Naturalization Helps Immigrants and the United States Reach Full Potential

Naturalization Helps Immigrants and the United States Reach Full Potential

By American Immigration Council Staff | January 19, 2024 | immigration Impact

When Sri Lankan business analyst Dinesh Prabaharan became a U.S. citizen in December of 2023, he expressed his gratitude at finally being able to call America his home “without restriction.”

“As newly minted citizens,” he added, “we not only have a duty, but the unique privilege to make our new home a better place than when we were first welcomed into it.”

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants become naturalized U.S. citizens every year, with many sharing similar sentiments of gratitude and a desire to give back to the country that they now call home. Still, nearly a quarter (23.4%) of immigrants who are eligible to naturalize, or 7.4 million immigrants, have not yet done so.

By naturalizing, immigrants are not only protected from deportation but can also more actively engage in civic life, qualify for certain government jobs, and better attain economic security—factors that stand to benefit immigrants and American communities at large.

The United States is home to more than 46.1 million immigrants, according to American Community Survey data from 2022. Of those, a total of 31.6 million have either naturalized (24.2 million, or 76.6%) or are eligible to naturalize. About 14.5 million do not meet the requirements to become a U.S. citizen, such as age, English language proficiency, legal status, or length of stay in the country.

Of the 7.4 million immigrants who are eligible to naturalize but have not done so, the largest numbers reside in California (1.9 million), Texas (789,500), New York (714,200), Florida (574,800), and Illinois (290,800).

Mexican immigrants make up over 1 out of every 4 naturalization-eligible individuals, or about 2.2 million people. The other top countries of origin for eligible immigrants include India, China, El Salvador, and Cuba.

The rates at which immigrants naturalize varies by state. Naturalization rates are highest in Florida (82.7%), West Virginia (82.1%), Vermont (81.8%), and New Jersey (81.7%). Naturalization rates are the lowest in Arkansas (65.3%), New Mexico (66.4%), Indiana (70.1%), and Kansas (70.2%).

Immigrants from the following countries have the highest naturalization rates: Lebanon (93.3%), Hong Kong (92.8%), Yugoslavia (92.3%), Bulgaria (90.5%), Taiwan (90.2%), and Cambodia (90.1%). Immigrants from the following countries have the lowest naturalization rates: Japan (52.2%), Mongolia (56.7%), Australia (57.5%), and the Republic of the Congo (58.4%).

When immigrants naturalize, they become eligible to vote and run for certain government offices, giving them a critical voice in shaping their communities.

While immigrants make up 13.8% of the U.S. population, they make up just 10.0% of eligible voters, 2022 American Community Survey data shows. If the 7.4 million immigrants who are eligible to naturalize did so, their votes could have a profound effect on local and national elections.

In eight states, including several battleground states such as Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, the number of non-citizens likely eligible to naturalize is larger than the margin of victory was in the 2020 election.

When immigrants naturalize, there are economic benefits to themselves, their communities, and the nation. In 2022, immigrant households earned $2.1 trillion in total income, allowing them to pay $382.8 billion in federal taxes and $196.3 billion in state and local taxes, and leaving them with$1.6 trillion in spending power. Past research has found that when immigrants naturalize, their individual earnings increase by an average of 8.9%, providing a boost to the tax base and the amount they can spend locally. Obtaining U.S. citizenship — and the power to vote — will also give immigrants a voice in how their tax dollars are spent.

Naturalization benefits everyone—from the immigrants themselves to the communities in which they live. Ensuring that the process to become a U.S. citizen is smooth and free of unnecessary barriers strengthens America, our economy, and democracy as a whole.

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