Naturalizing eligible immigrants would boost the U.S. economy at least $37 to $52 billion, according to recent report. However, the high cost of becoming a citizen poses a challenge to reach these potential economic gains.
The report by the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California found that as citizens, immigrants would see their earnings increase, and in turn, would grow the economy as they spent more.
There are currently 8.5 million lawful permanent residents who are eligible to become citizens. According to the Center's "most conservative estimates," earnings could rise by 8 to 11 percent after naturalization – representing $21 to $45 billion in cumulative earnings over 10 years.
The earnings of naturalized citizens are higher than of those who are non-citizens. Better knowledge of English and higher education levels are partly responsible, though, citizenship itself also has an impact.
"With citizenship comes more U.S.-specific investment in job preparation, better matching between employers and employees and an enhanced ability to shift between jobs," said the report.
However, rising application fees, as well as financial and time costs necessary to becoming a citizen become obstacles for many.
About 52 percent of immigrants eligible for citizenship are low-income. Many point to the application fee as a deterrent. Successful applicants also need to invest time and money into English and civics courses.
The report called on the federal government to lower application fees and streamline the complicated application process. It urged mayors to embrace the "New Americans Initiatives" and for business leaders to promote citizenship.
"Encouraging naturalization […] is an economic imperative in a nation still working to emerge from the shadow of recession. With the children of immigrants now totaling nearly one quarter of our overall youth population, it's an investment in their future and the future of America."