Demand for immigration loans surged after Trump took office

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Americans apply for loans every day, whether they’re buying a home, a car, or other big ticket items.

Government data shows since Donald Trump was elected president, there’s also been a surge in people applying for loans to become American citizens. And the price tag for becoming a citizen can reach well into the thousands.

Nearly a million people applied for citizenship during the 2016 fiscal year, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. That’s the largest number in nine years.

One of those applying for citizenship is Oscar Oliva of Providence.

“The last 18 years [I’ve] lived in America, I work for my family,” he said. “That’s all I do.”

Oliva said he’s looking to protect himself and his family during uncertain times. But he quickly learned that citizenship comes at a cost.

“I ask my boss at work if I can work extra hours,” said Oliva. “When I do that, I get $50 extra. I save, I save, I save. I save a thousand dollars.”

Despite that need for extra work, Oliva is still one of the lucky ones. For many low-income immigrant families, the process of becoming a U.S. citizen can vary greatly depending on the applicant. Green card holders need to shell out money to Immigration Services for background checks, application fees and legal costs.

For people living paycheck to paycheck, coming up with those funds can be a challenge. That’s where groups like the nonprofit Capital Good Fund in Providence come in.

“We get applications online, over the phone, walk-ins,” said Heiry Bulux, a loan officer at Capital Good Fund.

Bulux outlined the vast range of immigration costs, which can vary “anywhere between $400 to $17,000, and that’s just the application,” she said.

Capital Good Fund loans money primarily to low-income applicants. Since the Trump administration settled into Washington, D.C., Bulux said the group has seen a surge in applications from immigrants concerned about their future.

“When I started, immigration loans [were] not a very popular loan product with us,” said Bulux. “We were getting maybe two to five applications a month, if any. And now in the first three months of 2017 we’ve gotten anywhere between 11, 26, and 30 applications a month. So the demand has increased.”

Bulux also said the motivation behind many of the applications was clear.

“I see fear in people,” she said. “I have clients that call and say, ‘I’m not sure if I can say this on the phone but this is what is going on.'”

For years, immigrant advocates have urged permanent, law-abiding residents to become U.S. citizens to protect them from deportation if they’re ever convicted of a crime in the future. Still, there are millions of eligible immigrants who refrain from doing so. Their concerns range from not being able to pass citizenship tests, to those filing fees upwards of thousands of dollars.

The Capital Good Fund has now had to expand its loans to cover those rising costs. “Before we would offer between $700 and $2,000 for costs,” Bulux explained. “But we have now expanded our loans of to $20,000 for up to 48 months.”

Oliva, who’s still on his own path to citizenship, hopes more people can take advantage of loan options to pave the way to a permanent future in the U.S.

“I think it’s a good opportunity and a good idea,” he said.

Oliva’s brother and mother are also in the process of trying to save up money to apply for citizenship. He’s hoping they’ll be naturalized within the next year.