E.g., 10/21/2014
E.g., 10/21/2014

The Economic Value of Citizenship for Immigrants in the United States

Reports
September 2012

The Economic Value of Citizenship for Immigrants in the United States

Although citizenship is an important milestone along immigrants’ journey toward full political and economic membership in the United States, the total share of naturalized citizens in the U.S. immigrant population is low in comparison with other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. This report examines the role of naturalization as both an indicator and facilitator of successful integration. It asks why immigrants decide to naturalize, what benefits they can expect to receive as a result, and why a substantial share of immigrants who appear to be eligible to naturalize are unable or choose not to do so. In particular, the report examines the advantages naturalized immigrants may have in the U.S. labor market.

The report finds that naturalization rates depend on a complex interplay of factors that shape immigrants’ ability to meet eligibility criteria on the one hand and their motivation to naturalize—ranging from gaining political rights and economic benefits to personal and social considerations—on the other. The authors suggest that the cost of naturalizing in the United States, which is high compared with other OECD countries, presents a significant barrier to naturalization, especially among low-income immigrants. They also point to low English proficiency and lack of knowledge about the application process as additional barriers.

In general, immigrants who are motivated to naturalize tend to possess characteristics associated with economic success. According to the scholarship highlighted in this report, however, citizenship appears to have a positive impact on immigrants’ incomes even after controlling for observable differences between naturalized citizens and noncitizens. Findings show that naturalized citizens have higher employment rates and earn between 50 and 70 percent more than noncitizens. Naturalized citizens also appear to have weathered the effects of the economic crisis more successfully than their noncitizen counterparts.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Who Naturalizes, and Why?

Determinants of Naturalization and Barriers to Citizenship

III. What is the Economic Value of Naturalization?

IV. Conclusion