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A low-cost information nudge increases citizenship application rates among low-income immigrants


We show that an information nudge increased the rate of American citizenship applications among low-income immigrants eligible for a federal fee waiver. Approximately half of the 9 million naturalization-eligible immigrants qualify for a federal programme that waives the cost of the citizenship application for low-income individuals. However, take-up of this fee waiver programme remains low1,2,3. Here we use a randomized field experiment to test the effectiveness of a low-cost intervention (a ‘nudge’) that informed low-income immigrants about their eligibility for the fee waiver. We find that the information nudge increased the rate of citizenship applications by about 8.6 percentage points from 24.5% in the control group to 33.1% in the treatment group (ordinary least squares regression with robust standard errors (d.f. = 933); P = 0.015; 95% confidence interval ranged from 1.7 to 15.4 percentage points). We found no evidence that the nudge was less effective for poorer or less educated immigrants. These findings contribute to the literature that addresses the incomplete take-up of public benefits by low-income populations4,5,6,7,8,9,10 and suggest that lack of information is an important obstacle to citizenship among low-income immigrants who demonstrate an interest in naturalization.

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Fig. 1: Registrants in New York City.
Fig. 2: Effects of fee waiver notice on naturalization application rates among low-income immigrants.

Data availability

Preanalysis plans are at EGAP ( Replication data are available at the Harvard Dataverse with the identifier

Code availability

Replication code is available at the Harvard Dataverse with the identifier


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We thank V. Bahl, S. Morehead, L. Gonzalez-Murphy, M. Francis, E. Yessoh, K. Bansak and J. Gest for advice; R. Koslowski for facilitating our partnership with the Office for New Americans in New York State. This research was funded by Robin Hood (SPO 123714), The New York Community Trust (P16-000101) and the UPS Endowment Fund. We also acknowledge funding from the Ford Foundation for operational support of the Immigration Policy Laboratory at Stanford University. The funders had no role in the data collection, analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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M.H., D.L., D.D.L. and J.H. conceived the research, M.H., D.L. and J.H. designed the analyses, M.H., D.L., J.H. and D.D.L. helped with data collection, M.H., D.L. and J.H. conducted the analyses, and M.H., D.L., D.D.L. and J.H. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to David D. Laitin.

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Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Tables 1–10, Supplementary Figures 1–5, and Supplementary References.

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Hotard, M., Lawrence, D., Laitin, D.D. et al. A low-cost information nudge increases citizenship application rates among low-income immigrants. Nat Hum Behav 3, 678–683 (2019).

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