Becoming a US citizen is a lengthy and expensive process, and many people pursuing an American passport may not be able to afford the immigration fees. That presents a problem in humanitarian terms, and because immigrants have a long history of contributing substantially to economic growth, it also has implications for the country’s overall financial health.
Immigrants have historically helped to fuel entrepreneurship and innovation in the United States. For example, they contributed $2 trillion to GDP in 2016 and $458.7 billion to tax receipts in 2018. Immigration intersects with broad ESG issues, too, as many immigrants come from minority groups and arrive with inadequate resources to help them foster social, cultural, and economic success.
Now, a range of companies and organizations aim to demonstrate new steps to support immigrants and boost ESG outcomes on a larger scale.
Uncovering a Complex and Costly Process
The road to becoming a US citizen is a costly one, requiring that immigrants pay a variety of immigration fees. Such fees help finance United States Citizenship and Immigration Services activities and can cost as much as $1,200. That includes a $640 application fee to go through the naturalization process, among other charges.
A 2021 survey of more than 1,200 immigrants found that 87% of respondents had to borrow money to pay for immigration fees. Two-thirds were forced to turn to predatory lenders and other high-interest financing sources. Those who cannot afford the process may ultimately give up on it altogether.
In the face of the high cost of citizenship, a number of nonprofits and municipalities offer loans and grants for immigrants to ease the burden of fees and other barriers.
Take One Percent for America, which was launched in June 2022 by nonprofit community development financial institution BlueHub Capital. It aims to remove financial barriers to citizenship by offering loans to green card holders at just 1% interest. The loans, which need to be paid back in a year, have no credit requirements and come with financial education and support.
Also in June, the Nashville’s Metro Council approved a nearly $2 million grant to the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and Tennessee Justice For Our Neighbors to be used for providing legal services to immigrants applying for US citizenship. The funding is set to finance legal clinics and help with asylum, citizenship, and other applications, and it will come from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Rising Business Involvement
Recognizing the value of immigration to business—particularly amid ongoing staffing issues—private companies are also stepping up. In April, Amazon began offering benefits from its Welcome Door program to refugees, asylum seekers, and other immigrant employees. The program’s resources and support include reimbursement for Employment Authorization Document fees as well as access to training, including free college tuition and instruction in English as a second language. The company plans to expand the initiative to other countries this year.
Other business efforts focus on refugees not just in the US but globally. Launched in 2016 by Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya, the Tent Partnership for Refugees is a network of more than 250 major global companies committed to hiring refugees and helping them integrate into their new communities.
Following Through on Future Success
Impact investors can help to push these ongoing efforts ahead by supporting companies and organizations that provide grants and other support for immigrants and refugees. As shareholders, they may also push for resolutions and policies to do more. Ultimately, the futures of myriad people—as well as the profitability of businesses and even industries—may depend on it.