By: Tyler Curry

Immigration and its reform has been a goal for many presidents throughout history. When President Obama issued his executive order to grant amnesty to nearly 5 million undocumented citizens, positions became more polarized than ever. Though Republicans and Democrats are at odds, it seems the individuals affected – documented and undocumented – bare the grunt.

Immigration law can be roughly divided into two categories: undocumented persons and legal immigrants. Undocumented persons are not living in the US under the authority of the US government and risk deportation, if discovered. Legal immigrants on the other hand, have most of the same legal and social rights as those born in the US.

Approved by the United States, legal immigrants can again be divided into two broad categories: naturalized persons and permanent residents. A permanent resident receives a permanent resident card or “green card”. They can live anywhere within the US, work lawfully, apply to become a citizen, get a driver’s license, travel, join the Armed Forces, buy property and have other legal resources. Whereas, a naturalized person was once a permanent resident that completed the citizenship process to have all the rights and protections as a birthright citizen, except the ability to serve as president or vice president.

Naturalized citizens cannot have their protection or legal immigration status revoked. A permanent resident can have their green card status revoked and they can be deported. The most common reason for this is when the person is found guilty of felony charges. Naturalized citizens can get US passports, sometimes making international travel significantly easier. They can vote and sponsor family members for green cards.

We used Visart software and data published by the Department of Homeland Security (US). In this research, data about permanent residents and Naturalized Persons between 2004 and 2013 is analyzed.


The following table shows the raw numbers of naturalized persons and permanent residents from years 2004 to 2013. The chart indicates that, in years 2004 through 2007, there were about 500 thousand more permanent residents than naturalized citizens. In 2008, the number of naturalized persons rose dramatically from 660,477 to 1,046,539 while the number of permanent residents stayed fairly constant. Look at the grand total of legal immigrants in 2008. It is significantly higher than most other years.

From years 2009 to 2012, once again, permanent residents strongly outnumbered naturalized persons. In 2013 the number of permanent residents decreased and the number of naturalized persons increased, bringing the two values closer together. The data suggests that something happened in 2008 that dramatically increased the number of legal residents. Perhaps due to the Immigration Reform Bill that President Bush signed into law, many permanent residents decided to become naturalized citizens. This does not explain how the number of permanent residents stayed the same. Although an amnesty bill was proposed in 2007, which would have given illegal immigrants the chance to apply for status as a permanent resident, the bill did not pass.

Comparison of Permanent Residents & Naturalized Persons over 2004-2013 years  

The following line graph visually illustrates the raw data from above, making the 2008 spike in naturalized persons strikingly evident. This spike can be attributed to a similar spike in permanent residents in 2006. A portion of these permanent residents work their way through the system to obtain their citizenship which explains the spike two years later.

Variation of Immigration Types over 2004-2013 years

And now let’s take a look at the maps below that show the distribution of the Permanent Residents in 2013 year. This map shows where people obtaining their  permanent resident status in 2013 are coming from.

Countries in purple, Mexico, Colombia, India and China, have the most people applying for permanent resident status in 2013.

Map of Permanent Residents in 2013 by Country

Now let’s take a look at which states these permanent residents reside, in the US. Remember that legal permanent residents often remain with that status for decades. This map refers to the total number of permanent residents in a state, regardless of when they obtained their status. Interestingly, most LPRs prefer to live in California, New York and Florida. They also like Texas and Illinois. These states are also typical entry points for most legal residents especially those coming from Mexico.

Map of Permanent Residents in 2013 by State Now, let’s find out how these numbers vary by Sex, Age, and Marital Status. Persons obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status in 2013 by Age

Clearly, both men and women seeking to become legal residents are doing so in their early adulthood. This is the time of life when people typically make life decisions such as careers and marriage and where to reside. It makes sense that obtaining legal status would be done in this time too. Perhaps folks get married, then immigrate or finish education and then immigrate. Women are getting more green cards than men after age 20. Before that age both sexes are getting their legal status at about the same rate. Before 20, parents are probably acting on behalf of their children, and so gender differences don’t play a role. After 20, men and women often have different social expectations. Therefore women may immigrate and/or seek legal status more than men.

Turn to Permanent Residents’ Marital Status. Take a look at the pivot tables and charts below.

Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status in 2013 by Marital Status

As you can see, married people, both male and female, account for the largest number of people obtaining their green card. So, the most of people that obtained Lawful Permanent Resident Status are married. Single people, again for sexes, account for the second largest group. There are more female widows than male widows and more female divorced/separated than male. Given the ages of the top 10 years were 20 years old to 45, it seems intuitive that most are either married or single. Remaining divorced and death of spouses tend to happen later in life.

Naturalized Persons, were once Legal Permanent Residents. It is interesting to look at the same type of maps and tables to compare the data. Take a look at the maps below which show us the distribution of Naturalized Persons in 2013 year.

Map of Naturalized Persons in 2013 by Country

Like people obtaining legal permanent resident status, Mexico, Columbia, China and India have the most people becoming citizens.

Map of Naturalized Persons in 2013 by State

Map of naturalized citizens by state is almost an exact copy of the map for number of permanent residents.

Look at data for naturalized persons in the same categories (Sex, Age, Marital Status, and Occupation) as the data for legal permanent residents in 2013. The first table shows sex and age.

Persons Naturalized in 2013 by Age

Ages under 18 are not on the table for Naturalized Citizens because the law states that all applicants must be 18 years old. While the raw data differs slightly between how many people get naturalized and how many obtain LPR status the trends remain the same. The top 10 ages for both sexes is not significantly different from Permanent Residents’ top age ranges. The trend for women outpacing men is even more pronounced in the statistics of persons naturalized.

Turn to Naturalized Persons’ Marital Status. Take a look at the pivot tables and charts below.

Naturalized Persons in 2013 by Marital Status

Married men and women are getting naturalized at a much higher rate than others. Perhaps, people who have made commitment to a life partner, also want the commitment of citizenship. Single people again are in 2nd place. The 3rd place is divorces/separated also for both sexes, like widowed on the 4th and other on the 5th. Age of the people seeking to become citizens likely affects their marital status, just like age affects the marital status of men and women getting their green card.

Data Sources

Department of Homeland Security Permanent Residents (Green Card): Naturalization (Citizenship):