CMS Releases New Data on the Eligibility of the US Immigrant Population to Naturalize

CMS Releases New Data on the Eligibility of the US Immigrant Population to Naturalize

The Center for Migration Studies Releases New Data
on the Eligibility of the US Immigrant Population to Naturalize

New York, NY – The Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) is today releasing an important and timely report offering vital information on US immigrants who are potentially eligible to naturalize. Using data collected in the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), authors Robert Warren, CMS Senior Visiting Fellow and Former Director of the Statistics Division for the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), and Donald Kerwin, CMS Executive Director, offer detailed estimates of the eligible-to-naturalize, which could assist in developing strategies on a local level to identify and assist immigrants to naturalize and to overcome barriers to naturalization eligibility.

Naturalization rates have traditionally been calculated by dividing the naturalized or naturalization-eligible population by all foreign born persons; i.e., the naturalized, legal non-citizens and undocumented residents. By including the unauthorized in this calculation, naturalization rates have appeared misleadingly low for populations that can, in fact, naturalize. By contrast, CMS provides “naturalization eligibility” rates.

The paper reports that 8.6 million US residents were eligible to naturalize in 2013. Mexican nationals constitute the largest naturalization-eligible population at 2.7 million, followed by Indian (337,000), Chinese (320,000), Cuban (316,000), and Canadian (313,000) nationals. Fifty countries have 25,000 or more naturalization-eligible persons. The large number of legally resident Mexican nationals and their high naturalization eligibility rate means that US states with large Mexican populations have relatively high percentages of legal foreign-born residents who can naturalize.

Nationally, the “naturalization eligibility” rate was 31 percent in 2013, including 48 percent for Mexican nationals. Nine of the 25 largest US naturalization-eligible populations by source country have naturalization eligibility rates in excess of 40 percent, including Mexico (48 percent), Canada (45 percent), El Salvador (42 percent), the United Kingdom (41 percent), Guatemala (44 percent), Japan (56 percent), Honduras (48 percent) and Brazil (41 percent). On a state level, California, Texas, New York and Florida contain roughly five million of the US naturalization-eligible or about 58 percent of the total population.

The paper finds that a large number of naturalization-eligible immigrants may have difficulty meeting the naturalization requirements or may need intensive support, including fee relief, to do so. This population includes the 1.16 million who do not speak English; 3.0 million with less than a high school education and the 1.8 million with incomes below the poverty level. On the other hand, high percentages of eligible immigrants would seem to be well-situated to naturalize, including those who speak English well, very well or only English (65 percent), have access to both a computer and the internet (74 percent) and earn income above the poverty level (79 percent).

C o-author Robert Warren states:

“Citizenship is an important indicia of immigrant integration and a prerequisite to full participation in our Constitutional democracy. We believe this report will provide the much-needed evidence-base from which the federal government, states, localities and non-governmental service providers can identify naturalization-eligible communities and develop effective tools and innovative programs that will encourage and allow the naturalization-eligible to pursue this next step on their American journey.”

To download the report, “The US Eligible-to-Naturalize Population: Detailed Social and Economic Characteristics,” visit

To request interviews with the authors, please contact Rachel Reyes, CMS Communications Coordinator, at [email protected].



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