The number of legal immigrants who have gone through the naturalization process and become U.S. citizens has increased every year since the 1990s and currently stands at its highest point ever. The high number of naturalized citizens reflects a significant increase in the foreign-born population in the last 30 years.
Between 1980 and 2000, the foreign-born population more than doubled from about 14 million to 30 million persons. Over the past ten years, an average of 700,000 persons have naturalized each year. Naturalized citizens account for about 46 percent (or 18.6 million) of the total estimated 40 million foreign-born persons living in the United States, which includes naturalized citizens, legal permanent and temporary residents, and unauthorized immigrants.
The share of eligible legal immigrants that have naturalized has also steadily been on the rise over the past two decades. Naturalization rates—the percent of all eligible lawful permanent residents who naturalize—increased from about 48 percent in 1995 to 61 percent in 2011. Naturalization trends and the characteristics of those naturalized will continue to be part of the discussion as Congress debates the different aspects of immigration reform.
This brief summarizes recent naturalization trends among legal immigrants and describes the characteristics of the naturalized population.
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