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Report: Citizenship for a Stronger Economy

New data shows naturalization could help in economic recovery as coalition pushes for fee waivers in next economic recovery package


WASHINGTON – Removing cost barriers to naturalization could be a powerful tool for economic recovery, a new National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) briefing paper shows, citing more than a decade’s worth of research on the benefits of citizenship, as well as recent data on immigrants and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The paper, Citizenship for a Stronger Economy: How waiving naturalization fees can accelerate America’s COVID-19 recovery, lays out data showing that naturalized U.S. citizens earn about 50 percent more than non-citizens and are significantly likelier to be employed in a skilled occupation and to have health insurance. They’re also far likelier to own a home, have a mortgage, and access other types of formal credit that Americans rely on to improve their lives, such as auto loans and credit cards.

The briefing paper release comes while NPNA and its 41 member organizations across the nation are calling for the jobs and infrastructure bill proposed by the Biden administration to include fee waivers for naturalization applicants for 12 -18 months, through reconciliation if necessary. The NPNA coalition is holding a national virtual advocacy event today,  where over 40 meetings are scheduled between members of Congress and constituents from NPNA member organizations to advocate for the passage of the New Deal for New Americans Act, which includes a fee waiver provision for naturalization.


“The evidence is overwhelming that citizenship helps immigrants and their families realize their full economic potential, and that’s good not only for them, but for their communities and the country as a whole,” said Nicole Melaku, executive director of NPNA and a daughter of naturalized U.S. citizens. “This is why we’re urging Congress to waive the $725 fee entirely for an 18-month period, at least for essential workers or those earning less than $75,000 per year. We also need to pass the New Deal for New Americans Act, which would permanently reduce the fee to $50 and further facilitate naturalization.”


“Citizenship enables people who’ve lived and worked in this country for years, paid taxes, and contributed to their communities, to enjoy the same rights and privileges as those born in the United States,” the paper says. “That deepens their ties to this country, opens up new opportunities, and enables them to contribute even more.”

Some of the key findings of the briefing paper:


  • As of 2019, 51.6  percent of immigrants in the United States were U.S. citizens, while 9.1 million were eligible, but had yet to naturalize. The paper calls this “an enormous untapped opportunity” and urges Congress to act on it as part of COVID-19 recovery, aiming to enable 2 million more eligible green card holders to become U.S. citizens in the next 18 months.

  • The naturalization fee has risen sharply over the years. In 1985, it was just $35, equivalent to about $87 today.

  • The current fee amounts to more than a week’s gross pay for someone earning $35,000 per year, the paper notes – and almost half of non-citizens (48.1 percent) earn less than that, compared with 28.4 percent of naturalized U.S. citizens and 28.8 percent of the native-born.

  • The pandemic has set immigrants back even further. Immigrants are likelier than native-born U.S. citizens to be essential workers, and some 6.4 million green card holders have served throughout the crisis in key sectors such as health care, food production and sales, and transportation.

  • Immigrants were also hit disproportionately by layoffs; from February to April 2020, the unemployment rate for native-born workers rose from 3.5 percent to 14 percent; for foreign-born workers, it jumped from 2.6 percent to 16.5 percent.  In that same time frame, the number of active foreign-born business owners fell by 36 percent, compared with a 22 percent drop in business ownership overall.


Inequities in America’s social safety net, reinforced by inequitable choices by Congress in the first rounds of COVID-19 stimulus, further disadvantaged non-citizens. Federal law bars green card holders from accessing key programs, such as Medicaid and nutritional assistance, for five years, and the first two rounds of stimulus payments excluded households in which anyone had used an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to pay taxes – a common occurrence in mixed-status families.