President’s Policies Promote Access to U.S. Citizenship

One of the components of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration includes efforts to facilitate lawful permanent residents (LPRs, or “green card” holders) in becoming citizens of the United States. To that end, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memorandum to Leon Rodriguez, Director of the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), instructing the USCIS to take certain steps designed to encourage qualifying green card holders to naturalize. These changes will not alter citizenship requirements. Rather, the focus is the application costs, as well as awareness campaigns, in an effort to encourage the approximately eight million LPRs, who appear to be eligible, to apply for U.S. citizenship.

Credit Card Option to Pay N-400 Filing Fees

The current USCIS filing fee for the application for naturalization (form N-400) is $595. Applicants must also pay an $85 biometrics fee, bringing the total cost to $680. It is believed that this cost, and the fact that payment can only be made by money order or check, presents a barrier or disincentive for many potentially qualified applicants. Accordingly, the memo directs the USCIS to begin allowing naturalization applicants to pay the requisite fees by credit card no later than the end of 2015.

USCIS Study of Partial or Complete Fee Waiver

Currently, the USCIS can only waive the filing fees for naturalization cases in limited circumstances. To qualify for a fee waiver, the applicant must either have an income that is at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, be receiving means-tested public benefits, such as food stamps, or be able to demonstrate some “other special financial circumstances justifying waiver for inability to pay.” When such a waiver is granted, the USCIS waives the fee in full. In order to assist a broader spectrum of individuals, the USCIS is being directed to consider and study the possibility of providing a partial waiver of the fees for low-income applicants who do not qualify under the current criteria.

Public Awareness Campaign

The memo also calls for the expansion of existing public awareness campaigns. To that end, the USCIS is being asked to launch a media campaign targeting the ten states where 75 percent of green card holders reside: California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Virginia, Washington, and Arizona.


It will be interesting to see whether allowing credit card payments and expanding public awareness will succeed in encouraging more eligible permanent residents to naturalize. The fee represents a significant amount of money for many, and is likely seen as an optional, non-priority matter, for those who struggle financially. The credit card option may make it easier for family members or friends to help each other with this expense, but the idea of paying hefty interest rates on credit card charges may act as a disincentive, as well. For individuals who are interested in naturalizing, the Murthy Law Firm is available to assist green card holders in realizing this final step of the immigration process.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.