Does the US Immigration Discriminate in Citizenship Application? A Study Appears To Say Yes!

Updated: Feb 25


A recent study by Proceeding of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) examined group disparities in naturalization/citizenship approvals by race/ethnicity, gender, and religion combine to produce a certain group hierarchy in terms of approval probabilities. It found that all else being equal: 1) non-White applicants and Hispanic applicants are less likely to be approved than non-Hispanic White applicants; 2) male applicants are less likely to be approved than female applicants; and 3) applicants from Muslim-majority countries are less likely to be approved than applicants from other countries.

This study presented an empirical investigation of naturalization adjudication in the United States using new administrative data on naturalization applications decided by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services between October 2014 and March 2018. It found significant group disparities in naturalization approvals based on applicants’ race/ethnicity, gender, and religion, controlling for individual applicant characteristics, adjudication years, and variation between field offices. In addition, race/ethnicity, gender, and religion interact to produce a certain group hierarchy in naturalization approvals. For example, the probability of approval for Black males is 5 percentage points smaller than that of White females. The probability of approval for Blacks from Muslim-majority countries is 9 percentage points smaller than that of Whites from other countries. The probability of approval for females from Muslim-majority countries is 6 percentage points smaller than that of females from other countries.

These findings underscore the continuing importance of race, gender, and religion in the making of US citizens, and contributes to our understanding of the nature of inequalities present in USCIS decision-making in the naturalization process.

The study reinforces the need for competent immigration representation as the cards may be stacked against you.


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