• Rank: 9 out of 38
  • MIPEX Score: 63
  • HEALTH 69

Key Findings

Changes in context

  • 80 million or 25% of US population are 1st or 2nd generation (41 million foreign-born or 13%) 
  • 2012/3 estimates of 19.3m naturalised citizens, 13.3m lawful permanent residents (LPR or Green Card), 11.4m undocumented and 1.9m temporary visa-holders (e.g. workers, students)
  • Family immigration remains most important channel for permanent legal immigration (2/3 of newcomers in 2011-3) 
  • LPR granted to around 1 million every year between 2005-2013 (in recent years, 45% of new LPRs are new arrivals and 55% adjusted their status while in US) 
  • High employment rate slightly declined from 2007 to 2010 and started to recover since 2012
  • Democrat president since 2008 and Democrat-controlled congress in only 1st two years
  • Most positive general attitudes towards immigrants in US alongside other English-speaking countries and Nordics

Changes in policy

Despite congressional inaction on Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a few immigrants will benefit from better opportunities to participate in society in the US, rising +1 out of 100 points from 2012 to 2014. A significant minority of undocumented immigrants, through the administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Executive Action programs, enjoy slightly favourable opportunities on the US labour market. More generally, immigrants should benefit from more work-related English and training programs approved by Congress. Another important policy change, this time initiated by a Supreme Court decision, allows same-sex couples to sponsor spouses for immigration status in the same manner as heterosexual couples. This has allowed same-sex couples to reunite in the United States, and ensures equal treatment under US immigration laws.

Conclusions and recommendations

Without comprehensive immigration reform, US policies only score 63/100, creating a slightly favourable path for some immigrants to fully participate in society and become US citizens. First and foremost, strong anti-discrimination laws protect all residents. Immigrants who obtain a legal status have good opportunities to live with their family and find a job, but not as good as those Americans enjoy. Still, the path to citizenship, even for legal immigrants, is not as easy as many think. Disproportionate fees, limited family visas, long backlogs, and insecure rights defer many from the American dream of citizenship, a secure family, and a good job. These symptoms of the so-called ‘broken’ immigration system may be eroding the United States’ traditional gift for integration. Averaged together, these obstacles put the US at just 9th, compared to 38 countries. Clinching higher spots on the ranking, AU, CA, NZ and a few Western countries (Nordics and PT) outperform the US on issues such as reuniting families, encouraging workers and students to settle, facilitating the requirements for naturalization and working to recognize immigrants’ credentials. The weak federal role on integration may improve in the future. In 2015, the White House’s Task Force for New Americans agreed a Federal Strategic Action Plan on Immigrant & Refugee Integration, entitled “Strengthening communities by welcoming all residents.” This new proposals, plus the 2016 presidential campaign debates, may lead to more ambitious and effective immigration and integration policies. 


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Labour Market Mobility

Key Findings

A legal status in the US gives most immigrants some of the same chances as native-born Americans on the labour market; 2014 saw the creation of new opportunities for immigrants to invest in their English and professional skills

Policy Indicators

Do immigrants have equal rights and opportunities to access jobs and improve their skills?

A legal status in the US gives most immigrants some of the same chances as native-born Americans to find the right job in the flexible US labour market. These policies are ranked 12th, comparable to countries granting generally equal access but little targeted support, such as IT and ES. Both US citizens and non-citizens can look for employment, start a business, get help from the government in their job hunt, expect the same working conditions and pay the same levels of tax and social security. Still, the job they find may be far below the skills they have, because some states and professional organizations are not working together to recognize their foreign credentials. Countries with comprehensive integration strategies better target this and other specific needs of workers born and trained abroad (e.g. AU/CA/NZ, the Nordics and Western Europe). The US' labour market mobility policies slightly improved in 2014 (+3 points) as immigrants may soon benefit from better targeted English and job trainings, following implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

Dimension 1: Access to labour market

  • Migrant workers and their families enjoy full access to the labour market, as in CA and most of Western Europe
  • Any immigrant with work authorisation, including beneficiaries of DACA, can work in all sectors, including self-employment
  • Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), limiting employment to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (green card holders) can be a violation of law

Dimension 2: Access to general support

  • Imigrants with legal status benefit from most of the same chances to pursue education and training as US citizens, similar to policies in CA and Western Europe
  • Equal access to in-state tuition for legally resident non-US citizens is only guaranteed in handful of states 
  • Procedures can be complex to recognise foreign degrees and professional experience (see clearer procedures in federal AU, CA, DE) 

Dimension 3: Targeted support

  • Recent immigrants in most states have often received little federal help to recognise or develop their skills for the US labour market. (a weakness in several countries, e.g. IE/UK, ES/IT, NL, CH) 
  • Public institutions may be relatively open to serve them, as trainings on diversity are common for public sector staff across US and required in a few states
  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act 2014 boosted targeted support +10 points on MIPEX scale, as immigrants should benefit from more work-related English and vocational training (see box)
  • A few states offer one-stop career centres with English and job trainings for immigrants, usually depending on their income and their status (often limited to resettled refugees). Access to these targeted trainings has also improved in states with New Americans Initiatives and Offices (e.g. IL, MA, MD, NY, WA)
  • The last major federal investment in nationwide work-related English and job training for immigrants was the 1986 IRCA's $4 billion State Legalization Impact Assistance Grant (SLIAG)

