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Securing a financial path to citizenship

As the immigration reform bill continues to dominate the national discussion, countless individuals living in Florida and beyond remain ever mindful that any version of proposed legislation could impact them greatly. And for all of those with hopes of becoming a U.S. citizen, the economic opportunities and difficulties of such a prospect can be intimidating. That's why more and more communities and nonprofit organizations are beginning to plan now for the financial futures of thousands of immigrants.

If a path to citizenship is included in prospective immigration reform legislation, undocumented immigrants and their families, along with entire communities, may face unique financial challenges as they transition through the process. For one thing, millions of people may enter the economy with little to no credit history. A credit score is necessary to be eligible for bank loans, and can affect one's ability to rent an apartment in many instances. Furthermore, taking steps like applying for credit cards and opening bank accounts help to establish financial security. Though, it's estimated that almost 20 percent of noncitizen households do not currently have a bank account.

It's for that reason that many immigrant families are beginning to join lending circles, where participants have the opportunity to improve their credit rating while reducing debt. The concept of the lending circle is not new to many immigrants, and it is lauded by some for promoting community and financial independence at the same time.

Given that U.S. citizenship application fees can go well above $500, participants in nonprofit lending circles can benefit from the small loans they are eligible for. Such funds are often sent directly to the Homeland Security Department, and donors are known to contribute to application costs.

Ultimately though, such lending programs showcase communities coming together to promote individual success.

Source: National Journal, "The Immigrant Lending Circles That Pave the Way to Citizenship," Sophie Quinton, July 9, 2013

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