According to recently released government statistics, the Virgin Islands sees about 450-600 new naturalizations each year, but the denial rate in the islands is consistently above that of the U.S. mainland.
St. Thomas, with 430 naturalizations in Fiscal Year 2011, consistently has larger numbers than St. Croix, which had 189 that same year. Similar ratios between the islands were reported in the two prior years. (New citizens on St. John are counted with the St. Thomas group.)
There were 400 naturalizations on St. Thomas in 2009 and 310 in 2010. The numbers for St. Croix were 177 and 188 in those years. The territory-wide totals in the three years were 577 in 2009, 488 in 2010, and 619 in 2011.
Naturalization is not an automatic process; a permanent resident alien has to be more than 18 years old and must have lived in the U.S. for either three years (if married to a citizen) or five years otherwise. And one must not have a serious criminal record. In addition, an applicant must fill out forms, pay substantial fees (totaling $680), and pass a test, in English, on the civics and geography of the U.S.
In the not-too-distant past the immigration official could ask the alien any reasonable question, but in recent years the government provides a list of 100 questions and the answers to those questions. The officials then can only ask questions that are on the list; you have to get six out of ten correct to pass.
Not everyone who starts the process finishes it successfully, with the denial rates varying from place to place in the U.S. The Virgin Islands denial rate (as compared to the sum of the approvals and the denials) was15 percent in 2011, compared to 7.6 percent for the nation as a whole. The denial percentage ratio, between the islands and the mainland, was similar in the two earlier years.
There is no ready explanation for the differential denial percentages, only the raw data is available.
The local governments in the Virgin Islands and in Guam receive the naturalization fees; elsewhere in the country the fees go to the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that handles the naturalization process.
If you multiply the number of naturalizations in FY 2011 (619) by the fees ($680) one pays (and the V.I. government received) the total is $420,920. That’s no small sum, so the local government should be out there beating the drums to encourage eligible aliens to apply.
David North is a resident of Arlington, Virginia, and occasionally writes on governmental issues dealing with the U.S. island territories.