SEATTLE, Wash. (May 12, 2020) —A new report released today from Boundless Immigration found that, as COVID-19 has halted naturalization across the United States, surging processing times and application backlogs have created a logjam of applicants leading up to the 2020 election. The State of New American Citizenship report analyzed data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and more than 100 field offices to identify trends in application backlogs, denials and processing times.
Currently, there is a backlog of roughly 700,000 lawful permanent residents (green card holders) who have applied for U.S. citizenship. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, USCIS has not conducted naturalization interviews and ceremonies since March 18, 2020, which could result in more than 441,000 immigrants being unable to vote in the 2020 election.
“Immigrants have often waited a decade or longer to legally achieve their dreams of becoming U.S. citizens, and it’s heartbreaking to see hundreds of Americans-to-be stuck right in front of the finish line,” said Xiao Wang, co-founder and CEO, Boundless. “Every study has shown that naturalization increases income, taxes paid, and contributions to the community. And with this being an election year, these delays will hurt overall engagement and turnout, core pillars of democracy.”
Processing times have more than doubled
While the pandemic has frozen naturalization efforts, the processing time for citizenship applications was getting worse long before the USCIS shut down. The processing time for a citizenship application has surged to 10 months—double the processing time between 2012 and 2016, with inconsistent wait times across the country. Immigrants in some cities face citizenship application wait times more than four times higher than in other cities while immigrants in some cities experience a citizenship application denial rate two times higher than the national average.
Best and worst cities for becoming an American citizen
These inconsistencies led Boundless to create a weighted index score to accurately highlight the best and worst cities for becoming a new American citizen. The score was based on a city’s backlog completion rate, median wait time, and miles to the nearest USCIS field office.
Cleveland was rated the best city for new immigrant applicants, with an average wait time for naturalization of 3.7 months. Seattle finished at the bottom of the list, where applicants have to wait nearly 16 months. This means that immigrants seeking naturalization in Seattle likely had to file their applications almost two years before the election to become eligible to vote. California had five of the 10 worst cities to become an American citizen, with average wait times of more than 13 months and backlog completion rates less than 50 percent.
“Where someone chooses to live should not have over a year’s difference in when they can become a U.S. citizen,” Wang said. “I hope that USCIS will adopt policies to distribute caseload and resources better across field offices so that wait times are more consistent across the country.”
Another factor that directly affects immigrants is the share of naturalization applications that are denied, potentially closing off the opportunity to become a U.S. citizen. These barriers to citizenship – compounded by higher application fees and the required civics and English tests – has created an environment where it’s less costly and time-intensive for immigrants to renew their green cards every 10 years rather than go through the naturalization process.
For the full report or to learn more about Boundless Immigration, visit www.boundless.com.
About Boundless Immigration
Boundless Immigration (www.boundless.com) is dedicated to empowering families to navigate the U.S. immigration system more confidently, rapidly, and affordably. Founded in 2017 by immigration policy and technology experts — many of whom went through the U.S. immigration process themselves — the company created an online platform that has helped thousands of people apply for green cards and U.S. citizenship while providing access to independent immigration attorneys.