We have collected and compiled research about the benefits of, and strategies for overcoming the barriers to, U.S. citizenship.

A Survey of Changing USCIS Practices

In July 2020, Migration Policy Institute (MPI) released a new report, Findings of a Survey on Changing Naturalization Procedures. This report presents MPI’s analysis of a 2019 national survey conducted by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center of 110 naturalization assistance providers. The study aims to understand how USCIS naturalization procedures have changed during the Trump administration. MPI also held a webinar to discuss the report featuring former USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez, former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Doris Meissner, MPI researcher Randy Capps, and ILRC Executive Director Eric Cohen.Cover of Report by MPI

The report finds that USCIS continues to approve the vast majority of citizenship applications, with an approval rate that has hovered around the 90-percent mark since fiscal year 2010, but the time it takes to process an application has grown considerably. This appears to be due at least in part to changing adjudication policies and practices.

These changes were underway before a trio of new 2020 developments that threaten to further increase the application backlog and make it more difficult for eligible immigrants to access citizenship: a COVID-19-related suspension of USCIS operations for three months, the likely furlough of two-thirds of the agency’s staff due to a major budget shortfall, and a planned increase in the cost of filing a citizenship application alongside new restrictions on eligibility for fee waivers for low-income applicants.

The State of New American Citizenship

In February 2019, Boundless Immigration, a technology company that helps immigrants navigate the green card and naturalization process, released a new report, The State of New American Citizenship. Based on an analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other sources, the report makes clear that the process of applying for U.S. citizenship has become far more difficult than in previous years. Further, the report found large regional disparities, with wait times far longer in the Southwest and South Florida than in other regions of the country. This report uses public data sets to understand national trends in the government’s handling of citizenship applications, as well as barriers at the local level.

Lifting Barriers to Citizenship

In January 2018, the Stanford Immigration Policy Lab (IPL) published new research on the financial barriers low-income immigrants face to becoming citizens. An innovative program, NaturalizeNY, developed in partnership with the New York State Office for New Americans and supported by Robin Hood and New York Community Trust, had a dramatic effect on naturalization rates among low-income New Yorkers: providing a fee voucher to cover the full cost of the application doubled the application rate.

The program offers a model for communities large and small that want to help immigrants to become citizens. For low-income immigrants (incomes between 150-300% of the federal poverty guidelines) who are not eligible for the full federal fee waiver, a fund could be established with public and private support to cover application fees. Read the research brief here, and see the infographic from IPL on the right. To learn more, visit the IPL’s webpage on the research here.


Reducing Barriers to Citizenship: New Research and the Need for a Partial Fee Waiver

This brief by the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California examines the impact of the reduced fee by offering estimates including: the number of the eligible-to-naturalize populations by poverty band (for all 50 states), the number by countries of origin and poverty status, and more. The brief includes estimates of individuals eligible for the fee waiver and the reduced fee to apply for naturalization.

On January 8, 2015, New Americans Campaign partners participated in a webinar that included research by Manuel Pastor and Jared Sanchez of the University of Southern California (USC) and Patrick Oakford of the Center for American Progress (CAP). This research shows that the number of low-income immigrants naturalizing is lagging that of immigrants with higher incomes, revealing how the cost of citizenship is a systemic barrier for some populations pursuing naturalization. Learn more about these important findings and how to address the high cost of citizenship for LPRs. A naturalization application fee increase, as well as a new reduced fee option, went into effect on December 23, 2016.

Research on Reducing Barriers to Citizenship 1-8-15 Webinar Powerpoint

Nurturing Naturalization – Could Lowering the Fee Help?

In February 2013, the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, now the University of Southern California Equity Research Institute, published Nurturing Naturalization – Could Lowering the Fee Help? The report finds that naturalization appears to be price sensitive, particularly to the price differential between renewing a Green Card and obtaining citizenship. Moreover, original analysis of data from the Office of Immigration Statistics and the American Community Survey indicates that fee increases can have a significant impact on both the volume and the composition of who naturalizes. Fee increases trigger a dramatic decline in the naturalization of less-educated (and likely lower income) immigrants, an increase in the number of years immigrants wait to become citizens, and a change in the national origin of the naturalizing population, in particular a relative reduction in those who were born in Mexico.

Economic Impact of Naturalization

Several studies show that naturalization confers economic benefits, both on the individuals who become citizens, and on our communities and nation as a whole. A study published in December 2012 (Citizen Gain“) found that citizenship, alone, can boost individual earnings by 8 to 11 percent, leading to a potential $21-45 billion increase in cumulative earnings to the national economy over ten years.

