Many immigrants in Philadelphia are eligible to naturalize. However, many have not done so for a number of reasons: lack of information about the naturalization process, no access to affordable legal services, and inability to pay the fees and expenses of naturalization.

The Office of Immigrant Affairs has created a guide to outline the citizenship process and connect aspiring citizens to local resources. If you need help navigating any of these resources, or you think your organization should be listed here too, please contact our office.

Benefits of U.S. citizenship

There are many benefits to becoming a U.S. citizen:

Financial

  • Apply to more private and government jobs.
  • Save money over time without green card renewal fees.
  • Access more grants, scholarships, fellowships, and public benefits.

Civic engagement

  • Vote in elections.
  • Serve on a jury.
  • Run for and hold an elected office.

Family immigration

  • Help your family members immigrate faster.
  • Give automatic citizenship to children under 18.

Travel

  • Travel without visas to certain countries.
  • Obtain visas more easily to other countries.
  • Travel more easily to and from the U.S.
  • Travel for longer periods of time outside the U.S.

Certainty

  • Citizenship is permanent. Your citizenship cannot be taken away.

Steps to citizenship

Naturalization is the process where a person born outside the United States voluntarily becomes a U.S. citizen. There are five basic steps to becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen:

  1. Meet requirements for U.S. citizenship (explained below).
  2. Complete and file Form N-400 (citizenship application).
  3. Have fingerprints taken.
  4. Pass interview and citizenship test.
  5. Attend a swearing-in ceremony.

FREE citizenship applications can be found on the USCIS website.

Requirements for U.S. citizenship

To be eligible for citizenship through naturalization, you must:

  • Be 18 years of age or older.
  • Be a Legal Permanent Resident (have a “green card”) for 5 or more years.
    • Three years if married to a U.S. citizen.
  • Residency in Pennsylvania or USCIS district for at least three months or more.
  • Not have left the U.S. for longer than a year in the last five years.
  • Be able to speak, read, and write basic English.
  • Be able to pass a test on U.S. history and civics.
  • Have good moral character.
  • Show loyalty to the U.S. Constitution.

Citizenship resources

Below is a list of local resources in Philadelphia that can provide help with your citizenship process.

Legal assistance

Local non-profit legal aid organizations provide free or low-cost help in completing and submitting your citizenship application. Many of these organizations also provide assistance in other areas of immigration law.

Take Action Philly Citizenship Clinics

The Philadelphia Bar Association, with the support of the City of Philadelphia and several non-profit legal aid organizations, formed Take Action Philly (TAP) – an initiative uniting lawyers, government, community organizations and residents to offer protection and assistance to our residents in need.

TAP holds FREE citizenship screenings and clinics staffed by volunteer attorneys who assist eligible legal permanent residents in completing the required forms to become citizens. TAP also assists refugees in adjusting their status to legal permanent resident, a necessary step in the citizenship process.

Esperanza Immigration Legal Services

Esperanza provides direct legal services to low-income U.S. citizen and foreign-born individuals and their families needing assistance with immigration matters.

Esperanza Immigration Legal Services accepts new clients every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM, both in person and over the phone.

4261 North 5th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19140
(215) 324-0746, ext. 298

HIAS Pennsylvania

HIAS Pennsylvania provides immigration legal and refugee resettlement services to immigrants and refugees in Pennsylvania. The HIAS Pennsylvania Citizenship program provides naturalization education and legal services to low income, elderly, and disabled residents all over the city.

2100 Arch Street, 3rd Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 832-0900

Nationalities Services Center

Nationalities Services Center (NSC) provides legal representation to low-income individuals in matters of immigration law.

Walk-in initial consultations are scheduled for Fridays at 1:00 PM. Please call for further details about consultations.

1216 Arch St., 4th Fl.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 893-8400

The wrong help can hurt: Immigration services fraud

It’s important to get the right help with citizenship, because the wrong help can hurt you. Immigration services fraud, more commonly referred to as “notario fraud,” affects the many immigrant communities who call Philadelphia home. Only a licensed lawyer or accredited representative is authorized and qualified to assist you with your immigration case.

If you believe you have been a victim of immigration services fraud, call Philly 311 by dialing 3-1-1 or (215) 686-8686.

For more information from OIA, visit our immigration services fraud guide.

For local services, visit Friends of Farmworkers.

More information is also available through AILA’s Notario Fraud Project.

Financial resources

The naturalization process can be expensive. Local organizations have put together resources to help Philadelphians pay for citizenship application costs.

Programa Adelante

Programa Adelante is a program offered by Ceiba and FINANTA that helps people save for fees associated with their citizenship applications (including attorney fees and USCIS fees). Participants who save up to $1000 during 9 months will receive up to $300 in matching funds, as well as financial literacy workshops, credit counseling, and immigration resources. The program also helps participants improve or establish a credit score.

Program is offered in both English and Spanish.

For more information or to sign up, please call or email Taylor De La Peña at taylor.delapena@ceibaphiladelphia.org or (215) 634-7245.

Citizenship education

Local organizations provide assistance preparing for the citizenship test portion of the naturalization process.

HIAS Pennsylvania

The HIAS Pennsylvania Citizenship program provides naturalization education and legal services to low income, elderly, and disabled citizens all over the city.

2100 Arch Street, 3rd Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 832-0900

Nationalities Services Center

Nationalities Services Center (NSC) runs citizenship preparation classes. Classes are $200 for a 10-week session, meeting twice a week for 2.5 hours per class.

1216 Arch St., 4th Fl.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 893-8400

The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians

The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians offers civic participation training, information and naturalization screening sessions, help filling out naturalization applications, citizenship classes, English as a second language classes, and referrals to legal services through their Citizenship in Action program.

1617 JFK Blvd., Suite 555
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 557-2626

ESL classes

Local organizations provide assistance developing the English skills necessary to obtain U.S. citizenship.

The English as a Second Language (ESL) Class Map locates English language classes throughout the city.

This online and interactive map helps Philadelphians who want to learn to speak English find classes in their neighborhoods.

There are nearly 30 ESL class provider locations. The locations include Office of Adult Education (OAE) partner providers as well as other providers.

To join an ESL class, contact the Office of Adult Education by calling 215-686-5250 or by emailing the office.

Free Library New American Corners

10 of the neighborhood Free Library branches host New American Corners. Bushrod, Bustleton, Charles Santore, Fumo Family, Greater Olney, Lawncrest, Northeast Regional, Paschalville, Whitman, and Wyoming Branches host corners that provide information and resources on citizenship, ESL, and more.

The Free Library provides a variety of events and classes to support New Americans. Explore other New American resources on the Free Library website or visit your neighborhood Free Library branch.

 

Share this guide with your friends and neighbors. Let people know the facts on citizenship and how to access local resources.