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2022 was a big year for U.S. citizenship.
2022 was a big year for U.S. citizenship. Photo: Alan Nunez/ Al Día News

The third-highest record of immigrants became U.S. Citizens in 2022, just shy of a million

According to the latest U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) report, only 1996 and 2008 had higher tallies.

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According to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) report published on Wednesday, Dec. 7, just a little under 1 million immigrant adults became U.S. citizens in the fiscal year 2022, the third-highest annual total recorded in American history. 

Only 1996 and 2008 had higher tallies, when 1,040,991 and 1,046,539 adults were naturalized, respectively, according to government statistics. 

As for the sudden increase in naturalizations — considering the last time there was a high tally was over 14 years ago when President Barack Obama first took office — President Joe Biden told federal agencies to promote naturalizations by doing away with the bureaucratic barriers in the citizenship process, speeding up the process of open cases, and even forming a government-wide approach to inspire eligible immigrants to become citizens.

Citing that directive, USCIS scrapped a Trump administration revision to the naturalization civics questions that critics said made it harder for immigrants to pass the test, which is a requirement for most citizenship applicants. The agency also expanded remote video interviews for naturalization cases.

The 2022 fiscal year ended on Sept. 30, and according to USCIS figures, over 967,400 adults swore the oath of allegiance at naturalization ceremonies across the nation. In the cases of children who were able to obtain citizenship because of their American citizen parents and other naturalization cases, 1,023,200 immigrants were naturalized in fiscal year 2022.

In most cases, contingent on how they were able to secure legal residency, naturalized citizens are able to secure citizenship after living in the country as permanent residents from anywhere between three or five years. Active military or veterans are qualified for a fast-track naturalization process. 

Applicants will be tested and required to demonstrate ability to read, write and speak English, in addition to understanding U.S. history and its government. 

Immigrants with U.S. citizenship can acquire American passports and sponsor family members to come to the country by way of an accelerated procedure and are even able to vote in federal elections, contrary to the capabilities of permanent residents. 

According to the USCIS report, the top five countries where the now-former immigrants were originally born are Mexico, India, the Philippines, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, a sign of optimism for the millions still in the process and waiting for their chance to get naturalized. 

USCIS Director Ur Jaddou told CBS News in an interview that the agency has since launched public awareness and information campaigns to brand the naturalization process as a more accessible, and smooth citizenship process for U.S. service members. USCIS even held the first remote video call military naturalization ceremony back in March of 2021. 

"It is good for the nation for people to fully become part of this nation, join it in the fullest way that they can," Jaddou said. "That has been a priority since the beginning of this administration and we're going to continue the focus on ensuring that people who wish to become Americans, can be."

According to the agency, as of this past June 30, the USCIS was responsible for over 8.7 million immigration cases, which include anything from green card applications, asylum requests and even work permit petitions, according to government figures. At the moment, the total of in-process citizenship cases stood at roughly 666,473, which is a 20% decrease from the end of fiscal year 2021.

For the fiscal year of 2022, USCIS said in their report that the agency had processed a record high 275,111 employment-based green cards in conjunction with the State Department, which is in charge of reviewing overseas visa requests. 

Jaddou added that the aforementioned campaign to increase naturalizations had to be counterbalanced with a substantial workload at the agency, which included endeavors such as trying to decrease a huge backlog of unresolved applications that as a result had destabilized the agency's ability to process many promptly as they should have. 

Additionally, the USCIS has also in recent times had trouble fortifying its finances. They were in position of complete financial collapse due to unintended consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, with one of those being that the agency saw a short-lived, but huge decline in applications. 

They were also forced to do away with their in-person interviews and other services. On the upside for the agency, unlike other businesses worldwide, they were able to avoid massive furloughs. 

In his interview, Jaddou attributed the Trump administration at least in part for being the reason behind the agency’s fiscal crisis, adding that the USCIS was in a "precarious moment" when Biden first took office in Jan. 2021, with just a little under $200 million on hand with several employees departing and contracts with support staff being terminated.

However, things are starting to look up once again as Jaddou said that because of millions of dollars allocated by Congress over the course of this past year, the agency has been able to get back on its feet and stabilize. 

Even with the million dollars influx from Congress, Jaddou added that the USCIS will need even more funding to further decrease its multimillion backlog of cases and administer some of their growing humanitarian programs. 

"The good news is we've recovered from that experience. Our financial situation is in a much more solid location," Jaddou said.

The agency is expected to raise application fees for certain programs in the upcoming 2023 fiscal year, that would have more immigrants to pay extra fees to have their cases reviewed more quickly and make additional applications online-based, in contrast to the paper and mail method the agency did their work for decades, according to Jaddou and Wednesday's report.

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