U.S. citizenship candidates have their application reviewed before taking the oath of citizenship at a naturalization ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 27, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) (.)

Study: Immigration-related paperwork costs $30 billion annually

A center-right think tank released a study analyzing 150 immigration-related regulations and found it translates into 98.8 million hours of paperwork and a $30 billion dollar tab to individuals and businesses.

The American Action Forum (AFF), founded by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and previously Sen. John McCain’s economic adviser during his presidential campaign, wanted to highlight in this study how complicated and costly our current immigration system is.

While many might not be surprised by the fact that the system is complex, this is one of the few studies aimed at quantifying how burdensome the process can be for millions of immigrants.  The study points out there are seven different cabinet agencies that handle more than a half a billion annual responses from immigrants and current U.S. citizens.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) alone has more than 100 forms for aspiring U.S. citizens, and does 81 million hours of paperwork at a cost of $26.9 billion.

The path to naturalization for skilled workers can take up to 16 forms and approximately 18 hours of paperwork at a cost of at least $2,500, according to the study.  “The maze of forms, agencies, and costs makes the current immigration system anything but efficient,” the report states.   But the one that takes up the most hours is the I-9 form used to verify the identity and legal status of workers in this country – it takes 40.6 million hours annually.



Costs (in millions)


Homeland Security


$26.9 billion




$1.6 billion




$718 million




$292 million




$160 million


Health and Human Services


$86 million




$15 million



98.8 million

$29.8 billion


Source:  American Action Forum

“It is perhaps no surprise that DHS imposes the highest costs and collects 116 forms,” claims the study, since Homeland houses Citizenship and Immigration Services.  The report claims the application for naturalization N-400 imposes 4.2 million hours of paperwork alone. With ten pages and 39 questions, the government says it should take 6 hours to complete.

This is not the first study that points to the difficulty of navigating the immigration system. A recent Pew Hispanic Center study stated that a growing number of Mexican-born legal immigrants are not citizens – yet more than nine in ten Hispanic immigrants say they would have become a citizen if they could. Among Hispanic legal residents, 26 percent said that language and other personal barriers hindered them from pursuing citizenship.  Financial aid and administrative barriers were identified as the main issues for an additional 18 percent of immigrants.

“The costs of neglecting regulatory immigration reform are already too high,” concluded the AFF report.  The question now is whether an immigration overhaul would simplify procedures and cost less than it does today.


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