Dimension 4: Workers' rights

  • Newcomer and non-citizen workers are not fully covered by the same social security net as American citizens (see box on permanent residence)
  • Migrant workers' rights on the labour market are restricted more in the US than in 22 other countries (similar gaps in AU/NZ/UK, see instead CA and most Western European countries)

Policy Box

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act 2014 reinforces English literacy and civics education, in combination with integrated education and training activities. The goal of this integrated language and professional training is for English language learners to end up in jobs leading to economic self-sufficiency. Implementation of the Act is also a major thrust of the recommendations in the April 2015 Federal Strategic Action on Immigrant & Refugee Integration. Successful examples abound of work-related language training, while bridging/work placement programmes for specific high- and low-skilled sectors are particularly effective (see examples in Nordics, DE, AU/CA/NZ). Several countries are experimenting with specialised employment coaches and peer-to-peer mentoring (e.g. FI/SE, BE, FR, DE, PT).

Contextual factors

What other factors explain whether immigrants find skilled and well-paid jobs?

  • High employment rates (≥70%) and ≥2% average GDP growth since 2010 
  • Most flexible employment protection legislation in US and other English-speaking countries
  • Fewer recent immigrants coming with temporary work or study permits to the US than to other English-speaking countries
  • Lower numbers coming to the US with some exposure to English than going to other English-speaking countries

Family Reunion

Key Findings

Quotas and delays keep many new American families from accessing the possibilities on paper to reunite in America

Policy Indicators

How easily can immigrants reunite with family?

Government's recent executive actions do not change the eligibility rules for legal family immigration. Immigrants need a temporary visa, Green card or US citizenship to get in the long waiting line to reunite with their family. The main channel for legal immigration to the US is family immigration. MIPEX finds that this channel is slightly favourable for families to settle and participate in US society. The US' family immigration policy was bumped up +1 MIPEX point for same-sex partners (see below). The procedures are as complicated as in many other countries, with the US ranking 14th alongside AU and NZ. In the US as in the other English-speaking countries, their reunion may be severely delayed by the limited number of visas, high fees and backlogs, while their integration may be undermined by their insecure status and limited rights. In contrast, the procedures tend to be clear and quick in the Nordics and IT/PT/ES, while families can usually have secure and equal rights in CA and Western Europe.

Dimension 1: Eligibility

  • Federal immigration law caught up with states' definitions of the modern family (see box)
  • Eligibility for family reunion remains unchanged by government's current executive actions on DACA and immediate stay for parents of US citizens and LPRs
  • Eligibility for family immigration is wider in 13 other countries (such as NZ and Western European countries, e.g. IT/ES/PT, SE; recent restrictions in AU & CA)
  • US legal permanent residents can only sponsor their parents or adult children after they naturalise and turn 21 (see greater entitlements in 18 countries, e.g. IT/PT/ES, NO/SE)
  • Unlike LPRs, many temporary residents cannot petition for their families in the US, even if they have the resources to support them (see greater flexibility in most Western European countries)

Dimension 2: Conditions

  • The conditions to sponsor family are relatively straightforward in the US, as in AU/CA, PT/ES, SE
  • Eligible sponsors must typically have incomes/assets amounting to 125% of the poverty line as well as pay very high fees by international standards (similar to AU/NZ/UK, lower in CA, FR, DE, IE, Nordics)

Dimension 3: Security of status

  • Families able to reunite are relatively secure in their status in the US, ranked 10th on this dimension alongside AU (more secure in CA, IT/PT/ES, Nordics)
  • Minor improvements have been made in the procedure (e.g. 'provisional waivers' since March 2013) 
  • Major delays undermine the procedure and delay families' legal status and integration
  • Beyond the immediate relatives of LPRs and US citizens, the wait to reunite can be 20 years because demand for visas far outweighs availability (similar problems in AU, CA, NZ, not so in most European countries)

Dimension 4: Rights associated

  • Once families legally arrive in the US, their rights and future are generally secure, though these rights weaker than in 26 of the 37 other countries  
  • Newcomers do not enjoy the same access to social and housing benefits as their sponsor (section 402 of 19966 PRWORA and similar restrictions in AU/IE/NZ/UK; see instead full access in CA and 22 other countries)
  • Some family members can apply for autonomous residence permits, for example in cases of divorce or death, which is an area of weakness for most countries (see stronger provisions in AU, CA, NO, NZ, PT, ES)
  • With 2013 renewal of VAWA, family immigrants are still protected as victims of domestic violence and sexual assault under the U visa for ≤4 years with option to work (similar in English-speaking and Western European countries)

Policy Box

The June 2013 Windsor case on same-sex couples increased the US' MIPEX score on eligibility by +4 points. Same-sex spouses are now eligible for all spousal benefits in immigration law as long as the marriage is legal in the jurisdiction where it was celebrated (not necessarily of the jurisdiction of residence). This means that a same-sex couple legally married overseas, or in a U.S. state where marriage is legal, is entitled to spousal immigration benefits even if they live in a U.S. state where that marriage is not recognized. Immigration equality is also provided in 25 out of 37 other MIPEX countries, recently also AT, FR, IE).

