Armed with a $56,000 federal grant, the Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest, a partner agency of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, will begin preparing 480 immigrants to become naturalized American citizens next year.
The funds are part of a $1.2 million allocation from the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services to 13 community agencies.
JVS was chosen from a pool of 293 applicants to provide civics education and English-as-a-second-language classes to immigrants and refugees considered legal permanent residents.
“We were very fortunate to have received this grant,” said Leonard Schneider, JVS executive director. “It was very competitive.”
Many of the grant recipients have religious ties. In addition to JVS, recipients included the Jewish Family and Children’s Services in San Francisco, Lutheran Family Services in the Carolinas, Saint Mark Roman Catholic Parish in Massachusetts, and Young Women’s Christian Association in Oklahoma.
One requirement of the training programs is to give priority to citizenship applicants who are 65 and older.
“When people come to this country they have to become citizens within five years or they lose the opportunity,” Schneider explained. “Those who are older will lose federal government entitlements like Medicare, food stamps, etc., if they are not citizens. That’s why a lot of emphasis is on helping people who are older become citizens, so they are no longer a drain to social service agencies in the community.”
In addition to the educational programs, JVS will partner with the Jersey City-based International Institute of New Jersey to provide legal and bureaucratic assistance as well as translation services to the applicants.
Since its founding in 1939, JVS has helped immigrants and refugees with jobs and relocation. It has been running citizenship training classes since 1990, mainly for Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of whom now live in the Ivy Hill section of Newark.
The extra money will enable the agency to expand its immigrant aid programs.
“We are exceptionally pleased at the opportunity to continue assistance that has been important to the people who have received it,” Schneider said.