OFFICIALS in the state of New York announced plans on Wednesday, July 13, to host a lottery offering money to cover the U.S. citizenship application fee for nearly 2,000 immigrants over the next year.
The program, entitled NaturalizeNY, will give out vouchers worth the cost of the fee to low-income earning green card holders who make too much to qualify for a federal waiver, according to the New York Times and the Associated Press. About 160,000 New Yorkers who might struggle to afford the $680 fee would be eligible to enter the lottery.
The cost of the application will increase to $725 in the fall.
“To have this application paid for would be a huge boost for people who are interested but just couldn’t take part,” said Joo-Ann Yo, executive director of the Asian American Federation.
In addition to the lottery, NaturalizeNY will partner New York’s Office of New Americans with nonprofits from local communities to provide immigration services at 27 “opportunity centers” located throughout the state. The program will also provide naturalization applicants legal services, as well as English and Civics classes to help them pass their citizenship exams.
The $1.25 million dollar program began as a proposal from immigrant advocates, according to the AP. Private donors are contributing money to pay for some of NaturalizeNY’s cost.
New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado called the application fee a “huge obstacle” to many immigrant families. She hopes the giveaway might spread awareness of government assistance to some of the 400,000 New Yorkers who qualify for a fee waiver but don’t know it.
“People love lotteries. People love contests,” Rosado told the NY Times. “This allows us to bring attention to the issue and get people excited.”