Procedures for family immigration have also slightly improved in practice. For example, provisional unlawful presence waivers of inadmissibility are now available for certain immediate relatives. Certain US citizens will not have to be separated for so long from their undocumented spouse, children, or parents through this new waiver process, in force as of 4 March 2013. These immediate family members can receive a provisional unlawful presence waiver while still in the United States. After departing abroad for their immigrant visa interview, the visa can be issued without delay if they are eligible for a family-based visa and not inadmissible on other grounds.

Real beneficiaries

Are families reuniting?

Family immigration accounts for 2/3 of permanent immigration (Green cards) and around 10% of temporary immigration. In 2013, at least 1.2 million family immigrants arrived in the US with Green cards or temporary permits (i.e. workers/trainees, ICT, students). Around 1/2 (52% or 633,500) were the spouses or minor children of permanent or temporary residents. The other 1/2 (48% or 582.1K) were the family of US citizens. 649,763 family-sponsored immigrants were granted green cards (LPR). 85% were family of US citizens (248,300 spouses, 119,700 parents, 71,400 minor children, 65,500 siblings, 45,600 adult children). In contrast, 99,115 spouses and children of noncitizen residents were issued a Green Card in 2013. Instead, most noncitizen spouses and children (around 530,000) arrived as the dependents of temporary residents (240,000 of temporary workers/trainees, 220,400 of intracompany transferees and 72,600 of academic/vocational students). 

All of these numbers fluctuate little over the years due to the quotas and backlog of demand. An annual limit applies to the number of LPR family-sponsored immigrants (US citizens' adult children/siblings and LPR's spouses/children). The limit is calculated as 480,000 minus the number of non-citizens issued or adjusted to LPR for US citizens' immediate relatives (spouses/children/parents) and for a few other reasons. This family-sponsored limited cannot be below a minimum of 226,000 in any year. The number of LPRs for US citizens' immediate relatives slightly decreased in 2013 due to delays in processing. 

Under the current US legal immigration system, permanent legal family immigration is subject to numerous delays and backlogs because the demand far exceeds the supply of available visas. Relatives of US citizens or lawful permanent residents often face years or decades of waiting time for a visa. Given the imbalance between the supply of and demand for immigrant visas, the backlog is large and long, especially for sending countries with large numbers of aspiring immigrants (e.g. MX, PH, CN, IN). Congress set the current number of family and employment-based visas for lawful permanent residents in 1990. The law does not provide mechanisms for annual adjustments or increases based on backlogs, demand or changes in global immigration patterns. 

Contextual factors

What other factors explain whether immigrants reunite with family?

  • Many newcomers recently settling down with family in US as across Europe
  • Sizeable share of humanitarian immigrants likely to stay and need family reunion in US
  • Few with the eligible or permanent permits to sponsor in US as in few other countries
  • Majority from less developed countries and thus likely to reunite in US

Outcome indicators

How often do immigrants reunite with family?

In 2013, 633,533 spouses and minor children arrived as the dependents of LPRs (13.3m in 2012) or temporary workers/students (5.4 million in 2013). That's the equivalent of around 4 family members arriving for every 100 legal residents in the US population. The rate is similar to several countries in Western Europe, where, on average, around 3 non-EU family members arrive on average every year for every 100 non-EU legal residents in the total population. The higher-than-average rates emerge in countries with inclusive family reunion policies, such as IT/PT/ES, Benelux and Nordics, while non-EU citizens are much less likely to reunite in countries with restrictive policies, such as AT, CY, DE, GR, IE. While a family's choice to reunite is driven by other individual and contextual factors, policies are a major factor determining their ability to reunite, with disproportionate effects on the most vulnerable families.


Key Findings

US targeted policies better at addressing access and needs than opportunities that immigrant pupils bring to the classroom

Potential Beneficiaries

How many pupils have immigrant parents?

A large number of pupils are 1st or 2nd generation in the US as in the other traditional countries of immigration. The 1st generation account for around 7% among 15-year-olds taking the OECD PISA test while the 2nd generation account for around 15% of pupils.

Policy Indicators

Is the education system responsive to the needs of the children of immigrants?

