The Value of Citizenship: How Does Naturalization Affect Immigrantsʼ Lives?

Awarded Scholars:
Justin Gest, Harvard University
Jens Hainmueller, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Michael Hiscox, Harvard University
Project Date:
Dec 2012
Award Amount:
Project Programs:

Does naturalization itself lead to observed economic advantages for immigrants?

A recent study by researchers at the Migration Policy Institute finds that citizenship confers economic gains for immigrants in the United States. The authors report that naturalized immigrants earn more, are less likely to be unemployed, and are more likely to be working in high-skilled occupations than their non-naturalized counterparts. The question is: does the observed economic advantage stem from naturalization itself or are there other possible explanations?

In order to circumvent the potential selection issues which frequently plague observational research on the returns to naturalization, political scientists Justin Gest, Jens Hainmueller, and Michael Hiscox will apply the gold standard for causal inference: a randomized field experiment, complemented by survey data collection. The PIs will test the viability of their mixed-methods approach through a pilot study in the Chicago metropolitan area, where they have identified and developed a collaborative relationship with an organization in a position to help implement a randomized trial, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). ICIRR is the state designated central depository for name and contact information of citizenship-eligible legal permanent residents. There are currently about 20,000 names in the ICIRR state-wide database.

Pilot project participants will be selected from the most recent ICIRR data and assigned to treatment or control groups. Individuals in the treatment condition will be encouraged to attend a citizenship preparation workshop offered by ICIRR and those in the control group won’t.

The pilot field experiment will proceed in three stages. In the first stage, the PIs will conduct a short phone survey of up to 400 legal permanent residents from the most recent years of data on ICIRR’s mailing list. Towards the end of the interview, the interviewer will encourage a randomly selected subset of the study population to attend one of the ICIRR-organized citizenship preparation workshops.

The expectation is that some of the encouraged study participants will apply for citizenship as a result of attending one of the ICIRR workshops, while most of the participants in the control group will not pursue citizenship. During the second phase of the study, a subset of those in the treatment group will be randomly assigned to receive additional encouragement to attend the workshop. Reminders will be sent to all in the treatment group, in advance of the workshop. The investigators will track compliance with the treatment over a period of three to six months and identify the outreach strategy that generates the most effective way to administer the treatment.

In the third stage, at 24 months (and again at 48 months) from the initial phone interview, all study participants will be re-interviewed. This follow-up survey will gather data on a variety of outcomes of interest, from employment and earnings outcomes to political attitudes and behavior, along with other social and economic outcomes. Analysis of the data will involve using the exogenous variation in naturalization rates that results from being assigned to receive the encouragement (i.e., the intention-to-treat effect).

The pilot project will test whether or not the randomized encouragement is an effective way of generating differential rates of naturalization among otherwise comparable individuals. It will also assess the effectiveness of the outreach method to deliver the encouragement.


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