A new report from the Migration Policy Institute shows that immigrants from Asia are leading the naturalization process.
The data comes from a 2013 Census study that documents 1.2 million immigrant arrivals. Of this, 147,000 were from China, 129,000 from India, and 125,000 from Mexico. In the year prior to that, 125,000 immigrants came from Mexico, 124,000 from China, and 113,000 from India. While Mexican immigrants still represent the largest foreign-born group in America with 11 million people, Asians have led the way in terms of naturalized citizens. From 2004 to 2013, over 2.6 million people from Asia obtained their U.S. citizenship, while 2.4 million from North America did the same.
The majority of Asian-born American citizens immigrated from India, the Philippines, China, and Vietnam. For North America, that list is topped by Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba.
As more immigrants come from Asia and other parts of the world, there is a growing demand for assistance in the naturalization process. This has led to efforts such as the New Americans Campaign, an organization that helps immigrants attain U.S. citizenship. The organization offers monthly citizenship workshops and fee waivers for the citizenship application process. Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil rights group, provides free English classes for immigrants to practice for their citizenship exams. Jannette Diep, program coordinator of Boat People SOS, which provides civic services to the Vietnamese community, said financial and language barriers play a big part in the naturalization process. “In order to pass the U.S. citizenship interview, you have to have some English.”
Organizations are also working to provide information for immigrants who may be hesitant of the naturalization process. Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, says some people choose not to become a citizen because they will lose rights in their home country. For example, Chinese natives who apply for and attain nationality to another country forfeit their citizenship in China. But Batalova says there are social and economic benefits to naturalization. “U.S. citizenship offers more security than permanent resident status that can be revoked in certain instances,” said Batalova.
Batalova adds that obtaining citizenship may lead to a higher income. She acknowledges that those able to become nationals may already have better language skills, higher education, and more work experience—all factors that lead to a higher wage. “But even if we take into account these other characteristics, we find that naturalized citizens still have a wage premium over non-citizens,” said Batalova.
The Migration Policy Institute predicts that Chinese and Indian immigration trends will continue to rise, and that the number of Asian citizens will catch up with and outpace that of Mexican Americans.