  • US schools provide some support for equal access, support and opportunities for immigrant pupils, with the US ranking 8th, several points below  other countries that make greater targeted and general investments in education (AU, CA, NZ and Nordic countries)
  • Favourable standards were set by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act; It is not clear how immigrant and low-income pupils will be affected by the waivers from the NCLB monitoring and accountability requirements granted to most states since 2012

Dimension 1: Access

  • US doing most to address access for immigrant pupils, although most other countries are generally weak on this issue, including AU/CA/NZ
  • All students, regardless of status, attend free public education from kindergarten through high school
  • NCLB requires testing at early stage and various forms of asssessments to place newcomer pupils 
  • Targeted programmes slightly help minority students and LEPs complete school, from pre-school to college. They can benefit from targeted support to access different school levels, such as Head Start, the college Assistance Migrant Program and affirmative action 
  • Undocument students do not have the same right to attend college, receive federal financial aid or in-state tuition in 32 states, this despite the benefits for enrollment with little-to-no negative effects on other students (unlike in 16 MIPEX countries)

Dimension 2: Targeting needs

  • Under NCLB, immigrant pupils should benefit from the most targeted support among developed countries, as in AU, NZ and Nordic countries
  • The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) set new goals for states to improve the attainment of all students, including certain minority groups and LEPs
  • LEP students benefit from more targeted funding, support, monitoring, parental outreach and overall school accountability
  • Although they have rights to English support since 1974’s Supreme Court decision Lau v. Nichols, NCLB improved the quality and range of ESL courses

Dimension 3: New opportunities

  • More generally, US states rarely see the new opportunities that immigrant children bring
  • The US falls far behind the majority of countries, including AU, CA, NZ, DE and Nordics
  • Some US states guarantee that all students can learn immigrant languages as their foreign language (like most other MIPEX countries), with around half-a-dozen states supporting bilingual education
  • States do little systematically to reach out to immigrant parents and teachers (see initiatives in AU, CA, NZ, Nordics)

Dimension 4: Intercultural education

  • All pupils learn about diversity and to some basic extent about diversity in the US, ranked 12th far below AU, CA, NZ, UK and Nordics
  • Some states may include diversity education in their state education standards, and therefore it may be integrated throughout the curriculum but this is not necessarily required or practiced across all states
  • Large states like CA, TX, FL and NY require publishers to reflect diversity, which has a strong influence on textbook content nationwide
  • States like IL provide guidance on how to adapt the curriculum to the diversity in the school population
  • Only a minority of states require teacher candidates to study some aspect of cultural diversity in their core preparation courses, and/or to have a teaching practicum in a culturally diverse setting

Policy Box

After the failure of the Dream Act in the US Senate, president Obama issued a directive in 2012 to provide Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals for certain "DREAMers." President Obama issued an executive order directing the federal government to provide temporary protection from deportation and provide employment authorization to eligible undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US before they turned 16 years of age. Among other requirements, they must also be either currently studying, received a high school diploma, earned a GED, or served in the military. Deferred action is granted for a two year period, subject to renewal.

Real beneficiaries

Are pupils with limited literacy getting remedial courses?

Low-literacy immigrant pupils are more likely to benefit from extra out-of-school literacy courses in countries where these courses are generally available for all pupils and where their targeted education policies are strong for immigrants. The numbers are slightly higher (2/3%)  for foreign-born low-literacy pupils, with similar levels of support in the other English-speaking countries. 

Contextual factors

What other factors explain whether the children of immigrants excel at school?

  • Large share of immigrant pupils with low-educated mothers are concentrated in disadvantaged schools in US and one of largest gaps with non-immigrant pupils 
  • Only around 40% of 1st/2nd generation speak English at home
  • Relatively long duration of compulsory education, though student-teacher ratios slightly higher in US and other English-speaking countries 

Outcome indicators

How well are the children of immigrants achieving at school?

Although many more pupils with low-educated mothers end up achieving poorly in school in the US compared to most countries, the gap between immigrant and non-immigrant pupils tend to disappear from one generation to the next in the US and the other English-speaking countries. Around 40% of non-immigrant 15-year-olds end up as math low-achievers, according to the 2012 PISA study. Foreign-born pupils are 20% more likely to be low-achievers, with the level standing at 46%. But this gap is gone by the 2nd generation where the level is around 35%. 


Key Findings

Immigrant patients who meet the complicated entitlement rules are treated by some accessible and responsive healthcare services

Policy Indicators

Is the health system responsive to immigrants' needs?

Leading policies help health services become slightly more accessible and responsive to eligible patients' needs. These policies are the 3rd strongest in the developed world, alongside AU and CA and not far ahead of IE and UK. In comparison to other high-scoring countries, the US provides weaker entitlements to immigrant patients than other accessible and responsive services (e.g. AU, NZ, IT, NO, CH).

Click here to learn more about how MIPEX health was developed with IOM and EU’s COST/ADAPT network through ‘Equi-Health’ project and co-funded by European Commission’s DG SANTE. 

