According to some estimates, about 40 percent of all people who hold green cards, the gateway to citizenship, do not naturalize.
Of those, many may want to apply but are deterred by a variety of reasons, including the $680 application fee or the requirement that most applicants must prove they can read, write and speak basic English, immigrants’ advocates said. Some countries — including Japan, China and Iran — generally do not permit their citizens to acquire a second nationality, forcing a difficult choice.
But alongside those potential applicants, there is a vast population of green card holders who have everything they need to naturalize, including the language skills, money, sufficient time of residence in the United States, permission from their native countries and a clean criminal record. All they lack is the desire.
They simply do not want it — or want it enough — and cite various reasons, including an overriding patriotism for their native country, disaffection for the policies of the United States government, even simple fecklessness.
“So often in textbooks about immigration, the cover illustration is the naturalization ceremony with the American flag and a group of immigrants, highly diverse by race,” said Alan Hyde, a Rutgers University professor who teaches immigration law and was a co-author of a recent study about why some people do not naturalize. “So much that is written on immigration just assumes that they come, they assimilate, they get green cards and they naturalize.”
But, he added, a different reality exists for so many other immigrants — those who do not want to naturalize. “Most people don’t know it’s a distinctive feature of America,” Mr. Hyde said.