Saving for Citizenship overview

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Saving for Citizenship

Context

Over a third of Santa Clara County’s residents are born outside of the U.S., one of the nation’s highest immigrant concentrations. While some come to Silicon Valley to take wellpaid jobs or pursue higher education, many more struggle at the margins of society. For lowincome immigrants, recently increased fees for obtaining citizenship have moved that goal further out of reach. Low-wage immigrant workers are a vital part of the region’s infrastructure—childcare providers, service workers, and more—yet they often fall outside of the civic and financial mainstream, making it harder for them to participate fully in society and build a better life for their families. .

Since 1995, Opportunity Fund has demonstrated that assets—a home, business, or education—are key to creating opportunities for families to move out of poverty.

Citizenship represents a similarly transformative asset. As citizens, working families are better able to enter the civic and financial mainstream and, ultimately, to build security for the future. By providing eligible immigrants a combination of financial education and matched savings (Individual Development Accounts or IDAs) toward naturalization expenses, Opportunity Fund will help pave a path to citizenship for low-income residents while preparing them to take charge of their financial lives.

Program Innovation

Saving for Citizenship represents a groundbreaking approach to asset-building, combining the proven power of IDAs with the innovative concept of citizenship as an appreciable asset. Building on the once-controversial idea that low-wage workers can save, this initiative introduces an equally powerful theory: that low-wage immigrants can—and will—obtain citizenship, if the financial barriers are removed. By addressing the economic impediments to citizenship through financial education and matched savings, this program offers a different way of thinking about how to facilitate and encourage civic participation. Saving for Citizenship broadens the definition of an asset to include naturalization, and then utilizes the established methodology of Individual Development Accounts to enable a vulnerable population to attain both this asset and the financial discipline that will benefit both them and the larger community for the long term.

Impact

Through this project, 500 low-income, legal immigrants in Santa Clara will: o o

Learn to navigate the U.S. financial system: select financial services, understand credit reports, and prepare for taxes;

Develop life skills and confidence to save and invest through training in budgeting, investing, and analyzing loan products; o o

Build savings for naturalization that will be augmented by a 2:1 match; and

Apply for citizenship.

Opportunity Fund’s IDA program was designed to capture extensive social impact data and report regularly to donors and policymakers. For the Saving for Citizenship program,

Opportunity Fund will adapt our ongoing evaluation activities to incorporate data related to the status of client’s naturalization process. Given the long timeline—it can take from months to years for an application to be finalized—Opportunity Fund will track both shortterm outcomes (clients applying for citizenship) and long-term outcomes (clients who obtain citizenship). Specific evaluation methods will include:

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Tracking participation in financial training;

Analyzing monthly savings deposits;

Recording withdrawals for naturalization expenses;

Tracking changes in savings behavior, civic participation, and citizenship status between enrollment and graduation; and

Conducting periodic surveys 1-3 years after graduation to track long-term savings behavior and citizenship status.

Why Opportunity Fund?

Opportunity Fund is a pioneer in the field of matched savings accounts, and our program is among the largest and most effective in the nation. Our IDA program serves clients throughout Silicon Valley—half of whom are immigrants—using a partnership model that enables us to enroll over 300 new clients a year. Opportunity Fund’s strong management team and staff, including two former IDA program participants, have led the program’s successful expansion over the past several years.

Given our track record of working with Santa Clara’s foreign-born population, Opportunity

Fund is uniquely positioned to serve eligible immigrants who are ready to assume the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Saving for Citizenship represents an innovative extension of Opportunity Fund’s mission to advance the well-being of working people by helping them earn, save, and invest in their future.

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