Dimension 1: Entitlements

  • Weaker entitlements to healthcare coverage in the US than in most countries, leading to large shares of uninsured among non-citizens (ranked 28th, similar in CA/UK, see instead NZ, JP and most of Northwest Europe, e.g. FR, CH, NO/SE)
  • Since 1996, lawful permanent residents (LPRs) must wait an extra 5 years for equal entitlements, with some variations across states (e.g. for children, parents and pregnant women under the Children's Health Insurance Program, CHIP). Beforehand, LPRs may enroll in 'qualified health plans' from insurance exchanges under Affordable Care Act (see instead FR, DE, NL, SE, CH)
  • Immigrants granted refugee or asylee status are also entitled to equal coverage (see also NZ)
  • Undocumented immigrants are excluded from federal coverage, without the individual mandate, access to exchanges to purchase private insurance, tax credits or lower copayments, or eligibility for Medicare or nonemergency Medicaid (see instead FR, IT, NL, SE, CH)
  • Problems with documentation and service-providers' discretion can limit their access to emergency medicaid and any state CHIP exemptions

Dimension 2: Access policies

  • Under federal law, immigrant patients should benefit from some language support and targeted information in the US, ranking 6th on accessibility (see also NZ, FI, FR, CH)
  • To address the complexity of immigrants' healthcare entitlements, some federal, healthcare and community organisations voluntarily provide basic information on these entitlements, mostly through websites in EN and ES, with limited materials in other languages 
  • Federally-run and -funded programs must somehow provide free language assistance to LEPs (limited EN proficiency) under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 13166 (2000) 
  • Information on health issues and education is broader and sometimes required to target specific cultural, language and at-risk groups (e.g. state and ACA-funded navigators targeting eligible LEPs and immigrants)
  • No obligations to report undocumented immigrant patients, but sanctions have been tried by a few local communities (see stronger protections in FR, Nordics, IT/PT/ES) 

Dimension 3: Responsive services

  • Favourable efforts to make healthcare more responsive to immigrant patients, ranked 3rd alongside other English-speaking countries 
  • Free interpreters required in few states, somtimes funded by Medicaid
  • Cultural competence standards were created federally in US and mandated in a few states (A, CT, NJ, NM, WA) or recommended (MD) and supported by accreditation requirements of person- and family-centred cares
  • Efforts to encourage diversity in healthcare workforce in several federal and state programs
  • Ad hoc training of staff and involvement of immigrants in practice (see stronger approaches in AU, NZ, UK)

Dimension 4: Mechanisms for change

  • Federal government takes strong supportive role to achieve these changes in the US, ranked 3rd again alongside English-speaking countries and NO
  • Sufficient data and research to support new policies
  • Ad hoc immigrant health policies, coordinated and funded by Office of Minority Health and coordinated with immigrant health stakeholders
  • Immigrant or minority health to be a priority for all departments, including National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care (CLAS)

Political Participation

Key Findings

Immigrants often use the opportunities they have to become politically and civically active; new movements to revive tradition of immigrants' civic participation and even noncitizen voting rights

Potential Beneficiaries

Who are disenfranchised from voting?

Besides residents in 6 MD towns, 0% of non-citizens are eligible to vote in US elections, while only around 1/2 of the foreign-born have become US citizens. In the US in 2013, that means 21.9 million people are disenfranchised or around 7% of the total population. That share rises to around 10% of the population in states like CA (4.8 million), TX (2.9), NY (1.9), FL (1.7), NJ, DC, MD, AZ and NV.

Policy Indicators

Do immigrants have comparable rights and opportunities to participate in political life?

Immigrants' abilities to organize and advocate through civil society has been key for integration in US. In contrast, governments in the US provide fewer formal opportunities and support for noncitizens to participate in democratic life in the US, compared to more inclusive approaches in 21 other MIPEX countries (e.g. AU, IE, NZ, UK, Nordics) and in most US states during the founding and growth of the nation.

Dimension 1: Electoral rights

  • Hardly any non-citizens enjoy the right to vote in US cities or towns (6 MD towns, Chicago school elections). More may get them, as towns and states debate the idea (CA, CT, DC, MA, MD, MN, NC, TX, WI, most recently NY)
  • US remains one of the few major destination countries (also CA, FR, DE, IT) without any voting rights for noncitizens 
  • Local/state voting rights existed in 40 US states and federal territories before the 1920s for immigrants declaring their intention to naturalize. These rights have re-emerged today for non-citizen residents in 21 other MIPEX countries (e.g. NZ, IE, NL, Nordics)

Dimension 2: Political liberties

  • All people in the US enjoy the same basic political freedoms, as in all other traditional destinations and Western European countries

Dimension 3: Consultative bodies

  • Several cities and states have recently recognised the importance of integration and created Councils of New Americans, though with relatively basic mandates
  • The movement started in IL in 2005, followed by leading states on integration, such as MA, NJ, MD and WA, and, most recently, NY 
  • Immigrants are also consulted in major cities like New York City, Chicago and San Francisco
  • Appointed faith and community leaders are consulted by governors or city officials from time-to-time, often to organise public hearings, report and make recommendations (for other strong models, see AU, NZ, FI, DE, PT, ES) 
  • Immigrants and non-citizens are not directly represented by federally-sponsored organizations or advisory bodies, including the White House's recent Task Force on New Americans (see instead 13 other countries, e.g. AU, DK, DE, PT, ES)

