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Indians rush for US citizenship before Trump can shut doors

Uncertainty over the Donald Trump administration’s immigration policies, coupled with a desire to vote in the upcoming elections this year, have led many immigrants residing in the US to opt for citizenship.

In fiscal year 2019 (12-month period ended September 30, 2019), 8.34 lakh immigrants were conferred American citizenship, an eleven-year high, and a rise of 9.5% over the previous year.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), in a press release, added that 5.77 lakh individuals were granted lawful permanent residence in the form of green cards—which, compared with fiscal 2018, shows a sharp fall of 47.4%.

At 52,194, India-born individuals were the second largest group to be granted US citizenship in fiscal 2018, according to another report released by the US Department of Homeland Security which provides country-of-birth data. They constituted 6.9% of the total number of new citizens and reflected a rise of 2.7% over the previous year.

The largest group continued to be from Mexico—just over 1.3 lakh—with 39,600 Chinese at third spot.

In an ostensible attempt to quell criticism over the slowdown in processing, the USCIS release pointed out that the number of applications pending for green cards and citizenship had come down by 14% and 12%, respectively.

9.2L Indians caught up in the green card backlog

Only green card holders can opt for naturalisation (the process which confers US citizenship upon foreign nationals); they can do so after being a permanent resident for five years. For spouses of US citizens, the period is reduced to three years.

Immigrant experts view the rise in citizenship as owing to two key factors – uncertainty on the immigration policy front, which even renders green card holders vulnerable, and the desire to vote in the forthcoming elections.

However, on green cards, Indian-born people occupied fourth slot with 59,281 green cards being allotted to them (or 5.45% of the total) – behind Mexico, Cuba and China in that order. Further, comparison of statistical growth shows a negative figure for most countries, except Cuba. Increased vetting of green card applications contributed to the negative growth, say immigration experts.

According to data collated by CATO, a US based think-tank, as of April 2018, 13.1lakh Mexicans (or 28% of the total backlog) were caught up in the green card backlog in both family and employment categories. Indians followed, with 9.2 lakh (or 19% of the total backlog).

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