Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Many immigrants eligible to naturalize in the United States do not naturalize. This report by Raph Majma, Lindsey Wagner, Sabrina Fonseca looks at steps that could improve naturalization rates. Here is the executive summary:
"Several months ago, our team set out to learn more about the variables that affect naturalization decisions. The number of presumed eligible to naturalize lawful permanent residents in the United States is growing, with estimates of a population of 8.9 million individuals. Our research attempts to better understand what prevents a person from naturalizing, and to determine what effective strategies or outcomes are likely to catalyze a lawful permanent resident to take action.
Over the course of several months, we interviewed 63 immigrants and naturalized citizens and surveyed 117 citizenship workshop attendees and identified patterns and sentiments that deepened our understanding of how people decide to naturalize.
Practical urgency drives naturalization.
Catalysts are events or processes that assist individuals in overcoming obstacles around naturalizing. For many, there is greater urgency in receiving permanent residency than citizenship — until an experience uncovers a tangible reason to naturalize.
Voting is a motivation, but not always a catalyst to naturalize.
Civic engagement is an appealing benefit for lawful permanent residents, but they often naturalize for more practical reasons. This is not always the case, as presidential election years result in spikes in naturalization applications, but there are steep declines in off years.
Fear of anti-immigrant policies can inhibit or enable action.
Immigrants from all backgrounds understand that they can be targeted by the next wave of policy changes, which for some causes action, while others see a barrier. Even interviewees from countries of origin that are not targeted by the Trump administration’s most aggressive rhetoric and policies were affected.
Traveling with a U.S. passport is a strong benefit to naturalization.
Naturalization can be beneficial to cross U.S. borders safely, travel without having to obtain additional visas, be able to be abroad without the limitations of the Green Card, and more. There are distinct benefits that will interest different groups of people.
Stressful interactions delay naturalization.
Lawful permanent residents who previously had a difficult interaction with a government immigration official worry that their naturalization experience will be similarly difficult. Access to resources can help mitigate that fear, but it’s important to consider past experiences when assisting immigrants.
Support helps overcome barriers.
Immigration is a deeply personal subject, but everyone appreciates and benefits from encouragement. Nearly half of our interviewees identified a family member or friend who had a positive impact on their journey.
The naturalization process is a deterrent.
Application length and complexity fuel procrastination while the fear of the interview plagues applicants, regardless of their confidence. The process was opaque to some of the interviewees we spoke with, but the strenuous requirements impact immigrants’ attitudes and confidence toward naturalization.
Common milestones are underutilized.
There are times when immigrants may consider citizenship, but USCIS and other organizations miss opportunities to better inform or remind them. These opportunities are common among LPRs and create clear opportunities for engagement and education.
In the report, we also outline a number of ways to improve the naturalization process. The recommendations are directed at government organizations, service organizations, lawyers assisting immigrants, and groups developing new technology for immigrant communities. Our goal is to make sure that these insights and recommendations are actionable tools for naturalizing lawful permanent residents throughout all levels of the immigration service ecosystem, and at each step in the journey to citizenship."