Dimension 4: Implementation policies

  • Most new communities need to provide their own information and private funds to become organised and politically active, especially at national level
  • Greater support for civics courses from USCIS Citizenship and Integration Grants
  • More structural funding and information is provided in Northwest Europe as part of integration policies as well as in AU, CA, KR, NZ as part of integration & multiculturalism
  • State voter information and outreach in the US less often focused on newly naturalised voters (see work of NZ Electoral Commission)

Policy Box

In just a few years, non-citizen voting transformed from a non-issue to a highly politicised policy agenda in light of debates on state voting rights' provisions and comprehensive immigration reform. Since 2010, accusations of non-citizens' illegally voting in elections led around a dozen states to pass strict Voter identification laws, often including a photo ID. This debate intensified after the US Supreme Court struck down section 4(b) of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, in its 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. As a result, newly naturalized citizens will face disproportionately greater obstacles to exercise their right to vote. At the same time, New York City council started to discuss opening the right to vote in city elections to all legal residents, regardless of citizenship.

Real beneficiaries

How many non-EU immigrants are eligible to vote?

Besides residents in 6 MD towns, 0% of non-citizens are eligible to vote in US elections. Only around 1/2 of the foreign-born have become US citizens, leaving the 13.3m LPR disenfranchised.

Permanent Residence

Key Findings

Many categories of immigrants have no path to LPR status (aka ‘Green Card’); in comparison, eligible immigrants face relatively high fees, a second-class status and fewer rights than US citizens

Policy Indicators

How easily can immigrants become long-term residents?

Compared to the US ranked 25th, temporary residents have a more clear and secure path to become legal permanent residents (LPRs) in 24 of the 37 other MIPEX countries (CA, NZ and most European countries, e.g. Nordics and PT/ES). Under the current system, temporary residents in the US are often ineligible to apply, must pay a much higher fee and ultimately obtain a more insecure status and weaker rights, all of which can delay or discourage their long-term integration in US society.  

Dimension 1: Eligibility

  • No innovations since 1990 to the basic system for immigrants to become LPRs
  • Discretionary schemes allow residents to apply in the US like other traditional countries of immigration; right to permanent residence exists after 5 years in Europe under EU law (see also standards in NO, CH, UK)
  • Refugees and asylees are eligible to become lawful permanent residents 1 year after receiving asylum or resettlement
  • Many entering on temporary visas have no clear path to adjust their status as LPRs, including immigrants the US tries to attract like international students and highly-skilled workers (instead, see CA, Nordics, PT/ES)

Dimension 2: Conditions

  • For those eligible, conditions in law are not unfavorable, but fees are among the highest in MIPEX countries and procedures the longest (see instead targets set in Nordics and standars set across Europe) 

Dimension 3: Security of status

  • Immigrants are more uncertain about obtaining and keeping a Green Card than permanent residents in 34 other countries; the process leaves immigrants slightly insecure about their status, with US provisions receiving the 2nd lowest score, alongside only restrictive IE, LV and TU
  • Immigrants can wait years to obtain a Green Card and lose them more easily in the US than similar statuses in most other countries (e.g. for relatively minor crimes, failure to file taxes, or travel abroad for more than 6 months). Decisions to deport legal permanent residence do not need to balance these reasons with their personal circumstances tying them to the US; Not even people living there for decades, since childhood, or with children are fully protected, because standards to cancel removal orders are very high (see instead standards in Western Europe and, to some extent, AU and CA)

Dimension 4: Rights Associated

  • LPRs must get by in society and the labour market with less support than US citizens, with weaker rights than 30 other countries (see e.g. CA, IE, UK, most other EU countries)
  • Green-card holders are free to work and study in the US, as in most countries
  • Since 1996, many cannot use federal benefits in their first 5 years in the country, unlike in nearly all MIPEX countries (except AU, CY, KR, NZ, TU)

Policy Box

Access to public benefits is very limited in the first 5 years of legal residence and only available in emergency situations. Only a few programs are available for all legal residents: Head Start, the National School Lunch Program, and the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program (WIC).  Refugees and asylees are generally eligible for public benefits if they meet the requirements. Access to Medicaid and Medicare, the programs covering medical services for low-income people and the elderly, has been restricted since 1996 to lawful permanent residents who have at least 5 years’ legal residence and meet certain conditions. Since 2009, states have the ability to restore Medicaid to children and pregnant women. Non-US citizens also have restricted access to the Food Stamp Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Assistance for Disabled Immigrants. This limited access depends on people’s immigration status, duration of residence, and income, although access and eligibility varies from state-to-state. Since 2003, the children of LPRs are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act fully covers lawful permanent residents after five years’ residence. Before then, lawful permanent residents have access to the health insurance exchanges and premium and costsharing subsidies. Given non-US citizens’ restricted access to benefits, it is not surprising that the use of benefits like Medicaid, SNAP, cash assistance, and social security is much lower in terms of rates and amounts among low-income foreign-children and adults than comparable low-income native-born Americans (families living below 200% of poverty line). For more, see FR/US comparative study.

