Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration

CSII Publications

Nurturing Naturalization: Could Lowering the Fee Help?Nurturing Naturalization
Prepared by Manuel Pastor, Jared Sanchez, Rhonda Ortiz, and Justin Scoggins
Commissioned by the National Partnership for New Americans
With funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
February 2013

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Released by CSII and the Partnership for New Americans, Nurturing Naturalization: Could Lowering the Fee Help? explores the obstacles to citizenship for aspiring Americans by focusing on the fees associated with the naturalization process. Through original analysis of new data on naturalization from the Office of Immigration Statistics and the American Community Survey, the report indicates that fee increases can have a significant impact on both the volume and the composition of who naturalizes. Fee increases are associated with 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.

This finding is novel because some have suggested that earlier studies indicate that the demand for immigration services is not very price sensitive. However, a closer examination of that earlier work suggests that while this may be true of all immigrant services, naturalization seems to be responsive to price, particularly to the differential between renewing a Green Card and the cost of naturalization. 

Indeed, using newly available data that includes the year of naturalization, we find that the dramatic increases in naturalization fees in the last decade and a half have created a significant barrier to U.S. citizenship for many but emphatically for legal Mexican immigrants. Taken together, these data suggest that fee increases, particularly the very significant increase in 2007, may have had a negative impact on the rate of naturalization.

In short, price matters. Previous research has demonstrated that naturalization can improve incomes and enhance civic participation. For a nation of immigrants, encouraging naturalization and full participation in our civic and economic life would seem to be one of those goals on which many Americans can agree – and so it seems entirely appropriate to change the fee structure to reduce the financial barriers to integrating fully into our society, economy and democracy.