U.S. Lags in Naturalization Rates, Commitment to Promote Naturalization

21048692811_4810e39687_cIn a recent post about a new report on immigrant integration from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), we noted that the NAS sees a promising but modest increase in naturalization rates in the U.S. It also notes that, compared to some other immigrant-receiving countries, naturalization rates in the U.S. lag far behind.

The federal government’s laissez-faire approach to immigrant integration might partially explain the gap between naturalization rates in the U.S. and, for example, in Canada. Recent federal government efforts to promote naturalization have been modest. For example, the report notes that, in 2007, the budget for the federal Office of Citizenship was $3 million. By comparison, the state of Illinois alone was spending a comparable amount to promote citizenship for its resident immigrants.

From 2009 to 2014, the citizenship grants awarded by the Office of Citizenship to organizations helping immigrants prepare for citizenship amounted to $43.2 million. By comparison, a private foundation, the Emma Lazarus Fund of the Open Society Institute spent $50 million in the late 1990s to help immigrants prepare for naturalization. These amounts are dwarfed by the amount that the government of Canada, with its smaller immigrant population, spends on immigrant integration programs (estimated to be more than 1 billion Canadian dollars, or about 970 million U.S. dollars, in the fiscal year 2010-2011).

On the other hand, while the U.S. lags in spending to promote immigrant integration, the fee charged to immigrants seeking to naturalize is among the highest among immigrant-receiving nations. In 2010, the median fee for naturalization in 34 countries across Europe, Canada and Australia was $220. The U.S. fee, $595, was the sixth most expensive.

In the absence of government encouragement, the role of family members, friends, community and nonprofit organizations, unions, and employers is important in encouraging immigrants to become citizens. The NAS report notes that, for every 1 percent increase in the share of co-ethnic immigrants who are naturalized in a metropolitan area, there is a 2.5 percent increase in the odds of an individual in that group to naturalize, according to statistical analyses. In other words, the more people from an ethnic group who naturalize, the more likely their peers of the same ethnicity are to follow their lead.

The report cites the work of one program, New American Workforce, which is run by New Americans Campaign partner the National Immigration Forum. That program, the report notes, “continues a tradition from a century earlier, when major employers such as Bethlehem Steel and Ford Motor Company provided English language classes to their immigrant workforce ….”

The report also mentions partnerships between nonprofit organizations and the government. One such partnership highlighted in the report, between Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC), another Campaign partner, and the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, helped refugees prepare for naturalization.

While these private and public-private partnerships are important in helping immigrants prepare for citizenship, it may take a serious federal government commitment to scale up the naturalization rate in this country and bring it on par with countries such as Canada that have already made that commitment.

Posted on October 16, 2015

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  • The Campaign has completed over 3,700 naturalization workshops and clinics.
  • Over 250,000 citizenship applications completed since July 2011.

    Saved aspiring citizens and their families over $206million in legal and application fees.
  • Adopted scalable technology. MP3 players, Google Voice, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services are being used to enhance naturalization service delivery.
  • Expanded New American Workforce (an effort to provide naturalization assistance within corporations) which has partnered with over 100 businesses across the nation, ranging from hotels in Miami to American Apparel in Los Angeles.
  • Deployed Citizenshipworks, an online tool, across the Campaign in multiple settings and languages. A newly redesigned platform guides applicants through through their citizenship application from start to finish and connects applicants to legal help at partnering non-profits.
  • Were instrumental in inspiring the US Citizenship and Immigration Service to support the Citizenship Corners initiative.
  • Created innovative partnerships with public libraries, school districts, universities, social service agencies, and employers, all of which yield not only greater numbers of applicants but also greater awareness of the naturalization process.
  • Deployed a large-scale volunteer recruitment program through an e-learning course.

    Reached diverse communities. Local partners consistently outreach and provide culturally competent and language-appropriate services.
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Who We're Helping

People come to America from all over the world with dreams of achieving a better life for themselves and their families and calling this great nation home. Eight million people who live, work, and pay taxes in this country are eligible for citizenship, yet only about eight percent of them naturalize each year. Find out more about these individuals and the barriers they face.Read More