Project Category: Citizenship

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Two immigrants apply for citizenship, and one is narrowly approved while the other just barely misses out. How does this chance decision affect their lives more than a decade later? According to IPL research, the immigrant who became a citizen is likely to earn more money than the one who remained a permanent resident. And for immigrants who work in lower-skill jobs or who face discrimination in the job market, citizenship delivers an even bigger boost to their earnings over the long term.
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Public benefits often come with complicated eligibility requirements and application processes, which end up deterring the people who need them most. A federal fee waiver program allows low-income immigrants to apply for citizenship at no cost, but it's surprisingly underused. When USCIS streamlined the process to request a fee waiver, naturalization rates rose among people who usually face the greatest barriers to citizenship.
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For low-income immigrants, the path to U.S. citizenship can be full of obstacles, starting with high cost of applying. A federal fee waiver program allows some of them to apply for free, yet their application rates remain low. IPL researchers found that providing them with information at an opportune moment can make a big difference in encouraging them to apply.
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Gaining citizenship can bring profound, lifelong benefits, but this door to opportunity remains closed to many low-income immigrants. What forms of assistance and encouragement lift the barriers to naturalization? To find out, we’ve partnered with local government in developing an innovative program offering vouchers and other incentives to citizenship-eligible residents of New York, home to the nation’s second-largest immigrant population.
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In a classic immigration debate, one side argues that citizenship should be a reward for integration, available only after many years of residency; the other says it makes immigrants more likely to integrate and should happen soon after they arrive. Three decades of data from Switzerland, IPL researchers found, strongly support the second camp. The earlier one receives citizenship, the greater the benefits for both the immigrant and society—especially for the most marginalized groups.
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