U.S. Citizenship Application Processing Delays Reach One Year

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

Is almost one year behind in processing applications for U.S. citizenship as well as other legal immigration categories.

U.S. citizens seeking permanent residency for a brother or sister overseas must wait more than 5 years in some cases.

These long processing delays call into question whether or not the agency would be able to handle the added influx of applications if the roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. were able to apply for permanent residency, which would provide them with legal work authorization.

According to USCIS, the Washington, D.C., field office is currently processing U.S. citizenship applications that were submitted to the agency nine months ago in November of 2015.

The processing delay for naturalization applications is even longer at the Cincinnati, Ohio, and the St. Louis, Missouri, field offices, where officials are processing applications submitted on August 30, 2015.

The Baltimore, Maryland, field office is backed up to December 3, 2015 and the DeMoines, Iowa, is working on applications filed on October 15, 2015.

According to USCIS, the normal processing time for citizenship cases is 5 months. In addition to a paper application and payment of the $680 filing fee, individuals must appear for an in-person interview, where they take a written and verbal test before their case is approved.

The processing delay for I-130 petitions for a U.S. citizen’s brother or sister’s permanent residency at the USCIS California service center dates back to May 17, 2011 and the Vermont service center backlog starts at November 7, 2011.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has promised a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump opposes a pathway to citizenship and favors deportation for anyone living illegally in the country. However, Trump has said those individuals would be able to apply for re-entry into the U.S. through a legal process.

The USCIS press office said the agency does not comment on pending or potential legislation. To date, the agency has not publicly estimated how many additional employees it would need if immigration reform was signed into law or how much additional funding would be required to handle the influx of applications.

USCIS gets the majority of its funding from the application fees it charges. For example, a naturalization application fee is $595 plus a biometrics fee of $85, which does not include any legal fees to assist with the preparation.

If millions of undocumented immigrants were able to apply for green cards under an immigration reform package, it is unlikely that USCIS could solely operate on funding from application fees. Clinton has to explain how she would find the funds to handle the added influx of undocumented immigrants’ applications if she is elected president.

In addition to fee revenue from legal immigration applications, Congress would have to appropriate billions of taxpayer dollars to help USCIS handle the implementation of an immigration reform bill designed to process millions of illegal immigrants’ cases.

Given the current long processing times, it’s clear any immigration reform package Congress considers should require USCIS to eliminate its backlog of pending legal immigration applications first as a matter of fairness.