls for a family payment cap have gone unheeded. This means that a $680 naturalization fee must be paid by each family member who wishes to apply, and this money is not refunded when citizenship is denied.
The language and civics tests that applicants must take also deter some permanent residents from pursuing naturalization. Some immigrants believe that these tests are far more difficult than they actually are, and others lack the resources necessary to prepare adequately. Rising national debt levels have also seen the federal funding of adult education programs that many immigrants rely on to develop their English language skills reduced in recent years.
Experienced immigration attorneys may be able to assist permanent residents who are struggling to meet the high costs involved in pursuing naturalization by explaining the waiver programs available to low-income families. The fee waiver is currently available to those who earn up to one and a half times the federal poverty level, but President Obama has instructed immigration authorities to assess the merits of a partial fee waiver.