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Almost 1 million immigrants granted US citizenship in 2022

Number is highest in nearly 15 years after Covid pandemic caused a backlog in the system


Erum Salam

Nearly 1 million immigrants became US citizens in 2022, the highest number in almost 15 years after the Covid-19 pandemic caused a backlog in the system.

According to new figures from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the countries where most of these new citizens came from were Cuba, the Philippines, India, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Citizenship interviews and ceremonies were suspended at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to a backlog of applications that were only approved last year. According to the Pew Research Center, the backlog of pending naturalization applications stands at 673,000 as of the end of June 2022.

At the start of the pandemic, financial difficulties plagued the USCIS, which heavily relies on application fees, leading to a reduced workforce capacity and the closure of its field offices. There was a hiring freeze at the agency between May 2020 and April 2021 that led to a shortage of adjudicators who oversee the application process.

Under the Biden administration, the USCIS said it “returned to firmer fiscal footing, with cash reserves well on their way to the designated target level, to ensure the agency avoids another fiscal crisis”.

The USCIS, along with the Department of State, also issued twice the number of employment-based immigrant visas in 2022 as before the pandemic.

“This was an all-hands-on-deck effort across the agency given that any unused visas at the end of the fiscal year would become unavailable starting on Oct. 1, 2022.”

Despite the new citizens, US immigration policy remains a flashpoint. Title 42, presented as a public health law, was introduced at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to allow the expulsion of migrants and asylum seekers at the southern border. Last month, the supreme court temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s attempt to terminate the policy.

Remain in Mexico, another policy that began with the Trump administration and continued into the Biden administration, forced asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while they await their court dates, often subjecting them to the dangerous conditions they are fleeing that include abduction and rape. In June 2022, the supreme court narrowly voted to allow Biden to end that policy, but a federal judge in Texas ruled the policy must restart, making its future uncertain. The policy remains in place as litigation is pending.

Another immigration policy from the Obama administration also faces challenges. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, which prevents the deportation of immigrants unlawfully brought into the US as children, known as Dreamers, has left hundreds of thousands in legal limbo. Trump tried to end Daca during his term, but the supreme court prevented him.

When Biden campaigned for president he made promises to work towards a solution, and on Capitol Hill some lawmakers have been pushing for a permanent solution for the Daca program recipients, such as granting a pathway to citizenship. In October 2022, the Department of Homeland Security codified the Daca program rules. But while eligibility requirements have not changed, USCIS may not accept any new first-time Daca applicants. The case could be headed to the supreme court for a third time.

Guardian News & Media Limited 

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