Citizenship? Only Twice As Many Forms Await

Given that naturalized citizens earn about 60 percent more than noncitizens, 10 more pages of paperwork could become an obstacle "that would be a net loss for everyone," the author says.

Even as we wait for new immigration legislation in Congress, our immigration system is undergoing some significant changes that will make a difference to a diversifying America.

Our nation's 8.8 million legal permanent residents eligible for citizenship should take note of the next change, coming soon. The N-400 is the standard form that all legal permanent residents must complete as part of the citizenship application, and it will double in length in the coming months.

I know firsthand that changes like these have the potential to alter the number of citizenship applications that LPRs file — and not usually in a positive way.

After 25 years of working at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and in my two years leading the New Americans Campaign, I have worked closely with LPRs as they maneuver the long and complicated path to citizenship. I have seen the citizenship application fees increase by more than six times, and the application rates slashed by two-thirds because of the fees.

The new N-400 form will add upward of 10 pages of questions to the application. And it could make the citizenship process more time-consuming for the 8.8 million permanent residents eligible for citizenship nationwide.

If higher hurdles turn people away, that would be a net loss for everyone.

On the whole, naturalized citizens fare better economically than their noncitizen counterparts. They earn between 50 percent and 70 percent more than noncitizens, have higher employment rates, and are half as likely to live below the poverty line.

A new citizen will see an average boost in individual earnings of 8 to 11 percent, directly tied to more job preparation, better matching between employers and employees, and a greater ability to switch jobs.

All of this translates to macroeconomic benefits as well, with the U.S. economy standing to grow by $21 billion to $45 billion over 10 years — depending on how aggressively we prioritize naturalization.

In other words, whereas new developments in our immigration system such as the naturalization application change may dissuade LPRs from applying for citizenship, we should be doing all we can to encourage them.

Although the changes to the naturalization form are coming, there is still a lot we can do.

First, we can encourage applications using the older, simpler form right now, and during the 90-day window between the official announcement of the new form (expected soon) and its implementation.

We will gear our efforts toward maximizing the number of applications completed and submitted during that time frame.

The New Americans Campaign has laid a strong foundation for encouraging citizenship now and in the future — no matter how the application evolves. Partnering with several dozen legal-service providers, faith-based organizations, businesses, foundations, and community leaders, the New Americans Campaign already has provided free or low-cost high-quality citizenship services to more than 80,000 people — saving them more than $67 million in legal fees and waivers in the process.

We plan to ramp up that work in the coming months.

From Los Angeles to Detroit to Miami and New York, our campaign has done more than provide high-quality citizenship assistance at a low cost. Our service providers also have become trustworthy partners for legal permanent residents.

We know that with citizenship, the millions of immigrants who have received their green cards will be innovative, resourceful, and patriotic additions to the American fabric. So we are combining the power of collaboration with trusted organizations, technology to raise awareness, and innovation to ease an otherwise complicated and high-stakes process.

Before the naturalization application undergoes its changes in a few months, legal permanent residents can bring their dedication to become citizens to a citizenship workshop near them. At these workshops, our legal volunteers tap into their commitment to learn the language and the history of their new home country. And we see the confusion and fear they face as the final step — the citizenship test — nears.

Citizenship carries not only economic benefits but also security and the ability to participate fully in American society, including in the voting booth. The opportunities of citizenship benefit all of us as we work together to build a stronger America.

The citizenship process is about aspiring Americans' hopes, dreams, and opportunities. But it's also about our nation's promise. That's why the New Americans Campaign isn't just about new Americans — it's about all of us.

The Next America welcomes op-ed pieces that explore the political, economic and social impacts of the profound racial and cultural changes facing our nation. Email us.