New Research Shows Low-Income Naturalization Rates Lagging After Fee Increase

Advocates and service providers who help immigrants become citizens say that the application fee for citizenship, now $680, is a barrier to naturalization for low-income immigrants. New research by Manuel Pastor and Jared Sanchez of the University of Southern California (USC) and Patrick Oakford of the Center for American Progress (CAP) shows that the number of low-income immigrants naturalizing is lagging that of immigrants with higher incomes. Read more at this post written for the New Americans Campaign.

New Report Calculates Benefit of Citizenship to Cities

In conjunction with the launch of the Cities for Citizenship initiative, a new report was released on September 17 that touts the benefit of naturalization to America’s cities. The report, released by the National Partnership for New Americans, the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California, and the Center for Popular Democracy, calculates the benefit of naturalization to the earnings of immigrants living in the three cities whose mayors lead the Cities for Citizenship: Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. It also calculates the resulting economic benefit for those three cities.

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It could be worse

Periodically, journalists and others look at the test of U.S. History and Government given to aspiring U.S. citizens. The questions is asked, “How well do native-born Americans know this material?” The answer invariably is, not well.

Still, the U.S. citizenship process is straightforward and simple in comparison to some other countries.

SwissflagIn the Swiss National Museum in Zurich, there is a fascinating display of Swiss citizenship requirements. According to the exhibit, while there is a national uniform naturalization law, the majority of the 2,600 political communities (cantons—equivalent to our states—and municipalities) apply their own naturalization policy.

When an applicant is ready for citizenship, he or she is often interviewed and questioned about the municipality, the canton, and the nation. Sometimes, the process includes a surprise home visit. In some cantons, the interview is replaced by a test.

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Naturalization: The Latest Official Statistics

On June 3rd, the Office of Immigration Statistics of the Department of Homeland Security released its fiscal year 2013 statistics on naturalization. These statistics give us a look at how many persons are becoming citizens, what are the top countries of origin, and which states and cities have the most new Americans.

How many are naturalizing?

In the government’s fiscal year 2013 (which ended September 30, 2013) 779,929 immigrants became citizens. This is a slight increase from the year before. In fact, since 2010—when naturalizations dipped to their most recent low point after the government caught up with a surge in applications caused by a hike in the application fee—naturalizations have been steadily increasing. Still, the number of immigrants being naturalized is not quite keeping pace with the number who are becoming permanent residents—a little more than one million per year in recent years.

Natzgraph

Who is naturalizing?

Mexico is the top country of origin for our newly naturalized citizens. In 2013, India replaced the Philippines as the number two country of origin, but those three countries have been in the top three for the past three years.

More women than men became new citizens, and that is no different than the previous two years. In 2013, 55 percent of new Americans were women. Nearly two-thirds of new Americans were married.

Where are immigrants naturalizing?

Not surprisingly, the top three immigrant gateway states of California, New York, and Florida are also the top three states for new Americans. In 2013, nearly 165,000 immigrants became citizens in California alone. The top five metropolitan areas in which immigrants are becoming citizens are New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Washington, and Chicago.

The paper from the Office of Immigration Statistics is available here.

This article was written for the National Immigration Forum, and appeared on the website of the New Americans Campaign.

African Immigrants and the American Mosaic

An article from the March 25 Boston Globe is a reminder that America is increasingly diverse.

“On the hard road to US citizenship, black immigrants are increasingly gaining ground in Massachusetts and the United States, expanding the possibilities for political power and changing what it means to be black in America.”

In Massachusetts, according to the Globe, black immigrants comprise about a third of the black population, and a majority of black babies born today have an immigrant mother. While Massachusetts is way ahead of the nation in these statistics, more black faces are appearing at swearing-in ceremonies for new citizens all across the country.

Immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean are still a small part of our immigration stream. Until recently, few Africans had close family members in the U.S. to sponsor them through an immigration system that favors close family ties. However, Africans have benefited from two other immigration streams.

In recent years, the U.S. has accepted more Africans as refugees than in the past. In 2011, more than 7,500 refugees were admitted to the U.S. from Africa.

Africans have also been big winners in the annual visa lottery. This system was set up specifically to mitigate effects of a family immigration system that has been dominated by relatively few countries. In 2011, more than 24,000 Africans gained immigrant status through the visa lottery, far more visas than immigrants from any other region of the world.

Immigrants entering the U.S. through these two streams will be able to sponsor family members, so Africans will increasingly have access to the family immigration system.

When it comes to citizenship, there is an accelerator effect that pertains to Africans: According to the Office of Immigration Statistics, African immigrants spent the least time in legal immigrant status before applying for citizenship—five years. Basically, this means that, generally, African immigrants apply for citizenship as soon as they are eligible. The norm for all immigrants is seven years.

All this means that, in the citizenship ceremonies of the future, we will see more African faces as America becomes even more diverse.

This article was written for the National Immigration Forum, and was published on the website of the New Americans Campaign.

President’s Budget Proposes to Engage Private Sector in Citizenship Preparation

On March 4, President Obama released his proposed budget to fund the government for the fiscal year 2015, which begins on October 1, 2014. Included in the budget are two naturalization-related requests, both of which, if approved by Congress, promise to increase the capacity of organizations nationwide to help eligible immigrants become citizens.

The first is a request we’ve seen since early in the Obama Administration: a request for funding for a citizenship and integration grant program. To quote from the budget document:

“The Citizenship and Integration Grant Program is the sole Federal program that supports the civic integration of lawful immigrants through citizenship preparation programs.”

Grants are awarded to immigrant service organizations that provide citizenship preparation classes, assist immigrants with their naturalization applications, or provide training to organizations to increase their capacity to prepare immigrants for citizenship. (You can see a list of the most recent grantees here.)

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