MADISON, Wis. (3/11/14)--Helping immigrants obtain citizenship status is one of the ways credit unions fulfill the people-helping-people philosophy in the new millennium.
A 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center found that not being able to afford the cost to apply for citizenship was among the top two reasons immigrants cited for not applying for citizenship. Only not being able to speak English well enough was cited more often.
The current cost for a citizenship application is $680, up from $225 in 1999. Increasingly, credit unions are helping immigrants overcome this obstacle by offering citizenship application loans.
Coopera, a Des Moines, Iowa-based company that works with credit unions to serve the Hispanic market, recommends that its clients offer loans to help members through the citizenship process, said Miriam De Dios, Coopera president/CEO.
"If you look at the whole immigration process, there are folks who are going through different phases of it every day," De Dios told
. "It's something that I went through personally, and it's costly. When we talk to our client credit unions we know it's a need. They offer loans, and we try to work with them to make them as relevant to the process as possible."
De Dios recommends that credit unions work with other community agencies that offer additional expertise, such as legal counsel and assistance working through the immigration process. "There's all sorts of community organizations that are helping folks better understand this process. Credit unions can team up with them and add in the financial education component of this," she added.
Promise CU, with $5 million in assets, Houston, began offering citizenship loans after piloting the program in 2012.
"It's a way to ease the process," Randy Martinez, Promise CU president/CEO, told
The $455 loan includes a $75 application fee. Applicants must contribute $300 of their own money. The loan carries a 12-month term with a 5% interest rate. Monthly payments are about $38, Martinez said.
Promise CU also partners with Neighborhood Centers Inc., a nonprofit network of community centers in the Houston area that works with immigrants. Several times a year, Neighborhood Centers holds citizenship forums that include attorneys and volunteers to assist with paperwork. Promise CU representatives provide financial advice, including assistance with the loan application process, Martinez said.
Second FCU, Chicago, a division of Self-Help FCU, a $558 million-asset credit union in Durham, N.C., offers loans that range from $680 to $4,000 to cover citizenship application fees and legal costs (
The citizenship loans have repayment term from 12 to 24 months with an interest rate of 12%. Applicants must have established legal residency and earn at least $500 monthly.
Community Trust CU, Modesto, Calif., another division of Self-Help FCU, began offering citizenship application loans last month (
The Bakersfield Californian
Feb. 16). Loan amounts can be up to $1000 for an individual or $4000 for a family. Borrowers carry a 12% interest rate, or less if the principal is paid off before the funds are disbursed.
The National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees are launching the Northwest Area Immigrant Asset-Building Initiative to promote citizenship, integration and financial security for immigrant communities across the Northwest region.
With support from the Northwest Area Foundation, the initiative will select two to three pilot sites where credit union products and services will be integrated with immigrant legal and social services to provide comprehensive solutions for immigrants seeking to naturalize and build credit and assets.
Grantees will be announced in April. The 12-month pilot is scheduled to in June.