Making Sense of Naturalization: What Citizenship Means to Naturalizing Immigrants in Canada and the United States

Journal of International Migration and Integration, Forthcoming

32 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2015

See all articles by Sofya Aptekar

Sofya Aptekar

University of Massachusetts Boston

Date Written: July 8, 2015


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 analyses 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.

Keywords: naturalization, citizenship, immigration, identity, Canada, United States

Suggested Citation

Aptekar, Sofya, Making Sense of Naturalization: What Citizenship Means to Naturalizing Immigrants in Canada and the United States (July 8, 2015). Journal of International Migration and Integration, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Sofya Aptekar (Contact Author)

University of Massachusetts Boston ( email )

Boston, MA
United States

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