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Application Logjam May Take Years To Unblock

Friday, January 18, 2008

The director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said yesterday that it will take the federal government three years to clear a huge surge of citizenship applications filed last summer and return processing times to a six-month standard.

USCIS received 3 million applications for naturalization, green cards and other immigration benefits last summer, compared with 1.8 million in 2006. Officials attributed the influx to immigrants seeking to apply before a well-publicized fee increase took effect July 30, concern over the harsh tone of the nation's debate over illegal immigration and interest in the 2008 elections.

As a result, USCIS announced it will take 18 months to process applications filed after June 1, 2007, up from about seven months.

Testifying to a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee, USCIS Director Emilio T. Gonzalez said that the agency has detailed 84 workers to regional service centers, and beefed up its contract staff. It has hired 274 of a projected 723 new adjudicators using new revenue from fee increases and identified 469 retired adjudicators that the Office of Personnel Management has given USCIS permission to rehire.

"Our two year response plan will help us accomplish reducing processing times to six months by the third quarter of Fiscal 2010," which ends June 30, Gonzalez said in his written testimony.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chairman of the immigration subcommittee, said in an interview that she believes that Gonzalez "cares about this, but I also think that timeline is unacceptable. This was an entirely foreseeable surge. . . . We're going to do our best to get them the resources they need to properly process applications."

-- Spencer S. Hsu

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