Making citizenship harder


Every year, 600,000 people apply to become citizens of the United States. To become a citizen, immigrants first have to live here for a number of years (usually five years). Then they must apply for citizenship, demonstrate their ability to speak and read and write English, and pass a test on U.S. government and history. (There are a few exceptions to residence and testing requirements, such as adopted children.)

This year, the federal government is making it harder for immigrants to become citizens. First, it changed the written test to make it more difficult. Now, it proposes to increase the application fee from $330 to $595. (And that’s only for the application—fingerprint fees and other charges increase the total cost even more.)

The increase in naturalization (citizenship) application fees is only one of many proposed immigration fee increases. The fee for adjustment of status, to become a permanent legal resident, will go up from $325 to $905. Other fees also increase, by an average of 66 percent.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, “Naturalization of immigrants in the United States brings significant benefits for the country. First, obtaining citizenship allows immigrants to participate fully in the civic life of the country by permitting them to vote in elections, run for office, and work in many government jobs. Further, naturalization is a powerful symbolic gesture of commitment to the United States. In taking the oath of citizenship, naturalizing immigrants pledge to support the values and laws of the United States and renounce their allegiance to any other country. Naturalizing citizens also commit to serving on a jury if called to do so. Further, in order to naturalize, immigrants must learn a basic level of English and study U.S. history and government. The ability to naturalize provides a strong incentive for immigrants to deepen their integration into the country by improving their English and learning more about their country of residence.”

Refugees and new immigrants typically have lower incomes. The fee increases hit them especially hard, as they struggle to learn English, support themselves and their families, and become part of their new country. The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) is one of the immigrant advocacy organizations opposing fee hikes. SEARAC warns that, “The increased fees may further prolong the citizenship process for many whose incomes are dependent on their attainment of citizenship such as elders and disabled refugees who receive SSI benefits. The inability to obtain their citizenship after the allotted timeframe will result in the termination of their benefits.”

The fee hikes do not have to go through Congress. They are set by administrative regulations. But Congress—and individuals—do have a voice in the administrative process. The fees were proposed February 1, beginning a sixty-day public comment period. Along with SEARAC, the National Immigration Forum is urging people to voice their concerns about the fee increases. To comment on the fee increases, email The e-mail message should refer to the docket number of the regulation—DHS Docket # USCIS-2006-0044. (For more information about the comment process, go to