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Spotlight on Naturalization Trends

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Spotlight on Naturalization Trends

Source Spotlights are often updated as new data become available. Please click here to find the most recent version of this Spotlight.

Fluttering American flags and patriotic songs are staples of the citizenship ceremony in the United States, home to 16.2 million naturalized citizens in 2007. This spotlight examines foreign nationals age 18 and older who became U.S. citizens (i.e., naturalized) in 2008. It also highlights some of the trends surrounding naturalization since the 1980s.

Unless otherwise noted, the data are from the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) Annual Flow Report on the number and characteristics of foreign nationals who naturalized in 2008, as well from tables available on the OIS website.

Note: all yearly data is for the government's fiscal year (October 1 through September 30).

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

Who are the foreign born?
The term "foreign born" refers to people residing in the United States at the time of the census who were not U.S. citizens at birth. The foreign-born population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent immigrants, refugees and asylees, legal nonimmigrants (including those on student, work, or certain other temporary visas), and persons residing in the country without authorization.

We use the terms "immigrants" and "foreign born" interchangeably.

 

There were 16.2 million naturalized citizens in the United States in 2007.
Of the 38.1 million total foreign born in the United States in 2007, 16.2 million (or 42.5 percent) were naturalized citizens, according to 2007 American Community Survey (ACS) estimates.

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In 2007, an estimated 8.15 million lawful permanent residents were eligible for naturalization.
According to the latest available OIS estimates, there were 12.78 million lawful permanent residents (LPRs) who resided in the United States as of January 1, 2007. Of them, 8.15 million were eligible to naturalize in 2007.

Eligible immigrants included 2.5 million (30.6 percent) LPRs in California, 970,000 (11.9 percent) in New York, 870,000 (10.7 percent) in Texas, and 680,000 (8.3 percent) in Florida. (Source: USCIS, "Estimates of the Legal Permanent Resident Population in 2007." Available online.)

 

Special Note
To be eligible for naturalization, an immigrant must be at least 18 years of age; have lawful permanent residence (a green card) for at least five continuous years (three continuous years if the individual is married to a U.S. citizen); no criminal record; the ability to read, write, and speak simple words and phrases in English; and knowledge and understanding of American history fundamentals and U.S. government principles.

During a designated time of war, foreign-born noncitizen military personnel are eligible for expedited citizenship.

 

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) naturalized more than 1 million lawful permanent residents in 2008.
In 2008, USCIS naturalized 1,046,539 lawful permanent residents (see Figure 1). This represents about 2.7 percent of the total U.S. foreign-born population of 38.1 million (2007 ACS estimates) and 8.9 percent of the total LPR population of 12.78 million (2007 OIS estimate).

Since 1996, the number of people naturalizing every year has not always matched the number of people applying for naturalization due to delays in application processing. Therefore, users have to exercise caution in interpreting trends in naturalization over time.

 


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USCIS denied more than 121,000 naturalization petitions in 2008.
The 121,283 applications denied in 2008 represented 10.4 percent of all 1,167,822 naturalization applications processed in 2008. Applicants whom USCIS denied citizenship received denials for one or more of the following reasons: applicant could not prove five years of permanent residence in the United States; applicant was determined to lack allegiance to the United States; applicant was determined to have bad moral character; or applicant failed the English language or American civics test.

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The increased number of naturalizations in the second half of the 1990s resulted in part from legislation passed in 1986 and 1996.
Under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), 2.7 million unauthorized immigrants received lawful permanent resident status. This increased the pool of those eligible for naturalization.

Furthermore, three federal laws that Congress passed in 1996 prompted more immigrants to naturalize. These laws — the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) — limited access to public benefits and legal protections for noncitizens.

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The number of naturalizations increased 58 percent between 2007 and 2008.
There was a 58 percent increase in the number of naturalizations between 2007 and 2008 from 660,477 to 1,046,539 (see Figure 1). A few factors explain the increase.

One was the 2008 presidential elections, which immigrant advocacy groups used in their ongoing campaigns to promote naturalization. Another was the 80 percent increase in naturalization fees (from $330 to $595) scheduled for the end of July 2007 and announced in January 2007.

Given the delay between application submission and when the approved applicant takes the oath, many applicants who submitted their applications in 2007 naturalized in 2008 or later.

