Director The Immigration Advocates Network
Empowering immigrants in their navigation of the road to citizenship
CitizenshipWorks offers technology-enabled services that help long-term permanent residents gain the benefits of citizenship and build the capacity of organisations working to assist low-income immigrants.
It is estimated that over 8 million lawful permanent residents in the U.S. are eligible to apply for citizenship. However, far less than 1 million naturalise every year. Many lack the necessary information and means to navigate the complex laws and regulations that govern the naturalisation process. CitizenshipWorks offers technology-enabled services that help long-term permanent residents gain the benefits of citizenship and build the capacity of organisations working to assist low-income immigrants.
CitizenshipWorks (www.citizenshipworks.org) provides free, easy-to-use online tools to help individuals navigate what can be a confusing and intimidating process. On the site, individuals can answer questions about their eligibility for naturalisation, learn about the process, find free or low-cost legal help, and prepare for the naturalisation tests. In addition to enabling individuals to find legal help, CitizenshipWorks is being used by immigration legal services organisations seeking to assist more clients through technology-enabled naturalization group processing workshops. The site, which is available in several languages, was recently recognised with the 2012 Webby Award for Best Law Site.
CitizenshipWorks is a project of the Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), a collaborative effort of leading immigrants’ rights organizations; the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, national experts on the naturalization process; and Pro Bono Net, a nonprofit leader in using technology to increase access to justice.
1. Can you briefly describe the innovation, in terms of the problem(s) it tries to solve and why is it necessary
It is estimated that over 8 million lawful permanent residents are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship; however, far less than 1 million naturalise every year. Many lack the necessary information and means to navigate the complex laws and regulations that govern the naturalisation process.
CitizenshipWorks (www.citizenshipworks.org) provides easy-to-use online tools to help individuals answer important questions about their eligibility for naturalisation, better understand the naturalisation process, and prepare for the naturalisation tests. CitizenshipWorks also provides tools to support nonprofit organizations assisting low-income immigrants, enabling them to provide web-enabled services that increase efficiency and maximise resources at group processing events and legal clinics. CitizenshipWorks further helps address gaps in service delivery by making it possible to serve clients remotely or using mobile clinics.
For immigrants who cannot afford an attorney, and especially those in remote areas, CitizenshipWorks may represent their best chance of achieving the benefits of citizenship.
2. What makes your innovation unique?
CitizenshipWorks is a pioneer in using technology-enabled services to address the needs of immigrants seeking to naturalise. By making available interactive, easy-to-use online tools, the site empowers immigrants to take a more active and informed role in the naturalisation process, and expands the capacity of organisations working to help low-income immigrants.
CitizenshipWorks is also developing new ways for immigrants to access resources and services, often in their native language. For example, an SMS text messaging campaign allows users to text “citizenship” (“ciudadania” in Spanish) to 877877 to receive the location and contact information for their nearest naturalisation application assistance provider as well as information about the naturalisation process and upcoming workshops and events in their community. A mobile app, currently in development, will provide information about the naturalisation process, tools to help assess eligibility, a legal help finder, flash cards to prepare for the English and civics tests, and a checklist to help clients prepare for their legal appointment.
3. What triggered the development of the innovation?
The enormous disparity between the need for and availability of free or low-cost legal help for immigrants means that traditional models of service delivery cannot suffice. Pro Bono Net has used technology to transform the delivery of legal services for over a decade, and, working with the Immigration Advocates Network and Immigrant Legal Resource Center, was able to apply this approach to the area of naturalisation.
4. Which persons and organisations were involved in the development and what role did they play?
CitizenshipWorks was developed by Pro Bono Net, the Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), a collaborative effort of leading immigrants’ rights organisations, and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, an IAN partner and national nonprofit that works to advance immigrants' rights. Matthew Burnett, Director of the Immigration Advocates Network, has overseen the site’s development, working in collaboration with the other organisations.
5. What kind of resistance have you encountered and how have you overcome it?
Innovation often encounters some resistance, but in the face of the vast gap between the need for services and available legal resources, naturalization service providers have found that they cannot simply rely on traditional paper-based models of service delivery. The team behind CitizenshipWorks works in close collaboration with organisations across the country to find ways to integrate these tools into their programs.
