Posted on December 8, 2022

After Declining Early in the COVID-19 Outbreak, Immigrant Naturalizations in the U.S. Are Rising Again

Jeffrey S. Passel and D'Vera Cohn, Pew Research Center, December 1, 2022

After a sharp drop in naturalizations in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, immigrants in the United States are becoming citizens in numbers not seen for more than a decade.

More than 900,000 immigrants became U.S. citizens during the 2022 fiscal year, according to a Pew Research Center estimate based on government data released for the first three quarters of the year. That annual total would be the third-highest on record and the most in any fiscal year since 2008, when more than a million people were naturalized. Federal fiscal years run from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

The rebound in naturalizations aligns with upticks in other measures of legal immigration since the spring of 2020, when pandemic-related restrictions, border closures and office shutdowns were widespread. Government data shows a rise since then in the number of immigrants receiving green cards as new lawful permanent residents, as well as a partial rebound in arrivals by foreign students, tourists and other lawful temporary migrants.

Here are five key facts about naturalization trends and U.S. naturalized citizens, based mainly on a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Department of Homeland Security and the Census Bureau. {snip}

Quarterly naturalizations are back to where they were before the coronavirus outbreak began in early 2020. The quarterly number of naturalizations plummeted to 81,000 in the April-June 2020 period – during the first months of the U.S. outbreak – compared with an average of about 190,000 per quarter in the previous eight years. After two more below-average quarters, the number of naturalizations reached 200,000 in the January-March 2021 quarter – higher than the total for the same quarter in any of the nine previous years. {snip}

The Center’s projection for the number of annual naturalizations for fiscal 2022 – about 940,000 – is higher than for any year since fiscal 2008, when an all-time high of 1,047,000 immigrants became citizens. {snip}

There have been an average of about 200,000 applications for U.S. citizenship per quarter over the past decade. Since 2012, the quarterly number of applications for naturalization has generally ranged from about 160,000 to 250,000. {snip}


More immigrants are seeking U.S. citizenship than are currently being naturalized. As of the end of June 2022, there was a backlog of about 673,000 pending applications for naturalization. The backlog is down from more than a million pending applications in December 2020, but still much higher than in the period between 2012 and 2016.


Naturalizations for immigrants from most countries plunged during COVID-19 but have since rebounded and are 20% above their pre-pandemic average. One prominent exception is naturalizations of immigrants from China, one of the top 10 countries for naturalizations overall. Naturalizations of Chinese nationals are down about 20% from their pre-pandemic average.

Mexico, the country with the most annual naturalizations over the past quarter century, is up by only 8% compared with its pre-pandemic average. Most of the other major countries are up at least as much. On a regional basis, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and Middle East-North Africa are up by 15% to 26% compared with their pre-pandemic averages. {snip}

The naturalized citizen population in the U.S. continues to increase rapidly. The total number of naturalized citizens in the U.S. almost tripled between 1995 and 2019, from 7.6 million to 22.1 million, according to the most recent Pew Research Center estimates. {snip}