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Refugees Join SLC English Program for Citizenship Application


SALT LAKE CITY — For many, this Independence Day is a reminder of their goal to acquire full citizenship. There is a small group that meets twice a week in Salt Lake County to help refugees and immigrants move closer to obtaining their US citizenship.

The English Skills Learning Center has designed a unique English language course that prepares students to be successful in their citizenship application. The program aims to help immigrants and refugees pass an oral interview and a written test covering a range of topics, including United States history, politics, and government.

“There are high stakes here,” said Kara Vail, program coordinator at ESLC.

Successful citizenship application motivates students, Vail said. Their program has a 92% success rate.

“Most of the students who already take the initiative to come to our classes and choose to participate, usually do well,” Vail said.

The ESCL program has about 25 registered students. The citizenship test isn’t cheap – it costs $700 and the application process takes about a year.

Vail said his program partners with Catholic Community Services and can offer legal services and special waivers to reduce fees.

The program itself receives approximately $200,000 to $250,000 in grants from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which allows them to deliver the courses for free.

“This is probably the most prestigious scholarship for this type of education,” Vail said. “We are very proud to be the only one in Utah to benefit from this grant.”

Hedy Miller has been an instructor at ESLC for over a decade and has watched many students succeed throughout her tenure.

“I think it’s probably the most rewarding job you can have,” Miller said.

Miller’s courses examine the 100 questions required for the citizenship interview. In their application, each student must answer: why do you want to be an American citizen?

“A lot of people want to vote,” Miller said. “Some people want to bring family members and some people want a better job.”

For Hafeez Ahmad, becoming a citizen means he can bring his deaf son from Pakistan to the United States

“My son came here and I hugged my son,” Ahmad said, through tears.

Habi Yusuf came to the United States six years ago from Somalia and learned what Utah had to offer her.

“I love the mountains,” Yusuf said.

Between his working hours, Yusuf attends classes twice a week for an 11-week session.

“I believe in the Constitution,” Yusuf said. “I would like to vote.”