“ As a citizen, Wendell now has access to better jobs and educational opportunities, and the opportunity to be civically active.”

Applying for citizenship on just $9 an hour

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 - By Mission Asset Fund

Citizenship is expensive. Just ask Wendell Largo who is a former school teacher from the Philippines. He earns $9 an hour working at Walgreens and brings in just $1,100 a month. For millions of hard-working, low-income immigrants in America, the sheer cost of $680 to submit the N-400 naturalization application makes U.S. citizenship an unattainable dream. For Wendell, $680 for the application is nearly two-thirds of his income for a month, and that doesn’t include the additional costs for fingerprinting, photos and legal services.

“That doesn’t leave much for car insurance or rent on our apartment or food,” he says, adding, “Maybe we’ll be fasting.”

Instead, he paid for his application fee using Mission Asset Fund’s social lending program, Lending Circles for Citizenship (also known as Citizenship Tandas). Rooted in the cultural practice of social lending found across the world, Lending Circles for Citizenship organizes low-income participants to save and lend money to each other to cover the cost of filing for citizenship. Wendell’s lending circle brought together a group of six people who were eligible and prepared to apply for citizenship. Each member contributed $85 a month for six months and took turns receiving the funds for the citizenship application. And with a 25% philanthropic match from Mission Asset Fund, instead of paying the full $680 application fee, they each paid a total of $510.

“One hundred and seventy dollars savings is a lot for those of us who work for $10, $8, $9 an hour,” Largo says. “Most of us doing the tandas, our budgets are tight, especially nowadays.”

Largo was the first person in his group to receive the loan for his citizenship application, enabling him to complete the citizenship application process that once seemed impossible because of the high fee. In June 2012, Wendell’s application was approved by the US Department of Homeland security and he excitedly attended his swearing-in ceremony that same month. With Lending Circles for Citizenship, immigrants like Wendell are using social lending to open the door to opportunities. As a citizen, Wendell now has access to better jobs and educational opportunities, and the opportunity to be civically active.

The Lending Circles for Citizenship program is administered by the Mission Asset Fund (www.missionassetfund.org), a nonprofit organization that helps financially excluded communities – particularly low-income and immigrant families – to become visible, active, and successful participants in the U.S. financial mainstream. MAF has supervised $1.2 million in such lending circles, and so far, the default rate is zero percent. MAF believes that citizenship is a fundamental aspect of social and economic opportunity and that it helps strengthen our communities. “It’s a win-win on a lot of levels,” says Mission Asset Fund Executive Director José Quiñonez. With citizenship tandas, it’s costing them less, and it’s building their credit. People also avoid predatory lending institutions on which they might otherwise rely. Instead of hurting, we’re helping.”