Every year, about 860,000 U.S. green card holders apply for Citizenship by Naturalization. In demographic terms, naturalized citizens come from all around the world—from European and African countries; from Hispanic countries like Brazil, Guatemala, and El Salvador; and Asian countries like South Korea and Laos.
There are three ways to become a citizen. The most common is birthright citizenship, which means anyone born in the United States is automatically a citizen. Another is called derivative citizenship, which allows children of U.S. citizens to acquire U.S. citizenship from their parents. Finally, non-citizens can apply for “naturalization,” the process by which a green card holder becomes a U.S. citizen after living in the U.S. for a period of time, usually 3-5 years. This article covers both the U.S. Citizenship by Naturalization process itself and statistics on that process.
Naturalized persons—unlike lawful permanent residents (“LPRs” or “green card holders”), nonimmigrant visa holders, and unauthorized immigrants—enjoy the ultimate legal status: citizenship. Like citizens born in the United States, naturalized citizens can vote in American elections and apply for American passports. They can cross the Canadian and Mexican borders with just an enhanced driver’s license. Naturalized citizens can also never be deported—no exceptions.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) is the part of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) responsible for processing citizenship applications. Of the approximately 860,000 green card holders who apply for Citizenship by Naturalization each year, USCIS approves about 23%. It denies about 2-3%, while about 70% remain pending. The denial rate slightly decreased from 3.1% in 2015 to 2.6% in 2019. Meanwhile, the total time it takes to become a U.S. citizen is now nearly double the 10 months it took in 2017. Whether you are applying for Citizenship by Naturalization or researching U.S. Citizenship trends, this article has you covered.
If you or someone you know wants to apply for U.S. Citizenship by Naturalization, we can help you prepare the required paperwork for free.
There were approximately 22 million naturalized citizens in the United States as of 2017, which the Migration Policy Institute reports is about half of the foreign-born population. Between 2008 and 2018, more than 7.2 million immigrants have become citizens by naturalization.
In terms of demographics, naturalized citizens come from all over the world. 17% of naturalized citizens were born in Mexico, making it the most common country of birth for naturalized citizens. Mexico is followed by India, China, and the Philippines. Naturalized citizens come from over 200 countries of origin and live in all 50 states, from New York to California and everywhere in between.
Each year, approximately 860,000 immigrants with green cards apply for Citizenship by Naturalization. This number reached as high as 972,151 in 2016, before falling below its average in 2018 and 2019. The number of applications has remained below the 1.4 million filed in 2007, however, according to the Pew Research Center.
Only immigrants with lawful permanent residence—in other words, green card holders—can apply for Citizenship by Naturalization. Asylees (or asylum seekers) and other nonimmigrant visa holders (such as students and guest workers) must first get a green card before being eligible to apply for citizenship. After you’ve had a green card for the required time, usually 3-5 years, you can apply for citizenship using Form N-400.
An estimated 9.1 million of the total 13.6 million green card holders in the U.S. are eligible to naturalize using this form. (While DHS doesn’t record exact data on the size and characteristics of America’s immigrant population, it bases this estimate on datasets it does maintain as well as the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey). According to the Pew Research Center, the United States issues around 1 million new green cards per year (as of Fiscal Year 2017), both to new arrivals and immigrants already living in the U.S. So, the 860,000 immigrants who apply for Citizenship by Naturalization each year represent just a fraction of the foreign-born population that is eligible to naturalize.
Source: USCIS Data on Form N-400. (Note that the number of approved naturalization petitions, as reported by USCIS, does not match the number of persons naturalized, as reported by the Office of Immigration Statistics. The discrepancy, however, is minimal. For example, the OIS reports that 837,168 naturalization petitions were filed in 2018; for that same period, USCIS reports that it received 833,161 applications. The cause of this discrepancy is not clear).
To learn more, check out our detailed Naturalization Filing Guide or use our free screener to see if you’re eligible to naturalize. Are you ready to naturalize and become a United States Citizen? We can help you prepare your application for Naturalization for free.
There were 713,689 naturalization applications pending with USCIS as of March 31, 2019. This number is 87% higher than the 380,639 applications pending at the end of 2014. In just five years, the number of immigrants with pending applications for citizenship has nearly doubled.
This increase in pending applications is likely the result of USCIS processing a smaller portion of total N-400 petitions per year. In the first quarter of 2015, USCIS decided (either approved or denied) 33.16% of the total Citizenship by Naturalization applications pending and received during that quarter. By the first quarter of 2019, that figure had fallen to just 23.52%. As the USCIS processing rate decreases, the number of pending cases increases.
Source: USCIS Data on Form N-400.
You can’t control how long it takes USCIS to process your Citizenship by Naturalization application. Still, you can speed the process up by applying as soon as you are eligible. When you’re ready to apply to naturalize and become a United States Citizen, check out our detailed Naturalization Filing Guide.
Since 2014, the number of citizenship applications USCIS approved has increased from 653,416 to 843,593 in 2019. During these six years, USCIS approved, on average, 739,980 applications for naturalization per year.
Thankfully, the number of naturalizations has remained strong despite the Trump Administration’s crusade against other forms of legal immigration—like asylum, refugee resettlement, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program—and overall immigration enforcement crackdown. In fact, in 2019, the number of green card holders who became naturalized citizens reached its highest level in a decade. This was its fourth-highest level since 1907, the earliest year for which immigration data is available.
Unfortunately, the approval rate has also declined during this time. In the second quarter of 2015, USCIS approved around 30% of total petitions pending and newly received. By the first quarter of 2019, that figure had fallen to 21%. Meanwhile, pending cases continue to rise as USCIS processes a smaller percentage of petitions overall.
