Thursday, July 16, 2020

A Rockier Road to U.S. Citizenship? MPI Survey on Changing Naturalization Procedures

Becoming a citizen benefits immigrants and U.S. communities in a variety of ways, including by promoting integration and enabling immigrants to vote and run for public office. This report presents the Migration Policy Institute’s analysis of a 2019 national survey conducted by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center of 110 naturalization assistance providers. The study aims to understand how U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) naturalization procedures have changed during the Trump administration.

USCIS continues to approve the vast majority of citizenship applications, but the time it takes to process an application has grown considerably due to changing adjudication policies described by service providers in this survey:

  • About one-quarter of survey respondents reported their clients missed interviews when USCIS sent notices to incorrect addresses, sent them too late, or sent them to the attorney but not the applicant.
  • Interviews had doubled in length, from 20–30 minutes to 45–60 minutes, according to one-quarter of respondents.
  • More than one-third reported USCIS more often issued requests for evidence to support applications, especially for documents related to tax compliance and income, continuous residency and physical presence, marriage and child support, and criminal history.
  • USCIS officers asked detailed questions not directly related to citizenship eligibility, and administered the English and civics tests differently, often more strictly, according to 10 percent of respondents.

These changes were underway before a trio of new 2020 developments that threaten to further increase the application backlog and make it more difficult for eligible immigrants to access citizenship: a COVID-19-related suspension of USCIS operations for three months, the likely furlough of two-thirds of the agency’s staff due to a major budget shortfall, and a planned increase in the cost of filing a citizenship application alongside new restrictions on eligibility for fee waivers for low-income applicants.

The ImmigrationProf blog covered a 2019 USCCR report on the citizenship backlog here; a 2020 statement of concern about the impact of COVID-19 events on the backlog is forthcoming and will be posted here.


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