Much Easier to Get Naturalized Now Than a Decade Ago

By David North on January 4, 2012

It is much, much easier to get naturalized in recent years than it was 11 years ago, newly released statistics from USCIS have revealed.

In 2000 more than 31 percent of the citizenship applications were denied; by last year the percentage of denials was below 8 percent, as can be seen in the table that follows.

USCIS, of course, does not publish those conclusions, it simply issued a six-page sheaf of data, with literally thousands of cells of numbers, and you must sort out the trends for yourself. The USCIS data can be seen here.

What is happening? I think that there are three variables at work: 1) a change in the educational level of the applicants, particularly in the early years of the table; 2) more preparation of the applicants; and, most important of all, 3) a lowering of standards.

In the years 2000 and 2001 the immigration agency, then INS, was working through most of the last of the citizenship applications of the people who secured green cards through the IRCA legalization program. It is well known that this population had less education and less knowledge of English than the mainstream of American immigrants. This population was largely out of the naturalization system by 2002, and thus naturalization denials were less numerous.

With some exceptions for the very old and people with some disabilities, to be naturalized one must have some basic command of the language and be able to answer some fairly simple questions about U.S. history, geography, and civics.

My sense is that migrant-serving agencies, and USCIS itself, have been more active in recent years in preparing aliens for the tests than they were in earlier years, but I cannot quantify that statement.

The third factor, and much the most powerful, must be a conscious effort on the part of the agency, through the Clinton, the Bush, and the Obama years to create a process that makes it easier for aliens to qualify for citizenship.

Currently, for example, one must answer correctly six out of ten questions asked by USCIS and the questions are all selected from a widely circulated list of 100 questions which can be seen here.

The presentation above not only asks such questions as: "How many U.S. senators does your state have?" It provides both written and oral answers to the question. No question may be asked of an applicant that is not on the list of 100. The whole process is much more relaxed than it was in the not-too-distant past.

The data in the table reinforce what I have written in several previous blogs: USCIS is an agency that loves to say "yes" when asked to grant a benefit and its current leadership is leaning on the system to make it even more friendly to applicants of all kinds.

Denial Rates for Naturalization Drop Steadily

(Nationwide USCIS data for FYs 2000 through 2011)

Fiscal Year Approvals Denials Decisions Denials as
% of Decisions
2000 886,026 399,670 1,285,696 31.1%
2001 606,259 218,326 824,585 26.4%
2002 572,646 139,779 712,425 19.3%
2003 462,435 91,599 554,034 16.5%
2004 537,151 103,339 640,490 16.1%
2005 604,280 108,247 712,527 15.2%
2006 702,589 120,722 823,311 14.7%
2007 660,477 89,683 750,160 12.0%
2008 1,046,539 121,283 1,167,822 10.3%
2009 743,715 109,813 853,528 12.9%
2010 619,913 56,990 676,903 8.4%
2011 to date* 690,705 57,065 747,770 7.6%

* While the totals look, at first glance, to be those for a full year, the USCIS document (dated November 2, 2011) from which they were extracted characterizes it as "year to date."

Source: Data in columns two and three, except for 2011, are from 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, table 20; data in those columns for 2011 are from the USCIS Performance Analysis System, November 2, 2011. Column four is the sum of columns two and three; column five is derived from columns three and four.