In other words, total naturalizations have increased even as the percentage of cases processed and approved has declined.
The best way to increase your chances of being approved is to submit a great Citizenship by Naturalization application. Check out our detailed Naturalization Filing Guide or use our free screener to determine your eligibility and prepare your forms.
As USCIS approvals of Citizenship by Naturalization applications increased, so did denials. From 2014 to 2019, the number of naturalization applications that USCIS denied increased from 66,767 to 97,789. In the first quarter of 2015, USCIS decided (i.e., either approved or denied) 33.16% of total applications pending and newly received that quarter. That figure fell to just 23.52% by the first quarter of 2019.
That both approvals and denials increased may be a result of USCIS processing a smaller portion of total N-400 petitions per year and taking longer to do so, as discussed above.
Source: Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics, Fiscal Year 2019 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Table 20).
The naturalization process can be difficult. To help protect yourself from being denied, check out our detailed Naturalization Filing Guide. You can also use our free screener to determine your eligibility and start the application process.
To apply for Citizenship by Naturalization, you must meet the residency and physical presence requirements.
Usually, the physical presence requirement means that you must have been a Green Card holder for at least 5 years and that during these 5 years, you must not have spent more than 30 months in total outside the U.S. However, these times are shorter for immigrants married to U.S. citizens, part of U.S. immigration law’s policy of keeping family units together. If you’re husband or wife is a U.S. citizen, you can apply for Citizenship by Naturalization if you have been a Green Card holder for 3 years, during which time you didn’t spend more than 18 months in total outside the U.S. Minor children of U.S. citizens.
For minor children of U.S. citizens, there is no minimum time. Children who live in the U.S. and have at least one U.S. citizen parent can apply for Citizenship by Naturalization as soon as they get their green card.
The residency requirement means that you must have lived in the same U.S. state for at least three months before applying for Naturalization. You can read the full list of requirements in our detailed guide to naturalization.
Applicants must pay careful attention to the instructions for Form N-400, which are very detailed and thorough. Even a simple mistake (such as leaving questions blank) may cause USCIS to deny your naturalization application.
Completing the N-400 citizenship application can be difficult. To avoid mistakes, you can prepare your forms using our free tool. After you complete your forms, check out our detailed filing guide to make sure you don’t miss any steps in the application process.
U.S. immigration law comes, primarily, from the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”). The INA requires all immigration applicants, including naturalization applicants, to pass a criminal background check. USCIS is not a law enforcement agency, unlike its sister agencies ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP,” the agency in charge of border patrol). However, it does enforce the criminal background check requirements of the INA. Having a criminal background means that USCIS can deny your citizenship application.
If you have any relevant criminal activity in your past, you may be “inadmissible” by INA standards. For example, two convictions with combined prison sentences of five years or more will make you inadmissible. So will any conviction for controlled-substances offenses, prostitution, or drug trafficking. Even if you passed the criminal background check when you applied for your green card, new convictions since then could get your application denied.
If you’re worried about issues in your past, you can check your admissibility before you apply. If you’re clear and ready to apply, you can use the same tool to prepare and file your forms quickly and easily.
Not paying debts can give USCIS a reason to deny your application for Citizenship by Naturalization. USCIS looks for financial obligations that, in its view, can reflect on your moral character. For example, failure to pay taxes or child support can hurt your chances of approval and give USCIS a reason to deny your application. You may need to take care of outstanding debts before applying for Citizenship by Naturalization.
The civics test, an essential part of the naturalization process, requires migrants seeking citizenship to know about U.S. history and government. For example, the exam may ask you how many members are in the House of Representatives, what year the Constitution was written, or who our first president was. (435, 1787, George Washington). If you fail the test on your first try, USCIS will let you try again in 2-3 months. It will deny your application if you fail a second time.
To avoid common mistakes and improve your chances of being approved, check out our detailed Naturalization Filing Guide.
To apply for Citizenship by Naturalization, you must file Form N-400 with USCIS and pay the accompanying filing fee. If USCIS approves your N-400 petition, it will schedule a naturalization interview for you. The entire naturalization process takes, on average, 15 months.
Once you file your N-400, it should take approximately 8 months for USCIS to approve it. Then, it will take another 4 months, generally, before you have your interview. You can also track the status of your application on the USCIS website. However, keep in mind that approval might take longer than usual because of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. USCIS.gov provides more info about its COVID response plan.
USCIS will send you a Form I-797 a few weeks after you file your N-400. The I-797 means USCIS is confirming they received your paperwork. If they approve you for an interview, they’ll mail you a notice, but they only send the interview notice one time. Therefore, you must pay careful attention to your mailbox and notify USCIS if you change your address. (You can update your address using USCIS’s online “Alien’s Change of Address Card”).
USCIS will usually schedule your interview for about 14 months after it first receives your N-400 petition for naturalization. USCIS provides resources to help you prepare for your interview. The video below explains the interview process.
After you finish your interview, it will generally take four more months before USCIS tells you whether you’ll be a citizen or not. If you are approved, you can expect to attend your naturalization ceremony within 1.5 months.
If you’re ready to naturalize and become a United States Citizen, check out our article on how long immigration applications take.
We hope that you found this article on naturalization stats and the naturalization process useful. Becoming a naturalized citizen can be life-changing, and naturalized citizens are an important part of the U.S. population. Citizens are shielded from deportation. They can vote in United States elections. They can apply for green cards for their family members.
Applying for Citizenship by Naturalization can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your Citizenship by Naturalization case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!