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$100K Grant To Finance Citizenship Loans
ROANOKE, Va.  (8/16/13)--Freedom First FCU in Roanoke, Va., has won the $100,000 NEXT Seed Capital Award from Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) to introduce the American Dreamer Loan product, which will provide Roanoke-based immigrants financing they need to apply for citizenship. This is the first loan program of its kind in the area.
 
The $292.1 million asset Freedom First developed its American Dreamer Loan product to offer affordable, responsible financing to help local refugees and immigrants who are legal permanent residents apply for citizenship. The cost of naturalization services can range from roughly $2,500 to $5,000. Many struggle to find financing to cover the costs.
 
Citizenship loans are not a new product. North Side Community FCU in Chicago began making citizenship loans in 2007 to grow its Hispanic membership base (News Now Aug. 21, 2007).  
 
In partnership with Commonwealth Catholic Charities and local law firms, the Freedom First loan program will help about 30 refugees and immigrants complete the naturalization process and apply for citizenship in its first year. Refugee and immigrant groups living in the area include Somali Bantu, Vietnamese, Bosnians, Croatians, Cubans and Iraqis.
 
Many applicants get stuck when they cannot afford the legal costs of applying, explained Dave Prosser, Freedom First vice president of community development.
 
"In this country, immigration law is complex and many newcomers require personal guidance, along with legal and financial assistance, to successfully navigate the U.S. citizenship process," he said. "We recognized a need in our community to offer low-cost loans to help credit-challenged immigrants pay the costs associated with obtaining citizenship. Hence, our idea for the American Dreamer Loan was born."
 
Each year through 2016, the $100,000 NEXT Seed Capital Award will go to one community development financial institution with a promising idea for expanding its products and services to serve more low-income people and communities. The award is made by OFN as part of the Wells Fargo NEXT Awards for Opportunity Finance. Wells Fargo provides the funding.
 
Freedom First also will offer financial education to applicants to help them develop skills to build assets while working with qualified partners to achieve their goal of citizenship.
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