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U.S. extends hours to cope with massive backlog of citizenship interviews

Saturday, March 22, 2008

  • AP

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has begun holding weekend and after-hours interviews for immigrants wanting to be Americans, responding to a heavy workload caused by last summer's flood of citizenship applications.

Citizenship and Immigration Services, a Homeland Security Department agency, has begun holding the interviews - the final step before taking the citizenship oath - on Saturdays and Sundays and after business hours on weekdays. In the interviews, done by appointment only, immigrants take their citizenship test and answer any lingering questions about their applications.

The weekend interviews are so extraordinary that the agency posted a notice on its Web site to reassure applicants a Saturday or Sunday appointment are not a mistake.

The agency received 1.4 million naturalization applications in the 2007 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, overwhelming agency workers and extending the time it takes to become a citizen.

Nearly half a million applications arrived just before the fee to apply to be an American increased from $330 to $595, plus an $80 fingerprinting fee.

The agency has been criticized for precipitating the flood of applications with the fee increase and then failing to be fully prepared to handle it. Because of the many applications, some immigrants may not become citizens in time to vote in November's elections.

The agency has responded that the July 2007 spike was unprecedented, and it has been taking steps to deal with the increase. Emilio Gonzalez, the agency's outgoing director, wrote in a blog item posted late Thursday that more than half of all the citizenship applications received in June and July of last year will be done by Sept. 30. He said some who applied after July have become citizens. His agency is predicting 14-to-16 month waits for citizenship.

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