USCIS Director Testifies Before Congress: “Naturalization Delays: Causes, Consequences and Solutions”
February 2, 2008

As many in the U.S. immigrant community are aware, on July 30, 2007 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) dramatically increased filing fees for nearly all of its immigration-related applications. This fee increase was deemed necessary as a means to fund efforts reduce delays in the processing of the numerous applications and petitions filed with USCIS every year. However, nearly seven months after the fees were increased, no significant progress has been made in improving processing efficiency or reducing backlogs. In fact, processing times for many applications have actually doubled.

On January 17, 2008, Emilio T. Gonzalez, Director of USCIS, testified before the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law regarding the extensive delays in the processing of applications and petitions submitted to USCIS.

Gonzalez cites the “dramatic increase in applications and petitions received in the summer of 2007” as the reason for the delays experienced by many. It is estimated that over 3 million applications and petitions were received during the months of June, July and August compared with 1.8 million received during the same period the year before. Included in the 3 million applications were 1.4 million applications for Naturalization which almost doubled the number from last year. Gonzalez states “[s]uch volume in just a short couple of months is unprecedented in the history of immigration services of our nation.”

As a result of “the surge” (as Gonzalez refers to the increase number of applications), USCIS the processing time for naturalization applications has more than doubled from an average of seven months or less to approximately 18 months. Additionally, the average processing time for family-based adjustment of status application increased from 6 months to 12 months.

Gonzalez says that immediately following “the surge”, USCIS expanded work hours, added shifts, sent more staff to the Service Centers and hired additional contract staff. Additionally, USCIS has provided weekly updates on its website indicating where the agency is in the receipting process. USCIS has also begun the process of hiring 1,500 new employees and implementing more advanced training.

Gonzalez reports that USCIS has a plan for the future. USCIS will continue to increase its staff and increase USCIS’ use of technology. Additionally, USCIS hopes to create a more centralized intake process for Naturalization application by establishing a Lockbox where all applications would be sent. Gonzalez reports that with the fee increase, USCIS will be able to respond to the filing “surge” by “spend(ing) over two years worth of fee revenue generated – estimated at $450 million and $480 million.”

Unfortunately, Gonzalez’s plan to reduce delays in application processing will not have an immediate impact. “Our two-year response plan will help us accomplish reducing processing times to six months by third quarter of Fiscal Year 2010.”

However, noticeably absent from Gonzalez’s testimony was any discussion on the most common delay in the processing of naturalization applications: pending FBI name/background check. The only reference made to this form of delay was “[o]ther technology enhancements include improving the background check process…”

Copyright © 2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois