In 2017, more than 925,000 people applied for citizenship in the United States. At the end of 2017, there was a backlog of 729,400 N-400 applications pending. This represents a 87.59% increase compared to the end of 2015, when there was a backlog of only 388,832 applications.
While the number of pending applications continues to grow, so does the processing times of the applications. Here in Denver, the average processing time for an N-400 application rose from approximately 8-9 months during the last few months of 2016 to approximately 13 to 17.5 months today. The election of Donald Trump in November 2016 is a major factor behind the spike in applications and in the huge backlog. Many immigrants eligible for citizenship feared that they could be deported due to Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric. In addition, many were motivated by gaining the right to vote in state and federal elections.
While part of the backlog can be explained by the surge in the number of people applying to become a citizen; that is not the whole story. It is well documented that USCIS is making it more difficult for people to naturalize. One way they do so is by increasing the difficulty of the English section of the N-400 exam. While the exam itself has not changed, the N-400 application went from 8 pages to 20 pages. In addition, the length of the questions increased. USCIS requires that applicants understand every question on the application. While a simple yes/no answer sufficed in the past, many officers are now requiring people to explain the meaning of terms such as “communism” and “totalitarianism.” This trend is alarming because it goes against decades of past practice. In the past, a person needs only a 5th grade vocabulary to pass the test. In practice, this is no longer the case. In addition, USCIS has become much stricter and has granted far fewer waivers (Form N-648) for the English and civics portions of the test.
This past Election Day (November 6, 2018), was a very important midterm election. It also happened to be that day that one of my clients took the oath of citizenship and was sworn in as a United States citizen. While I encourage all of my clients who are eligible to naturalize to apply, this client had strong motivation because his wife is undocumented. Now that he is a citizen, he can petition for her as an immediate relative spouse of a citizen. In addition, he can vote, he can obtain a U.S. passport, he does not have to worry about deportation, and he is able to apply for a number of government jobs that were previously unavailable.
If you or a loved one is eligible to become a United States citizen (or you have questions about eligibility or the citizenship process), please call our office and make an appointment with one of the attorneys. Now is the time to become a citizen to protect your future here in the United States.
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