(Note: For more details, read the MPI Fact Sheet Behind the Naturalization Backlog: Causes, Context, and Concerns.)

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About 480,000 applications for naturalization were pending a decision at the end of 2008.
By the end of 2008, there were 480,000 applications pending a decision, down from 1,130,000 a year earlier.

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The median number of years of residence between the date of legal immigration and the date of naturalization was nine years in 2008. Among persons who became U.S. citizens in 2008, the median number of years of residence between the date of legal immigration and naturalization was nine years. The median number in 2007 was eight years and in 2006, seven years.

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A July 2002 executive order made noncitizen members of the armed forces eligible for expedited U.S. citizenship.
Section 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the president to issue executive orders specifying periods of conflict during which foreign-born members of the U.S. military are eligible for immediate U.S. citizenship.

In a July 2002 executive order, President George W. Bush specified that such a period of hostilities began after September 11, 2001, and that foreign-born, noncitizen military personnel serving on or after that date were thus eligible for expedited citizenship. During times of peace, noncitizen armed forces members may obtain citizenship after a one-year waiting period.

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More than 47,000 immigrant service members have become U.S. citizens since September 2001.
According to USCIS data, between September 2001 and March 2009, 40,888 foreign-born military personnel have naturalized on U.S. soil. Another 6,593 became citizens overseas or on board Navy ships, over 40 percent (2,655) of whom were naturalized in ceremonies in Iraq.

Since August 2002, USCIS has granted posthumous citizenship to 119 members of the U.S. armed forces.

For more information, see Immigrants in the U.S. Armed Forces.

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In 2008, immigrants from Mexico, India, and the Philippines accounted for more than a third of all naturalizations. Of those naturalized in 2008, 22.2 percent were born in Mexico (231,815), 6.3 percent in India (65,971), and 5.6 percent in the Philippines (58,792) (see Figure 2.1). Nationals of these three countries, together with those from China (40,017), Cuba (39,871), Vietnam (39,584), El Salvador (35,796), the Dominican Republic (35,252), Colombia (22,926), and Korea (22,759), accounted for 56.6 percent (592,782) of all naturalizations in 2008.

Two countries on the 2000 list, Jamaica and Iran, were replaced by Cuba and Colombia on the top 10 list by 2008, while the other eight stayed the same (see Figure 2.2).

 

Figure 2.1. Top 10 Countries of Birth for Naturalizations in the United States, 2008
Source: Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Available online.

 

Figure 2.2. Top 10 Countries of Birth for Naturalizations in the United States, 2000
Source: Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Available online.


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Of the Mexican immigrants naturalized in 2008, the largest groups resided in California, Texas, and Arizona.
About half (50.9 percent) of the 232,000 Mexican foreign born naturalized in 2008 resided in California (118,062), while 17.3 percent were in Texas (40,068) and 6.1 percent were in Arizona (14,083).

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Almost half of those who naturalized in 2008 lived in three states: California, Florida, and New York.
In 2008, 28.5 percent of those who naturalized lived in California (297,909), 12.3 percent in Florida (128,328), and 8.7 percent in New York (90,572) (see Table 1).

Table 1. Top 10 States with the Largest Numbers of Naturalizations, 2000 to 2008

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Wyoming had the fewest naturalizations in 2008.
In Wyoming, 245 lawful permanent residents naturalized in 2008. The next-lowest numbers of naturalizations were in North Dakota (336) and Montana (358).

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The Los Angeles, New York, and Miami metropolitan areas were home to more than one-third of the immigrants who naturalized in 2008. More than 13 percent of all those who naturalized in 2008 lived in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area (138,618), 12.9 percent lived in the greater New York metropolitan area (134,572), and 8.5 percent lived in the greater Miami metropolitan area (89,440). These metropolitan areas, together with the Chicago (4.2 percent), Washington (3.9 percent), San Francisco (3.6 percent), and Houston (2.7 percent) metropolitan areas, were home to 49 percent of new U.S. citizens in 2008.

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Additional Resources

DHS Office of Immigration Statistics: Data on Naturalizations. Available online.

Rytina, Nancy F (2009). "Estimates of the Legal Permanent Resident Population in 2007." USCIS, February. Available online.

DHS Fact Sheet Naturalization Process for the Military (May 1, 2009). Available online.

Definitions of terms can be found at the website of the Office of Immigration Statistics.