Real beneficiaries

How many immigrants are long-term residents?

13.3 million LPRs were living in the US on 1 January 2012, according to DHS estimates. Around 1 million immigrants have become LPRs every year between 2005-12. These DHS estimates suggest that most LPRs are long-settled in the US. Around 54% acquired LPR before 2005. Plus, over 1/2 of 'new' LPR are not 'new arrivals' but non-citizens already residing in the US and adjusting their status to LPR. Around 1/4 of these non-citizens adjusting their status are resettled refugees and recognized refugees (known asylees). The rest are certain categories of family members, temporary workers, foreign students or undocumented immigrants. Given that 2/3 of LPRs are issued for family reasons, it is not surprising that women and married people are over-represented among annual LPR beneficiaries. LPRs are diverse, with origins all around the globe. MX citizens only account for 25% of LPRs. CH, PH and IN citizens account for 4-5% of LPRs each. 75% of LPRs are concentrated in just 10 states: 58% in CA (3.4m or 25.6%), NY (1.7m or 12.5%), TX (1.3m or 10%), FL (1.3m or 10%), followed by NJ, IL, MA, VA, WA and AZ.

Outcome indicators

How often do immigrants become long-term residents?

The vast majority of legally present immigrants in the US are LPRs, according to 2012 DHS estimates. The level could be 70-90% depending on whether LPRs are compared to the estimated stock of temporary residents (1.9m) or recent arrivals (5.4m of temporary workers/students). At first glance, this level of permanent residence seems similar to Europe's long-established major destination countries (FR, IT, UK). However the US is the one MIPEX country with a large undocumented population (11.4m or about 1/2 of the non-citizen population in the US). In contrast, the number of undocumented across the EU was roughly estimated in 2008 at only 1.9-3.8 million or 7-13% of the foreign population. LPRs only account for 45-50% of non-citizens in the US after adding in the undocumented. This share of permanent residence is below many major destinationa countries in Europe and only comparable to countries such as AT and DE where many immigrants are left as 'second-class citizens' for different reasons (the demanding requirements for naturalization). Overall, the number of permanent residents strongly reflects countries' path to permanent residence and citizenship. In the US, undocumented and many temporary residents have no clear path to LPR status. In addition, permanent residents may remain non-citizens for years/decades if they cannot pay the high fee or take enough English/civics courses to pass the test to become US citizens.

Access to Nationality

Key Findings

High fees, long backlogs and limited courses defer the dream of US citizenship for many new Americans

Potential Beneficiaries

Who can become a citizen?

8.8 million legal permanent residents are eligible to become American citizens, according to 2012 estimates. This represents 66% of all legal permanent residents, but only 40% of all immigrants, which includes the undocumented and temporary residents, such as students and workers. 60% of these potential citizens live in just 4 states: California, New York, Texas and Florida.

Policy Indicators

How easily can immigrants become citizens?

Immigrants able to become permanent residents are slightly encouraged to become US citizens and dual nationals in order to fully participate in American public life (see box). As a nation of immigrants, its core principles on citizenship are shared with the other major countries of immigration (AU, CA, FR, NZ, UK) and newer destinations that have been inspired to reform: five-years’ residence (13 MIPEX countries), some form of citizenship entitlement for children (18) and dual nationality (25). Still, the fees, preparation and backlogs keep many eligible immigrants deferring their dreams of American citizenship. Immigrants are better able to become citizens and learn English and civics in other traditional countries of immigration (e.g. AU, CA, NZ) with lower fees and more free courses.

Dimension 1: Eligibility

The eligibility rules are similar to other major countries of immigration (e.g. AU, CA, FR, IE, NZ, PT, UK). 5 years for ordinary applicants and 3 years for spouses of US citizens are the most common standards internationally.
Universal birthright citizenship is the norm all across South and North America, including the US and CA, with evidence of so-called ‘birth tourism’ extremely rare in these countries or elsewhere. 

Dimension 2: Conditions

Compared to the US, immigrants in AU, CA, NZ and several European countries (e.g. DE, NO, PT) receive better support to succeed as new citizens. In these countries, enough free language and civics courses are guaranteed for all applicants or, at least, the most disadvantaged, while those completing the equivalent of high school English and civics are exempt. Fees are also much lower than in US. Fees rose by 69% in 2007 to $680 today. Becoming an American is more expensive than becoming a citizen in 30 of the 38 MIPEX countries (only higher in AT, GR, IE, NL, SK, CH, UK). Internationally, the average fee is around $300, while waivers exist in 11 European countries, including for refugees.

