U.S. Naturalization Applications Surge: Study

U.S. naturalization applications surge: study

Tue Feb 26, 2008 1:20pm EST

PHOENIX (Reuters) – A sharp fee hike and interest in voting in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, triggered a surge in naturalization applications last year and lengthening processing delays, a study released on Tuesday said.

The report by the Migration Policy Institute said nearly 1.4 million naturalization applications were filed in fiscal 2007, which ran from October 1 to September 30, almost twice as many as during the previous year.

Immigration, particularly the question of what to do with some 12 million illegal immigrants, is a hot issue in the United States, and the topic has come up frequently in debates among Republican and Democratic candidates jockeying to be their party's pick in the election in November.

The study attributed a surge in applications to a spike in processing fees to $595 from $330 beginning last July 30, and to a desire among many immigrants to participate in the presidential election.

“Beyond the fee increase for naturalization applications, government experts and immigrant advocates cite other causes (including) heightened interest in the 2008 elections, citizenship campaigns by advocacy groups, and the charged political climate surrounding the immigration policy debate,” the study said.

The surge in applications increased wait times for handling naturalization requests to 18 months from just under seven months, the study found.

By the close of last year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had almost one million naturalization cases pending adjudication.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor, editing by Alan Elsner)