This is hardly a shocker, but USCIS Director Emilio Gonzalez told the House Immigration Subcommittee yesterday that processing times for naturalization cases would be much longer for the foreseeable future.
Gonzalez blamed the slowdown in naturalization cases on the fee increases that went in to force last summer. According to the USCIS Director, the number of naturalization applications received soared by 350% over the prior year. 1.4 million naturalization applications were received in the 2007 fiscal year compared to 700,000 the year before. Gonzalez also would not guarantee that immigrants who applied before the July 30th fee increase last summer would be naturalized in time to vote in November (something that should bring a sigh of relief to Mitt Romney and a few other presidential candidates).
Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren told Gonzalez that the situation was unacceptable.
The news wasn't all bad, however. Gonzalez promised to spend between $450 million and $480 million from the fees to hire 1,800 new workers (in addition to 1,500 already slated for expansion of the USCIS work force). Gonzalez's written testimony also included the following promises:
- green card renewals and employment authorization document extension applications would move faster in 2008 as a new technology initiative that stores user information in an account that stays with an immigrant from application to application takes effect
- more technology will be introduced in to the background checking process to speed up and improve processing
- USCIS is considering having civics and language tests administered by separate officers from the ones adjudicating the cases
Unfortunately, the expected processing times over the next year will increase dramatically. Naturalization processing times are going to jump from seven months to eighteen months (which is really intolerable since Gonzalez promised a five month turnaround when USCIS sold the fee increase to Congress) and a doubling of family based adjustment times from six to twelve months. Gonzalez promised that within two years, processing times for both types of cases would be back to six months.
Funny, I remember going to an AILA conference about a dozen years ago and hearing INS Commissioner Doris Meissner promise six month turnaround times on naturalization cases. That must be some sort of Holy Grail for USCIS since it doesn't seem to be something they've ever been able to achieve.