A Bumpy Path to U.S. Citizenship: A Survey of Changing USCIS Practices
Randy Capps, Director of Research for U.S. Programs, Migration Policy Institute (MPI)
Eric Cohen, Executive Director, Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC)
Leon Rodriguez, Partner, Seyfarth; former Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Doris Meissner, Senior Fellow, MPI; former Commissioner, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)
Even as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) continues to approve the lion’s share of naturalization applications it receives, the agency’s average processing times have risen significantly in recent years. The backlog of citizenship cases has grown in 2020, with the naturalization process grinding to a halt for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And it will swell further if USCIS furloughs two-thirds of its staff in August amid a projected $1.2 billion budget shortfall.
Nine million immigrants are eligible to become U.S. citizens but have not done so for a variety of reasons. These include lack of desire to embark on a lengthy process that includes English and civics tests, and barriers such as cost and limited English proficiency. A more recent element has been added to the mix: increasingly strict scrutiny of applications by USCIS officers as the agency shifts its focus from customer service to fraud detection.
The report, A Rockier Road to U.S. Citizenship? Findings of a Survey on Changing Naturalization Procedures, traces the agency’s evolving adjudication standards and procedures for citizenship applications during the Trump administration, drawing on a nationwide survey of naturalization assistance providers administered by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC). The report findings are shared during this MPI webinar, which features officials who oversaw the citizenship process during prior administrations, as well as the study’s lead researcher and the ILRC's executive director.
The discussants examine the increasing obstacles to citizenship as a result of changing USCIS practices, and the effects the pandemic-related shutdown and USCIS financial turmoil could have on the ability of would-be Americans to take the oath of citizenship in the months ahead.