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Currently there are roughly 9.2 million immigrants in the United States who have held lawful permanent residence long enough to gain U.S citizenship. Yet many do not pursue naturalization to become citizens. On average since the year 2000 about 700,000 residents naturalized per year. Some nonprofits or local governments run citizenship drives to encourage more people to become citizens. The purpose of this paper is (1) to review the research on what the relationship between naturalization and immigrants' economic outcomes is, (2) to evaluate if citizenship drives assisting immigrants in the naturalization process would be beneficial for the country as a whole, (3) to consider what barriers hinder immigrants from naturalizing, and (4) to lay out specific points of action and policy changes that are supported by the research on the effects of the naturalization process.

Our research review clearly shows that gaining citizenship increases immigrants earnings compared to immigrants who don't become citizens. Studies have shown that citizens have higher income and lower poverty rates than non citizens. Although there are reasons to think that this may be caused by endogeneity bias, research designs that include quasi-random citizenship assignment suggest there may be a causal relationship between improved economic outcomes and gaining citizenship. Overall, existing research suggests that citizenship drives can be effective tools for improving immigrants' economic outcomes in some circumstances. In determining if it is the right tool, local governments and nonprofits should evaluate the barriers between immigrants and citizenship before pushing forward with citizenship drives. It is unlikely that citizenship alone will solve the economic challenges facing immigrants, though citizenship drives can be an important and effective option.


Utah State University

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Economics | Social and Behavioral Sciences

The Worth of Citizenship

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