In September of 2015 Mayor Bill de Blasio used the celebratory backdrop of a naturalization ceremony at City Hall to announce NYCitizenship, a new initiative led by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs to broaden the reach of the administration’s citizenship efforts by enlisting the support of the public library system.

ipu nycitizenship group

L to R: Supervising Attorney Olga Avrasina; Staff Attorney Hugo Arenas; Supervising Attorney Elvira Pinkhasova; Staff Attorneys Katsiaryna Colka, Jonathan Lissmann, and Elvis Candelario

This April, NYCitizenship went live at libraries across the city, with attorneys from NYLAG providing screenings and workshops for immigrants who may be eligible for naturalization and assistance in completing the application process, while financial counselors advise on topics including banking, budgeting, debt reduction and improving personal credit scores. Through a partnership with the New York City Human Resources Administration, NYLAG is also providing counseling for people with physical or mental health problems that pose barriers to employment, and whose citizenship status may impact the benefits they receive.

“NYCitizenship is built on the premise that there is a direct connection between citizenship and economic security and opportunity,” said Doug Ostrov, Director, Financial Counseling. “But NYCitizenship takes that connection a step further by recognizing that financial counseling can ensure that when immigrants become citizens they will have the knowledge and skills to build a stable financial future for themselves.”

New York City is home to an estimated 700,000 lawful permanent residents who may be eligible for citizenship, nearly fifty percent of whom are low-income. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons – including fear, misinformation, the high cost of application fees, and the lack of legal counsel, they have not taken that step. NYCitizenship was designed to make immigrants aware of their options, and help them navigate the process with a lawyer and a financial counselor by their side. The city hopes that free access to citizenship services will promote economic mobility. Citizenship status has the potential to increase employment, which will in turn increase tax revenue and civic participation.

financial counselors group

L to R: Financial Counselor Ervis Burda, Director of the Financial Counseling Division Doug Ostrov, Senior Financial Counselor Ruth Cedeno, Supervising Financial Counselor Mario Gutierrez

According to Irina Matiychenko, Director, Immigrant Protection, “NYCitizenship is an innovative approach to building awareness among eligible immigrants for the potential to become naturalized, to take them through the process safely and to prepare them to be fully engaged citizens who have the financial knowledge and economic tools to build productive lives for themselves and their families – and contribute to the prosperity of the entire community.”

NYCitizenship is part of New York City’s multipronged strategy to boost citizenship, which the mayor describes as vital to the city’s economic growth, inclusion and diversity. In 2012 the city launched NYCitizenship in Schools in partnership with the City University of New York and public schools across New York; the program has thus far supported the naturalization applications of 7,000 people. The administration is also working with U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services and the municipal library system to offer about citizenship benefits and the process at 217 branch libraries.

New York is a founding member of Cities for Citizenship, a national initiative aimed at increasing citizenship among eligible lawful permanent residents. Nationwide there are 8.7 million immigrants who are eligible to naturalize but have yet to do so. A new study by the Urban Institute identifies the benefits of naturalization, including economic benefits to both immigrants and the city, with increases in employment rates and tax revenues, and decreases in municipal costs.

“Citizenship is linked to increased wages, higher rates of homeownership, and other important factors in helping people unlock vital civic and economic opportunity,” said de Blasio. “We’re proud to stand with cities and other leaders nationwide in expanding opportunity to citizenship for those who have long been hardworking, productive members of our country.”