NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

More Naturalized Citizens After Reform

February 21, 2002

Since 1997 -- a year after Congress enacted welfare reform -- the percentage of foreign-born residents who are naturalized citizens has been rising. The percentage had been declining since 1970.

  • The proportion of naturalized citizens rose from 35 percent in 1997 to 37 percent in 2000.
  • By contrast, 64 percent of the foreign-born population was naturalized in 1970.

Welfare reform set out comprehensive rules for determining immigrant eligibility for a wide range of social benefits provided by governments at all levels. Some researchers say that many immigrants already in the country legally applied for naturalization because the 1996 law made it more difficult to keep many benefits otherwise.

The rise in naturalizations has been accompanied by an increase in the number of naturalized families receiving some means-tested benefits.

  • The number receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) rose from 133,000 in 1994 to 298,000 in 1999 (or from 2.5 percent of naturalized families to 4.5 percent).
  • The rate receiving Medicaid increased from 8.1 percent to 10.4 percent.
  • The changes in recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and food stamps were not statistically significant.

Source: Michael Fix and Jeffrey Passel, "The Scope and Impact of Welfare Reform's Immigrant Provisions," Assessing the New Federalism, Discussion Paper No. 02-03, January 2002, Urban Institute, 2100 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, (202) 833-7200; and Genaro C. Armas, "Foreigners Naturalized on the Rise," Associated Press, February 7, 2002.

For Urban Institute report text


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