Immigrant naturalization is both a barometer of inclusiveness and immigrant incorporation and a mechanism of social reproduction of the nation. This article reports on an interview-based study in suburban Toronto and New Jersey that investigated how immigrants explain their decisions to acquire citizenship. It analyzes respondents’ understandings of naturalization in light of different theories of citizenship and different dimensions of the concept. The study contributes to the literature by showing how many American immigrants interviewed while going through the naturalization process resisted framing naturalization as identity-changing, situating it instead as a common-sense move following permanent settlement and belonging. In contrast, Canadian respondents were more likely to characterize naturalization as an active process that tied them to a positively valued nation. While immigrant respondents in both countries were interested in voting and travel benefits of citizenship, only American respondents sought the protection that citizenship would afford in an anti-immigrant policy climate. I discuss how naturalization as a tool of civic integration and political empowerment resonates with immigrants’ own understandings of the process and consider the role played by the institutional contexts around naturalization and immigration more generally.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
More important than official dual citizenship policies of receiving countries are the policies of sending countries, which may make it impossible to give up citizenship or rescind citizenship upon naturalization elsewhere (Bloemraad 2004).
Despite assurances that talking to me and the research assistant had nothing to do with their citizenship application, I cannot rule out that some informants may have felt pressured to participate or were influenced by the setting, which can feel threatening, particularly in the USA. At the same time, responses presented below indicate that many of immigrants interviewed were not intimidated, and minimized the significance of naturalization.
The presidential election was particularly salient in the minds of American respondents, given the much publicized 2008 primaries and the presence of a television tuned to CNN in the waiting room where interviews were conducted in 2007 and 2008. These factors may have had a priming effect, resulting in a higher proportion of American respondents than Canadian respondents who said they wanted to vote when asked how they decided to naturalize.
I am drawing a distinction between naturalization in order to become American or Canadian and naturalization making the respondent feel American or Canadian.
Aitken, R. (2008). Notes on the Canadian exception: security certificates in critical context. Citizenship Studies, 12(4), 381–396.
Aptekar, S. (2014). Citizenship status and patterns of inequality in the United States and Canada. Social Science Quarterly 95(2): 343--359.
Aptekar, S. (2015). The road to citizenship: what naturalization means for immigrants and the United States. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Balistreri, K. S., & Van Hook, J. (2004). The more things change the more they stay the same: Mexican naturalization before and after welfare reform. International Migration Review, 38(1), 113–130.
Barnes, A. (2009). Displacing danger: managing crime through deportation. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 10(4), 431–445.
Basch, L., Glick Schiller, N., & Szanton Blanc, C. (1994). Nations unbound: transnational projects, postcolonial predicaments, and deterritorialized nation-states. Langhorne, PA: Gordon and Breach.
Bauder, H. (2008). Immigration debate in Canada: how newspapers reported, 1996–2004. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 9(3), 289–310.
Bean, F., & Stevens, G. (2003). America’s newcomers and the dynamics of diversity. New York: Russell Sage.
Bloemraad, I. (2004). Who claims dual citizenship? The limits of postnationalism, the possibilities of transnationalism and the persistence of traditional citizenship. International Migration Review, 38, 389–426.
Bloemraad, I. (2006). Becoming a citizen: incorporating immigrants and refugees in the United States and Canada. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Bloemraad, I., Korteweg, A., & Yurdakul, G. (2008). Citizenship and immigration: multiculturalism, assimilation, and challenges to the nation-state. Annual Review of Sociology, 2008(34), 153–179.
Brettell, C. (2006). Political belonging and cultural belonging: immigration status, citizenship, and identity among four immigrant populations in a southwestern city. American Behavioral Scientist, 50, 70–99.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2002). Occupational outlook handbook, 2002–2003 edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor. Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office.
Gilbertson, G. (2004). Regulating transnational citizens in the post-1996 welfare reform era: Dominican immigrants in New York City. Latino Studies, 2004(2), 90–110.
Honig, B. (2001). Democracy and the foreigner. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Howard, R. (1998). Being Canadian: citizenship in Canada. Citizenship Studies, 2(1), 133–152.
Jones-Correa, M. (1998). Between two nations: the political predicament of Latinos in New York City. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Joshee, R., & Derwing, T. (2005). The unmaking of citizenship education for adult immigrants in Canada. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 6(1), 61–80.
Joppke, C. (2007). Beyond national models: civic integration policies for immigrants in Western Europe. West European Politics, 30(1), 1–22.
