• <div class="header-image" style="background-image: url(/live/image/gid/4/3040_V7N1_header.rev.1549561230.jpg);"/><div class="header-background-color"/>

The Price of Naturalization

August 23, 2017

In 2016, almost 753,000 immigrants had cause to celebrate as they entered the final stage of the naturalization process: the Naturalization Ceremony. [2] While becoming an official U.S citizen is a great accomplishment for many, countless more immigrants never get that far. Not because they do not desire citizenship, but because they cannot afford the price of naturalization.

Current State of Immigration and Naturalization

The immigration debate often centers around the number and types of people that America accepts into its immigration program. Recently, there have been calls from the Trump administration, among others, to drastically limit or end completely certain immigration programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or the refugee program. Despite multiple reports concluding that ending these programs would have a negative effect on the American economy (not to mention overhaul the employment systems in certain industries), the “America first” mentality continues to pervade the immigration debate.

One facet of immigration that receives little attention is the costs of naturalization. Cultural integration is often lauded as an essential component of immigration. However, the current fee structure to become a naturalized American citizen could restrict what types of people reach the naturalization stage of the immigration process, regardless of how culturally integrated those citizens may be.

Of the estimate 5.5 million immigrants who were eligible for naturalization in 2012, less than 10% took that next step towards citizenship. [3] For some, the financial burden of applying for naturalization is too high.

Currently, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is funded primarily by the fees charged to those applying for naturalization. [4] Each application costs $640 in filing fees and $85 for biometric data collection (ie. Fingerprinting). This does not include the costs of legal representation, English as a second language classes, naturalization workshops, or any other costs associated with moving to and become a citizen of a new country. For a family of four, naturalization application costs alone would amount to almost $3,000. Families making under 150% above the poverty line ($36,900 for a family of four) can apply for a USCIS application fee waiver. [5] However, because the average non-citizen yearly household income is about $40,000, filing for naturalization would amount to almost an entire month’s wages and the fee waiver would not apply. [6]

USCIS has raised its filing fees in the past to cope with its enormous backlog. In 2008, USCIS’ application fees increased by 80% (from 330 to $595), causing a sharp rise in applications immediately before and a decline in applications immediately after the increase took effect.

Image: Trends of documented immigration and naturalization 1980-2014. Source: Wikimedia Commons.Image: Trends of documented immigration and naturalization 1980-2014. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Naturalized Citizens Are Essential for the Health of the American Economy

Naturalized citizens are better educated than immigrants who have not become citizens and (in some circumstances) native born citizens. According to a Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis of U.S. Census Bureau information, in 2014, 34% of naturalized citizens ages 25 and older possessed a bachelor’s degree. [8] This compares to 23% of noncitizens and 30% of native born citizens.

According to the same analysis, naturalized citizens also had a higher median income than noncitizens and a higher median household income ($59,072/year) than both noncitizens ($40,085/year) and native born citizens ($54,565). [9]

It follows that the buying power of naturalized citizens plays a strong role in the health of the American economy. Just from being granted naturalized status, immigrants can see a more than 10% increase in income. [10] This generates more taxable salary and adds vigor to the economy.

Naturalized citizens add jobs to the economy. With a greater income, naturalized citizens are more likely to “be banked,” or to have access to savings accounts, checking accounts, and loans. In California alone, 89.8% of naturalized citizens were banked in 2014 compared to 61% of non-citizens. [11] Being banked grants citizens access to the financial advising and loans necessary to start new businesses, which in turn create more jobs.

Naturalized citizens are essential in keeping social security programs solvent. In 2014, 61% of naturalized citizens were ages 18 to 44 years old. [12] The media age of all naturalized citizens is 40 years. As baby boomers age, the average age of the American population continues to rise as well, putting a heavy burden on Social Security and Medicare. Non-citizens and naturalized citizens contribute significantly to social security funds. Through naturalization and the subsequent increase in wages, naturalized citizens could increase the fund by $2.03 billion in the 21 cities analyzed by the Urban Institute, giving much needed relief to the taxed social security system. [13]

It is unarguably beneficial for American businesses and for the economy to give more citizens access to affordable naturalization. Changing the USCIS fee structure to better account for differences in income would make the naturalization process more affordable for all. Simple changes like creating a graduated fee scale based on income, or instituting a fee repayment plan would be beneficial for the thousands of immigrants who are currently eligible for naturalization but choose not to proceed because of financial restrictions.

The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not reflect the opinions or position of her employer.

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.


  [1] Lienemann, David. 2013. November 15, 2013. Accessed August 15, 2017. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2013/11/15/vice-president-biden-celebrates-citizenship-king-center-naturalization-ceremony.
  [2] “What, Me Naturalize? Large Numbers of Legal Immigrants Opting Not to Become Citizens.” Fox News. FOX News Network, n.d. Web. 26 July 2017.
  [3] “Naturalization Fact Sheet.” USCIS. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2017.
  [4] “About Us.” USCIS. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2017.
  [5] “HHS Poverty Guidelines for Fee Waiver Request.” USCIS. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2017.
  [6] Zong, Jie, and Jeanne Batalova. “Naturalization Trends in the United States.” Migrationpolicy.org. N.p., 02 Mar. 2017. Web. 26 July 2017.
  [7] CITIZENSHIP BEYOND REACH. Rep. National Council of La Raza, n.d. Web. <http://thehill.com/sites/default/files/nclr_citizenship_beyond_reach_0.pdf>.
  [8] Zong, Jie, and Jeanne Batalova. “Naturalization Trends in the United States.” Migrationpolicy.org. N.p., 02 Mar. 2017. Web. 26 July 2017.
  [9] Ibid
  [10] 27, 2017 July, and 2017 July 25. “Get the Facts: Five Ways Naturalized Citizens Contribute to the U.S. Economy.” AS/COA. N.p., 10 Sept. 2014. Web. 26 July 2017. <http://www.as-coa.org/articles/get-facts-five-ways-naturalized-citizens-contribute-us-economy>.
  [11] Enchautegui, María E., and Linda Giannarelli. The Economic Impact of Naturalization on Immigrants and Cities. Rep. Urban Institute, Dec. 2015. Web.
  [12] MOSSAAD, NADWA, and JAMES LEE. U.S. Naturalizations: 2014. Rep. DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, Apr. 2016. Web.
  [13] Enchautegui, María E., and Linda Giannarelli. The Economic Impact of Naturalization on Immigrants and Cities. Rep. Urban Institute, Dec. 2015. Web.


  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>