For millions of immigrants across the country, coming to America was the realization of a dream. This country has become their home and home to their families. Yet many who are eligible to apply for citizenship lack the necessary information and means to successfully navigate the complex laws and regulations that govern the naturalization process. Launched just over a year ago, CitizenshipWorks, an online resource, makes the process less daunting for immigrants hoping to naturalize and puts better technology in the hands of nonprofits working with immigrants.
Developed by the Immigration Advocates Network, Pro Bono Net, and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, CitizenshipWorks provides easy-to-use interactive tools to help low-income immigrants answer important questions about their eligibility, learn about the naturalization process, and prepare for the civics and English tests. The website is currently available in English and Spanish, with more languages to come. The site was recognized with the 2012 Webby Award for Best Law Site, as well as the People’s Voice Award in the law category.
In addition to the public resources available online, separate tools are available for nonprofits that provide free or low-cost group processing and naturalization application services. In the past year, these advocate tools have been used in pilots run by partner organizations in nine cities. For nonprofits working with immigrants, CitizenshipWorks is an important step forward in service delivery, combining technology with their existing programs to help more immigrants through the naturalization process.
For example, the Greater Boston Citizenship Initiative (GBCI), a collaboration of immigration and community
service organizations funded by the Fish Family Foundation that helps eligible legal permanent residents overcome barriers to naturalization, is now using CitizenshipWorks in Citizenship Clinics where applicants are screened for eligibility and guided through the application process.
CitizenshipWorks was used at a recent clinic in Boston.
"We have recently begun using CitizenshipWorks tools and the response from applicants and volunteers has been very positive,” said Sher Omerovic, Program Manager at GBCI. “Centro Latino, one of our partner organizations, held a very successful clinic in July that was the first in the area to incorporate CitizenshipWorks. We look forward to exploring more ways to integrate these innovative tools.”
In the year since it launched, the CitizenshipWorks team and its partners have developed several models of service delivery using CitizenshipWorks including:
• Group processing workshops in large computer labs, which allow nonprofits to serve a large number of applicants with relatively few staff and volunteers;
• Clinics held in smaller computer classrooms or community centers that require very few staff;
• Kiosks or self-help stations located in legal services offices for applicants to complete the CitizenshipWorks interactive interviews, which are then reviewed by staff;
• Dedicated citizenship centers that have CitizenshipWorks workstations available to applicants by appointment or a walk-in basis, with naturalization services staff on hand to provide assistance and review applications;
• Integration of CitizenshipWorks into computer-based English-language classes and U.S. history and civics courses;
• Remote naturalization services delivery using CitizenshipWorks in combination with online video chat and screen-sharing technology that allow advocates to provide services to applicants in rural areas.
The CitizenshipWorks team is also focused on enhancing service to individuals. In early 2012, an SMS text campaign was launched that allows users to text “citizenship” ("ciudadania” in Spanish) to 877877 and receive the location and contact information of nearby legal services providers as well as information about naturalization and alerts about upcoming naturalization workshops and events in their community.
Upcoming improvements include Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean versions of CitizenshipWorks, coming later this year. CitizenshipWorks is also developing a mobile application that will include a comprehensive set of study materials for the naturalization exam, a physical presence calculator to help applicants keep track of their trips abroad and a customizable checklist of documents necessary for preparing for the naturalization process.
CitizenshipWorks has received support from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Grove Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and the Open Society Foundations.