Below is a list of resources on this subject.

Putting Americans First

Author: Donald Kerwin and Robert Warren, Center for Migration Studies, December 2019

Summary: The Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) released a report in December 2019 entitled “Putting Americans First: A Statistical Case for Encouraging Rather than Impeding and Devaluing US Citizenship.” The report states, among other conclusions, that the well-being of immigrants and their contributions to the United States increase as they advance to more permanent and secure immigration statuses, culminating in naturalization. It shows that naturalized citizens match or exceed the native-born by key metrics, including: college degrees (35% vs. 29%); percent employed (96% vs. 95%); and average personal income ($45,600 vs. $40,600).

America is Home: How Individuals, Families, Cities & Counties Benefit by Investing In Citizenship

Authors: Cities for Citizenship, Center for Popular Democracy, National Partnership for New Americans, September 2018

Summary: When municipal leaders develop and invest in naturalization efforts, it produces substantial economic and civic benefits for all of their constituents. This report finds that when someone becomes a US citizen, that person is more likely to secure employment, access higher paying jobs, and to own a home. In addition to a host of benefits for individuals, naturalization can have important macroeconomic benefits for local communities. These include a growth in spending power, higher GDP, and increased tax revenues, all of which can boost local economies. Finally, investing in naturalization can advance financial inclusion for immigrant families who are much more likely to access formal banking services after naturalizing.

The Economic Impact of Naturalization on Immigrants and Cities

Author: Maria E. Enchautegui and Linda Giannarelli, Urban Institute, December 2015

Summary: Using American Community Survey data for 21 cities, this report finds that if the immigrants who are eligible for naturalization became citizens, their earnings would increase 8.9 percent, and combined earnings for the 21 cities would increase $5.7 billion. Federal, state, and city tax revenue would increase $2.0 billion. Expenditures in government benefits would decline $34 million in New York City and increase $4 million in San Francisco. With an additional $789 million in taxes for New York City and $90 million for San Francisco, the net fiscal impact of naturalization on these two cities is overwhelmingly positive.

Immigration and Growth (motion graphic)

Source: George W. Bush Center, July 2013

This motion graphic about immigration and growth spotlights the contributions immigrants make to our economy and our country. You can watch it below.

Why Naturalization Matters to the Economy (discussion panel)

Eric Cohen, Executive Director of Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the lead agency of the New Americans Campaign, participated in a panel during an event at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas, July 10, 2013. Other panelists were Ali Noorani (Executive Director, National Immigration Forum), Manuel Pastor (Professor, University of Southern California, Co-Director, Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration), and Richard Vedder (Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus, Ohio University).

Watch the video below.

Latino Financial Access and Inclusion in California (report)

Author: National Council of La Raza, June 2013

Summary: This report finds that Latinos in California, among other things, are more engaged financially and more likely to invest if they are naturalized citizens.

Homeownership Among the Foreign-Born Population (report)

Author: U.S. Census Bureau, Jan 2013

Summary: Using data from the 2011 American Community Survey (ACS), this report finds notable differences in homeownership rates among foreign-born households by citizenship status. While 66 percent of naturalized U.S. citizen households were owner occupied, 34 percent of noncitizen households were owner occupied. Naturalized U.S. citizen households were also more likely than non-citizen households to have paid off their home mortgage.

Click here for an infographic from George Washington University’s FaceTheFacts.USA.org project.

Citizen Gain (report)

Authors: Manuel Pastor and Justin Scoggins, USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, December 2012

Summary: This report finds that citizenship, alone, can boost individual earnings by 8 to 11 percent, leading to a potential $21-45 billion increase in cumulative earnings over ten years that will have ripple effects on the national economy. It includes a 3-page summary brief, and an infographic.

Source: Citizen Gain 

The Economic Value of Citizenship for Immigrants in the United States (report)

Authors: Madeleine Sumption and Sarah Flamm, Migration Policy Institute, September 2012

Summary: This report states that naturalized citizens earn more than their noncitizen counterparts, and are less likely to be unemployed, and are better represented in highly skilled jobs. 

Source: Migration Policy Institute 

The Effects of Citizenship on Family Income and Poverty (report)

Author: Heidi Shierholz, Economic Policy Institute, February 2010

This 2010 report finds that immigrant workers who are U.S. citizens earn higher wages and experience lower levels of poverty than non-citizens, and that this benefit remains even after controlling for other factors.

Source: Economic Policy Institute