Dimension 3: Security of status

The US procedure suffers from growing backlogs without any legal time limits, leaving applicants slightly insecure in their status (see efforts in IE and ES, targets in Nordics, and limits in Benelux and PT). New American citizens also enjoy weaker protections against statelessness than citizens of many European countries.

Dimension 4: Dual nationality

The United States has long tolerated dual nationality for immigrants and American-born citizens. Now the US is joined by the majority of MIPEX countries and the majority of countries of origin since the 1990s.

Policy Box

Since 2011, citizenship Public Education and Awareness Initiatives have been launched to inform and encourage  eligible Green Card holders to become US citizens. US Citizenship and Immigration Services' (USCIS) first nationwide campaign included paid advertisements and new free print and web resources. The campaign targeted states with high immigrant populations and explained the naturalisation procedure and benefits. Since 2009, USCIS has provided free citizenship resources, information sessions and grants. Campaigns have also been launched by the US Conference of Mayors and leading grassroots organisations (National Partnership for New Americans, New Americans Campaign and CitizenshipWorks, for international examples see AU, DE, IE, NZ). 

Real beneficiaries

How many immigrants are becoming citizens?

The number of naturalisations per year had risen over the past decade from 450,000-600,000 from 2002-2005 to around 700,000-750,000 from 2009-2012. The reasons are the increase in the number of eligible applicants, restrictions on benefits for non-US citizens and a greater tolerance of dual nationality in major sending countries. The number of naturalisations peaked at over 1 million in 2008, before the introduction of higher application fees and the presidential election. Numbers have slowly increased again to 779,929 in 2013. But the backlog also grows, up to 390,000 unprocessed applications in 2012. 

Contextual factors

What other factors explain why non-EU immigrants become citizens?

  • Most long-settled in the US
  • Mostly family immigrants in US likely to stay
  • Majority from less developed countries thus likely to naturalise
  • Majority from countries allowing dual nationality
  • Noncitizens have lower wages and greater exposure to poverty than US citizens
  • 50% or 25m of immigrant adults and school-age children are limited English proficient (LEP)

Outcome indicators

How often do immigrants become citizens?

Just 47% of the foreign-born (19.3 million) have become US citizens. US naturalisation levels are slightly below average for developed countries and far below the levels in AU and CA.  Countries' citizenship policies are the strongest factor determining their success at naturalisation, especially for men and women from developing countries. The high fees, limited courses and administrative obstacles likely discourage many permanently settled immigrants from becoming full American citizens. Naturalisation also seems to lead to better employment outcomes and higher levels of political participation for certain naturalising immigrants.


Key Findings

Potential victims of discrimination have the clearest path to justice in the US and CA under their world-leading anti-discrimination laws and equality policies 

Policy Indicators

Is everyone effectively protected from racial/ethnic, religious, and nationality discrimination in all areas of life?

People in the US (and CA) enjoy the strongest laws to protect them against discrimination. As models for other countries of immigration, AU and NZ are trying to fill gaps in their legislation, while the few Western European countries with longstanding legislation are trying to make theirs easier to use through comprehensive single laws and bodies (e.g. FI, FR, IE SE, UK). Other European countries are still learning how to use their relatively recent laws (strong but new in BG, HU, RO).

Dimension 1: Definitions

  • Equal opportunities legislation guarantees that no legal resident can be denied opportunities because of their race, ethnicity, religion, national origin or citizenship, as in around half the MIPEX countries
  • US anti-discrimination law also limits accent discrimination and language requirements
  • Explicit definitions against multiple discrimination and racial profiling (see also CA and UK)

Dimension 2: Fields of application

  • Discrimination is fully prohibited in all areas of public life, as in CA, IE, UK and 12 other countries

Dimension 3: Enforcement mechanisms

  • Potential victims of discrimination in the US can count on the strongest mechanisms to enforce the law, ranking 1st out of the 38 countries
  • Civil society organizations can support potential discrimination victims in their cases or file civil actions. 
  • Victims with limited English proficiency are allowed free
  • interpreters in federal court and state courts that receive federal funds
  • Courts are used to these cases and regularly accept statistical evidence and situation testing to prove discrimination
  • Civil and criminal cases are well enforced, but still lengthy

Dimension 4: Equality policies

  • Relatively strong equality bodies and policies in the US alongside AU/CA/NZ and several leading European countries (e.g.  FI/NO/SE, FR, NZ, PT, UK)
  • Across government, disadvantaged groups can benefit from affirmative action as well as support for minority businesses, for instance through ‘supplier diversity’
  • The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division takes the lead on promoting equal opportunities
  • In cases against the government, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigates the facts of their case, can instigate its own proceeding and enforces its findings
  • Their work would improve if potential victims could obtain information and advice from national or local agencies, as in most other MIPEX countries, including BE, FR, NL, SE and UK



New results of MIPEX

We are pleased to announce that the new results of MIPEX (2014-2020) will be published by the end of 2020. MIPEX 2020 will include 52 European and non-European countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, EU28, India, Japan, Mexico, US and much more. Stay tuned!