Citizenship For A Stronger Economy:

How waiving naturalization fees can accelerate America’s COVID-19 recovery

Citizenship brings economic, civic, and social benefits and enables immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for years, paid taxes, and contributed to their communities, to enjoy the same rights and privileges as those born here. Research shows this deepens their ties to the country, opens up new opportunities, and enables them to contribute even more. 

This briefing paper lays out the economic case for waiving naturalization fees as part of America’s COVID-19 recovery strategy, with an emphasis on the benefits of removing cost barriers to U.S. citizenship for eligible essential workers and others who earn less than $75,000 per year. The goal is to facilitate 2 million naturalizations within the next 18 months.

As of 2019, 51.6% of immigrants in the United States were naturalized citizens, but over 9 million green card holders – one-fifth of immigrants – were eligible, but had yet to naturalize. The reasons are complex, but cost is a clear obstacle: the $725 fee amounts to more than a week’s gross pay for someone earning $35,000 per year, and almost half of non-citizens earn less than that.

Immigrants have been hailed for their roles as essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis, but they have also suffered outsize economic impacts, with disproportionately high job losses and business closures, and very limited help from safety-net programs. Waiving the $725 fee to facilitate eligible green card holders’ naturalization would give a vital boost to these immigrants and to the communities they live and work in.

Drawing on a robust body of research as well as the latest federal data, the paper lays out evidence of the benefits of naturalization – including higher incomes, homeownership rates and access to credit – as well as key barriers to naturalization and of the impact of waiving the fee. It also provides historical perspective: in 1970, almost two-thirds of immigrants were naturalized, and as recently as 1985, the fee was only $35, equivalent to $87 today.

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