By Julissa Catalan
In addition to extended rights for Dreamers and parents of U.S. citizens, the Department of Homeland Security has revealed other details on how the Obama administration plans to facilitate the citizenship process for immigrants using Obama’s executive action.
In one memo, Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson unveiled plans to help immigrants pay for the citizenship application fee. Previously, immigrants were required to pay the $680—a $595 naturalization fee plus an $85 biometrics fee—by check or money order. Now, starting no later than the end of 2015, they will be able to pay by credit card.
Moreover, Johnson asked U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to consider in its next fee study the implementation of a partial fee waiver or a sliding scale. (USCIS currently grants a full waiver if an applicant’s income is no more than 150 percent of the federal poverty level.)
The goal, according to the memo, is “to promote and increase access to naturalization and to consider innovative ways to address barriers that may impede such access, including for those who lack resources to pay application fees.”
In a second memo, Johnson outlined plans to increase the number of highly skilled foreign-born workers hired by U.S. companies. Changes include modernizing the visa system to speed up the approval process; clarifying the guidelines for the L-1B visa program that allows companies to transfer overseas employees to the U.S.; and improving the ability of workers on visas to change jobs.
Johnson also asked the USCIS to expand the “optional practical training” aspect of student F-1 visas to include more degree programs and a longer extension. Currently, students are allowed 12 additional months to work in their field of study, with STEM students getting up to 29 months.
“This extension has added the benefit of helping America keep many of its most talented STEM graduates from departing the country and taking their skills overseas,” the memo said.
This is of particular importance as adding more STEM graduates to the workforce will help close the racial gap for Latinos in STEM-related careers.
Per a Presidential Memorandum titled “Creating Welcoming Communities and Fully Integrating Immigrants and Refugees,” new Americans make up 13 percent of the population “but are over 16 percent of the labor force and start 28 percent of all new businesses.”
The memo added: “Moreover, immigrants or their children have founded more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, which collectively employ over 10 million people worldwide and generate annual revenues of $4.2 trillion.”
Clearly, immigrants significantly contribute to the U.S. economy, and to expedite the transition for newcomers the president has moved to create a White House Task Force on New Americans.
“By focusing on the civic, economic, and linguistic integration of new Americans, we can help immigrants and refugees in the United States contribute fully to our economy and their communities,” Obama’s memo read. “Civic integration provides new Americans with security in their rights and liberties.
“Economic integration empowers immigrants to be self-sufficient and allows them to give back to their communities and contribute to economic growth. English-language acquisition allows new Americans to attain employment or career advancement and be more active civic participants.”
The goal of the task force is to engage with business, community and faith leaders, as well as state and local elected officials, to help determine which steps the government can take to ensure it is properly serving diverse communities that include new Americans.