Legal Immigration Increases in Texas, U.S.

If current trends continue, the federal government will approve nearly 18,000 more applications for citizenship this year than it did in 2010, according to data recently posted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The agency is also likely to deny about 3,300 fewer.

During the 2010 fiscal year, the government approved about 619,000 of what it calls the N-400, its application for naturalization. That total includes about 9,800 military applications. Authorities denied about 57,000, including 750 military applications. This year, the government is on pace to approve about 637,000 and deny about 53,700.

The trends at Texas field offices follow those seen nationwide. In 2010, the field offices in Dallas, El Paso, Harlingen, Houston and San Antonio collectively approved about 48,900 applications and denied 4,610. Through April 2011 — seven months of the current fiscal year — the Texas offices have approved about 30,000 and denied about 2,500.

The data also shows that field offices in Texas border cities have far fewer applicants than those in the middle of the state. So far this year, the El Paso and Harlingen field offices have received about 2,300 and 1,970 applications, respectively. That’s compared to 11,550 in Dallas, about 12,900 in Houston and 5,700 in San Antonio.

The approvals and denials both fall far short of 2009 figures, however, when the agency approved about 742,000 applications and denied about 110,000.

Tim Counts, a USCIS press officer, said the agency cannot really pinpoint why the numbers fluctuate. The data sets include how many applications were received and left pending during a certain time frame, and Counts said that just because an application was received during one quarter of a fiscal year does not necessarily mean it was completed during the same time frame. For example, in 2010, about 710,500 applications were received, 676,000 completed and 292,000 left pending. But the number completed could have been held over from the previous year, he said. 

A bright spot, Counts added, is that USCIS is often ahead of schedule in terms of processing N-400 applications. Counts said the agency’s goal is to complete the process within six months, but it currently averages less than five. The average cycle time in March and April was 4.8 months. Military applications are slightly faster, he said, a byproduct of the agency working with the military to identify potential applicants for naturalization.

“During the intake of a new recruit, that information is gathered and because it’s a much more militaristic, the process is a lot more standardized,” he said. 

Nonimmigrant visas for victims

USCIS is also on pace to deny far fewer U visas — special visas given to victims of certain crimes — than it did in 2010. It is often reserved for victims of domestic abuse or sexual assaults. USCIS does not have state-specific data but, nationally, shows that during the 2010 fiscal year, 17,160 applications were received (that total includes victims and their family members), 19,400 were approved and about 6,900 denied. From October 2010 to April 2011, the agency received 13,740 applications, approved about 11,800 and denied some 2,700.

Applications for the T visa — which is reserved for victims of human trafficking crimes — are also expected to exceed last year’s total. In 2010 about 1,040 applications were submitted, about 800 approved and 240 denied. Through April of the current fiscal year, about 880 applications have been submitted, 640 approved and 212 denied. Counts said estimating a timeline for the specific visas is more complicated.

“With T and U visas we are dealing with complex criminal investigations,” he said. “We are dealing with people who are likely victims of some sort of crime; we’re dealing with people who may not have a lot of documentation. It may take longer to gather that type of documentation.”

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