Waiting Time For Citizenship Is Down To Six Months

Waiting time for citizenship is down to about six months

By Hiram Soto
The San Diego Union Tribune, June 5, 2009

The waiting time for immigrants to become U.S. citizens has fallen to levels not seen since August 2007 because applications have decreased and more workers are available to process requests.

Applicants currently wait a little more than six months, though some in San Diego have reported waits of three to four months. A year ago, the wait was more than 12 months.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is working to make the process even speedier.

'It's possible the process could take less than five months, but we don't want to commit to that,' said Marie Sebrechts, a spokeswoman for the immigration agency.

In 2006, more than 823,000 applications were filed for U.S. citizenship. In 2007, the number surged to 1.4 million. Contributing to the increase were naturalization campaigns, an ongoing public debate on immigration reform and a rush of applications to avert an increase in the filing fee in July of that year.

To process the applications more quickly, Citizenship and Immigration Services hired more than 1,600 full-time workers and increased the number of naturalization ceremonies, Sebrechts said.

The additional staff is still in place, even though the number of applications fell to 525,000 in 2008, the lowest level since 2003.

Many would-be applicants can't afford the $750 processing fee, community activists say.

Norma Chvez of Justice Overcoming Boundaries, a local community organization, said that there is interest in naturalization despite the recession, and that her group plans to hold informational events at local churches in the coming months.

Chvez said people interested in applying for citizenship should begin the process, even if they don't have the money for the fees right now, so they can prepare for the citizenship exam.

'This is what we're seeing right now: People come and request information; they fill out the documents and wait while they're getting ready,' said Chvez, whose group plans to offer a citizenship workshop at San Diego's Fiesta del Sol in August.

It's unclear how many people are laying that groundwork.

Gretchen Bitterlin, who coordinates citizenship classes for the San Diego Community College District, said the number of students enrolled in the courses has fallen in recent months.

'What we've heard from students is that many are postponing the classes because of the economy and the fees,' Bitterlin said.

Businessman Daro Villagmez, 40, has been preparing for the exam for several months.

Although profits at his San Diego seafood restaurant are off by more than 50 percent, Villagmez said he is ready to make the sacrifice to become a U.S. citizen to reunite his family.

His wife and two of his children live in Monterrey, and a daughter is a U.S. citizen. In order to bring his family together, he would either have to move to Mexico or become a citizen and bring his wife and children to San Diego through sponsorship.

'Although business isn't good, I will make sacrifices so we can all be together,' Villagmez said. 'And if all this takes less time, all the better.'