6. How did you make the goals realistic and attainable, and when will quick wins be available?
Pro Bono Net’s years of experience in developing technology for public legal education and self-help ensured that the project’s goals were realistic and attainable. Quick wins are already available to those using the site to navigate the naturalisation process, and to the organisations in nine cities that have integrated CitizenshipWorks into the naturalization workshops and clinics they conduct, enabling them to increase efficiency and help more people in less time.
7. Will the innovation affect other organisations in the chain and if that is the case, how will it affect them?
The use of CitizenshipWorks will increase the capacity of nonprofit organisations serving immigrants by allowing them to more efficiently run group processing workshops and clinics, relying on less staff and volunteer time to prepare more naturalisation applications. More broadly, CitizenshipWorks is helping to make the case for the use of technology to help increase access to justice.
8. How was the development funded and what were reasons for the financing organisation?
CitizenshipWorks has received support from several foundations interested in immigration issues, including the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Grove Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and the Open Society Foundation.
9. Can you name 3 to 5 characteristics of the innovation that are most essential to make it work?
- As an online service, CitizenshipWorks arms providers with the means to take on the complex issue of naturalisation without significant investments in technology or additional staffing, and it can be used in a variety of ways by different constituencies. Nonprofit agencies can incorporate it into their clinics and workshops, make it available on terminals in their offices, or even use it to deliver services remotely through the internet, while individuals can access it on their own to learn about the naturalization process and determine their eligibility.
- The involvement of Pro Bono Net, which has been working to increase the use of technology-enabled service delivery in legal services for 14 years, means that CitizenshipWorks can leverage proven technology and expertise. For example, it is powered by LawHelp Interactive, Pro Bono Net’s online legal document assembly system.
- CitizenshipWorks addresses language barriers by making resources available in English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. Given that the target audience is immigrants, this greatly increases the service’s impact.
10. How do you measure whether it is a successful innovation?
Success can be measured by both the number of organisations incorporating CitizenshipWorks into their service offerings and the number of end users benefitting from the online tools. Over time, we will track the number of successful citizenship applications enabled by the programme. We also evaluate qualitative measures. For example, in naturalisation workshops conducted in late 2011 and early 2012, 89% of attendees said that CitizenshipWorks was “easy” or “very easy” to use despite the fact that more than 60% live on a monthly household income of less than $2,000 and 28% have only a primary school education. In addition, applicants who have used CitizenshipWorks to learn about their eligibility and complete their own naturalization forms have expressed a sense of increased empowerment in being able to engage in the process directly, rather than merely passively receiving services.
11. How many people or organisations benefit from this innovation now?
CitizenshipWorks is currently being used in 11 regional naturalisation collaboratives across the country, both in large cities such as New York, Boston and Los Angeles as well as efforts in more rural regions to provide remote services delivery. Nationally, 15 legal services organisations are currently using CitizenshipWorks in their naturalisation programmes, with about 40 more developing programmes to integrate CitizenshipWorks in the near future. Since the start of 2012, nearly 35,000 individuals have benefited from the resources available on the CitizenshipWorks site.
12. How many people or organisations could potentially benefit your innovation now and in the future? Can or will the innovation be used internationally and how do you overcome cultural differences?
An estimated 8 million immigrants in the U.S. are eligible for citizenship. While some proportion of this group will hire a lawyer to guide them through the citizenship process, many will not be able to afford to do so.
13. Can you quantify the financial benefits? Cost savings, additional income or otherwise.
The primary benefits are that many more people will receive assistance in the naturalisation process, and nonprofits serving immigrants can increase their capacity. It’s difficult to quantify the financial aspects of this.
14. Is the innovation financially viable and sustainable and if yes, how?
CitizenshipWorks is financially viable and sustainable. It has the support of a committed group of funders that see its services as key to helping immigrants deepen their commitment to their adopted homeland and enjoy the benefits of citizenship.
15. Did you receive any recognition?
CitizenshipWorks was awarded the 2012 Webby Award for Best Law Site, as well as the Webby People’s Voice Award in the Law category.
16. What lessons did you learn along the way that could be useful to others?
One important lesson is the need to work with the right collaborators. The organisations behind CitizenshipWorks are committed not only to helping low-income immigrants navigate the naturalisation process, but also to leveraging technology in service of this goal.