Kivisto, P., & Faist, T. (2007). Citizenship: discourse, theory, and transnational prospects. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Koulouriotis, J. (2011). Ethical considerations in conducting research with non-native speakers of english. TESL Canada Journal, 28, 1.
Li, P. (2003). Deconstructing Canada’s discourse of immigrant integration. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 4(3), 315–333.
Mahler, S., & Siemiatycki, M. (2011). Diverse pathways to immigrant political incorporation: comparative Canadian and US perspectives. American Behavioral Scientist, 2011(55), 1123–1130.
Marger, M. N. (2006). Transnationalism or assimilation? Patterns of sociopolitical adaptation among Canadian business immigrants. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 29(5), 882–900.
Massey, D., & Akresh, I. R. (2006). Immigrant intentions and mobility in a global economy: the attitudes and behavior of recently arrived U.S. immigrants. Social Science Quarterly, 87(5), 954–971.
Migration Policy Institute. (2014). Immigrants in the US 1850–2012. MPI Data Hub. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/us-immigration-trends. Accessed 22 January 2015.
Monsivais, G. (2001). Differences in self-identified national orientation among legal Hispanic immigrants to the United States. Dissertation Abstracts International A: The Humanities and Social Sciences, 62, 4.
North, D. S. (1985). The long grey welcome: a study of the American naturalization process. Washington, DC: National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund.
Ong, A. (1999). Flexible citizenship: the cultural logics of transnationality. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Ong, P. M. (2011). Defensive naturalization and anti-immigrant sentiment: Chinese immigrants in three primate metropolises. Asian American Policy Review, 21, 39.
Pantoja, A. D., Ramirez, R., & Segura, G. M. (2001). Citizens by choice, voters by necessity: patterns in political mobilization by naturalized Latinos. Political Research Quarterly, 54(4), 729–750.
Paquet, M. (2012). Beyond appearances: citizenship tests in Canada and the UK. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 13(2), 243–260.
Plascencia, L. (2012). Disenchanting citizenship: Mexican migrants and the boundaries of belonging. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Plascencia, L., Freeman, G., & Setzler, M. (2003). The decline of barriers to immigrant economic and political rights in the American states: 1977–2001. International Migration Review, 37(1), 5–23.
Public Service Employment Act (S.C. 2003, c. 22, ss. 12, 13). Section 39. Preferences, Priorities, and Entitlements. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/P-33.01/page-10.html#h-16.
Soysal, Y. (1994). Limits of citizenship: migrants and postnational membership in Europe. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Statistics Canada. (2013). Immigration and ethnocultural diversity in Canada. National Household Survey, 2011. Analytical Document http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99-010-x/99-010-x2011001-eng.pdf. Accessed 22 January 2015.
Sumption, M., & Flamm, S. (2012). The economic value of citizenship for immigrants in the United States. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.
US Census Bureau. (2012). The foreign-born population in the United States: 2010 American Community Survey reports. US Department of Commerce. Economics and Statistics Administration. http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/acs-19.pdf. Accessed 22 January 2015.
Van Hook, J., Brown, S. K., & Bean, F. (2006). For love or money? Welfare reform and immigrant naturalization. Social Forces, 85(2), 643–666.
Waldinger, R. (2015). The cross-border connection: immigrants, emigrants, and their homelands. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Wallace Goodman, S. (2010). Naturalisation policies in Europe: exploring patterns of inclusion and exclusion. Florence, Italy: European Union Observatory on Democracy. European University Institute Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies.
Waters, J. (2003). Flexible citizens? Transnationalism and citizenship amongst economic immigrants in Vancouver. The Canadian Geographer, 47(3), 219–234.
Weil, P. (2001). Access to citizenship: a comparison of twenty-five nationality laws. In T. A. Aleinikoff & D. Klusmeyer (Eds.), Citizenship today: global perspectives and practices (pp. 17–35). Washington DC: Carnegie Endowment.
Wilson, S. J. (2003). Immigration and capital accumulation in Canada. In C. M. Beach, A. G. Green, & J. G. Reitz (Eds.), Canadian immigration policy for the 21 st century (pp. 125–196). Kingston, Ontario: John Deutsch Institute for the Study of Economic Policy.
Winter, E. (2014). (Im)possible citizens: Canada’s ‘citizenship bonanza’ and its boundaries. Citizenship Studies, 18(1), 46–62.
About this article
Cite this article
Aptekar, S. Making Sense of Naturalization: What Citizenship Means to Naturalizing Immigrants in Canada and the USA. Int. Migration & Integration 17, 1143–1161 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-015-0458-5