PROVIDENCE — A new city program will provide immigration-focused legal services to foreign-born residents seeking U.S. citizenship or those who want renew their lawful immigration status.
On Thursday, Mayor Jorge O. Elorza and several nonprofit leaders announced the launch of Providence’s Immigration Legal Assistance and COVID-19 Recovery Program, which was funded by $500,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act.
“There are many people who qualify to become U.S. citizens, but due to either the cost of the application or other legal issues, never end up applying,” Elorza said at a press conference inside City Hall while surrounded by leaders from the Latino Policy Institute and community members. “With this partnership, we are providing legal support for immigrants and providing funds to pay for the application.”
A naturalization application costs $725 for anyone who is under the age of 75. Those who are older than 75 must pay $640.
The Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, which is the largest U.S. Department of Justice accredited provider of low-cost immigration legal services in the state, will operate the program.
Throughout a two-year contract, Dorcas will assist eligible individuals with the legal process of maintaining a lawful presence in Rhode Island up until they obtain citizenship, executive director Kathy Cloutier said.
Providence residents who may be eligible for legal assistance or who want to learn more can go online or call Dorcas at 401-784-8600. The program will also help connect residents with community organizations and public agencies for additional services and benefits to help with a “variety of basic needs.”
To be eligible for the program, residents must have a household income that is at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level guidelines, or at or just below 65 percent of the area median income — which can vary by neighborhood.
Nearly one in three Providence residents were born in another country, while about half speak a language other than English, according to Dorcas. Approximately 50 percent of Providence immigrants are naturalized US citizens.
“Becoming a U.S. citizen isn’t easy. There are numerous eligibility requirements, loads of paperwork, and it’s expensive,” said Cloutier. “This program allows Providence residents to receive free immigration legal assistance with their citizenship application and related processes, while also receiving information on the public benefits for which they can apply, without affecting their ability to naturalize.”