Recently, the Migration Policy Institute released a report on cities’ use of technology to increase access to city services, boost civic participation and strengthen immigrant integration.
The potential for apps to play an increased role in this area is due in part to the widespread use of smartphones. According to the Pew Internet Project, 90 percent of American adults have cell phones (including 92 percent of Latinos). Of those, more than half (58 percent) use smartphones (including 61 percent of Latinos).
A number of cities have created apps to provide information to residents and to help residents connect with city government. Although these apps may not be targeted to immigrants specifically, they can be an alternative way of reaching newcomers who may be reluctant to deal with municipal officials.
Among the apps that focus on helping immigrants prepare for citizenship, the New Americans Campaign has its own. CitizenshipWorks includes information on requirements for naturalization, study aids for the citizenship test, checklists to help applicants prepare documents and information they will need for their application and interview, and information about legal assistance providers near the applicant. Scores of apps are available to help English language learners as well.
The Migration Policy Institute report notes that, while apps can be helpful, they will not “provide an easy fix to immigrant integration challenges.” Among the concerns are differences in computer literacy and access to the internet; lack of quality control for rapidly proliferating apps; and sustainability of apps that, once they are developed and released, must be updated over time. There are also concerns about privacy.
Still, apps are an inexpensive way to reach a sizable population, and the potential for their use in teaching immigrants about life in their community has been barely tapped.