Cost of citizenship a barrier for immigrants

Of the 13.3 million legal permanent residents (LPRs) in the United States, 8.8 million are currently eligible for citizenship. In 2013, a mere 8.9 percent of eligible immigrants applied for citizenship, according to the National Partnership for New Americans.

Recent research to the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California, and the Center for American Progress, analyzing the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of immigrants sheds light on a serious issue: The cost of citizenship has become a systemic barrier. For those eligible to apply, the application cost of naturalization is one of the main barriers to citizenship.

LPRs are price sensitive to the costs, so fee increases, may have had a negative impact on the rate of naturalization. Price increases are also associated with a decline in the naturalization of immigrants by less-educated and likely lower-income. When the price goes up, naturalization rates go down. The current filing fee for Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, for adult applicants is $680, $595 plus an $85 biometric fee. This is certainly a prohibitive cost for individuals living below the poverty level.

There are nearly 2 million adult LPRs eligible to naturalize within that range, representing 22 percent of all eligible to naturalize adult LPRs. A more realistic way to understand this, the study said, is that for the average household in the middle of the 150 to 250 percent range, the naturalization filing fee alone is about one week of post-tax take-home pay.

Furthermore, the systemic cost barrier affects LPRs of Mexican-origin in particular, as that population represents 40 percent of those below 150 percent of the poverty level. Research demonstrates that naturalization is an important component of immigrant integration, can improve incomes, enhance civic participation, and strengthen social cohesion. Specifically, attaining citizenship can lead to an increase in earnings of between 8 and 11 percent. A 10 percent increase in earnings.

Increased naturalization also improves workforce productivity, growing the economy through increases in labor market mobility, investments in human capital, and improved job-skills match. Naturalization also benefits the children of immigrants a significant component of the next generation of America’s workforce. Subsequently, members of the future workforce will be better prepared to contribute to the economy.

Citizenship also comes with many social and economic benefits for individuals, families, children, communities, and our nation as a whole.

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