Two Years Out, Data Shows New Department of Defense Policies’ Impact on Naturalization

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Two Years Out, Data Shows New Department of Defense Policies’ Impact on Naturalization

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Data from USCIS over the last two years has demonstrated that two policies issued by the Department of Defense in the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2018 have dramatically reduced naturalizations through the military while massively increasing denial rates.

As background, during a period of hostilities designated by the President, such as the War on Terror that has been in effect since September 11, 2001, individuals serving in the armed forces are granted an expedited track towards naturalization.  In practice, hundreds of thousands of individuals have obtained U.S. citizenship through military service in times of hostilities, peaking with nearly a quarter-million people naturalizing during the First World War – 244,300 from 1918 to 1920 – and over one hundred thousand during the Second – 109,392 from 1943 to 1945.

Since the enactment of the modern immigration laws in 1952, numbers have been more modest, but as seen below, historically there have been massive spikes in military naturalizations during all periods of hostility – the Korean conflict from 1950 to 1955; the Vietnam Hostilities from 1961 to 1978; the Persian Gulf Conflict from 1990 to 1991; and the War on Terror from 2001 to present:

Notable on the chart, however, is the precipitous drop from approximately 7,000 naturalizations in 2017 to approximately 4,000 in 2018.  Broken down numerically, the beginnings of yet more disturbing trends can be seen:

The average number of military applications received by USCIS from 2016-2017 was 10,339, compared to only 3,233 in 2018 and 3,506 in 2019.  Denial rates on these applications are also rising – the average from 2010 to 2017 was 8.28%, yet 2019’s denial rate is over double that at 17.14%.

So what is causing the massive increases in denial rates, the massive decreases in applications, and the precipitous drop in numbers of people naturalized?  Looking at quarter-by-quarter data, it appears that two policies are having the largest influence. On October 17, 2017, the Department of Defense enacted two new policies that seemed, facially at least, minor administrative hurdles to those trying to naturalize through military service.  One changed who was able to fill out a required form for military naturalization from an individual’s immediate superior to an officer of Colonel rank or above.  Another added new security screens and waiting periods before noncitizens may even join the military.

Other policies also may be having an impact – for example, the naturalization at basic training program has been terminated and multiple posts where individuals were able to naturalize have been closed – but quarter-by-quarter data seems to demonstrate that the above two policies are the primary reasons behind these changes.  In the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2017, covering July through September, immediately prior to the enactment of the above policies, USCIS received 3,132 applications for military naturalization, approved 2,123, and denied 214, or 9.2%.  The very next quarter, where these policies were in effect, USCIS only received 1,069 applications, approved 755, and denied 191, or 20.2%.   As seen above, this quarter was not an anomaly and these numbers have not recovered.

For a more in-depth discussion of these changes and the implications of them, please see here.

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