The Importance of Naturalization: Good for Immigrants, Good for America

September 15, 2011

Immigrants want to become Americans

For the millions for people who are eligible or soon will be eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens, “becoming American” is an important part of forming their identity. Through many years of waiting and various legal hurdles, most immigrants who reach the point of naturalization value the opportunity to become more closely knit to the fabric of U.S. society. Immigrants understand the value of citizenship and our nation should strive to make this reality more within reach.

Value for All Americans

Studies show that naturalization improves the earning power of immigrants. The average income of adult citizen immigrants is 14.6% higher and the poverty rate 3.0% lower than that of adult non-citizen immigrants, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The increased earnings translate into better standards of living and new tax revenues for the government.

Obstacles to Citizenship

Obstacles delay or deter many eligible immigrants from becoming citizens. About 5.8 million legal permanent residents will require English language instruction to pass the naturalization exam and/or to have the necessary skills to participate in the country’s civic life. Yet many people have trouble accessing English and civics classes for a variety of reasons. In many areas, English classes fill up and there are long waiting lists.

The application fee is costly and some immigrants cannot afford the fee.

Helping Overcome the Obstacles

The federal government, local governments, businesses, foundations and the non-profit community can do more to encourage immigrants to become citizens, and to make the process less intimidating.

  • Meet the Demand for English: More must be invested in English and civics instruction where demand for such classes is not being met. Immigrants want to learn English. More can be done by governments, communities, and businesses to facilitate that learning.
  • Reduce Application Fees: Fees have risen dramatically in recent years. In part, this is due to added security checks and to surcharges placed on citizenship applications for things having nothing to do with the application. Congress should allocate money to fund the things it wants government to provide to others, so that application fees more closely reflect the actual cost of processing the citizenship application.
  • Requirements Should be Adjusted for the Elderly: For older immigrants who do not speak English, learning a new language may be just too difficult, the lack of English may be all that is keeping them from becoming citizens. Language requirements should be waived for persons over a certain age, if they cannot learn the language.