Tigrinya, Nepali, Somali, Arabic, Vietnamese: These are just some of the languages that clashed as translators relayed information about becoming a U.S. citizens to more than 100 lawful permanent residents. Many of those in attendance at the St. Louis International Institute event were refugees.
The information session covered requirements for becoming a citizen, the application process, classes available at the International Institute to help prepare for the citizenship interview, medical waiver information and success stories.
Anita Barker, vice president and director of education at the Institute says although lawful residents must reside in the U.S. for up to five years before applying for citizenship, it’s important that they start preparing for the test early.
“Three years to five years pass very quickly and some of the critical information we give is valuable for anyone, even if they're not quite ready to naturalize,” she said. “So it’s extremely valuable, and we are very excited that we can give our clients and the community the opportunity to learn about the end while they're still in the beginning stage of becoming citizens of this country.”
Baker says it’s important that people applying for citizenship get their information from reliable sources.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions,” she said. “Many times our clients will rely on information from friends or relatives who might have naturalized a year ago or three or five years ago. Things change, even just last May the application had a dramatic change, so the information is always updating, always changing. We want the most current and accurate information to get to the community.”
Chester Moyer, field office director for USCIS in St. Louis, said seeking citizenship can be a very daunting task, because people are trying to learn new customs and navigate in a foreign place. They have no connection to the English language or the United States at first, he says, making the path to citizenship difficult. That why it’s important to learn English.
“If you learn English you can learn everything else that you need to know,” Moyer said. “You have to have some writing skills, reading skills but then you can learn the history, the civics, you can learn the application process. You can follow the rules.”
Abass Hamid, who was born in Iraq, is working to improve his English and prepare for his citizenship test through classes at the International Institute. He said when he first came to the U.S. he understood very little and citizenship seemed impossible. It was very difficult when he started, but it’s become much easier.
He says he’s excited to complete his courses and take the test.
“I love this country, so when I get the citizen I will be like more, more good for me and my family,” Hamid said.
Last year, the local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office naturalized 3,000 individuals from the eastern district of Missouri and the southern district of Illinois.