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Nearly a million adults became U.S. citizens this past year

Three people hold U.S. flags as they wait to be sworn in as American citizens at a naturalization ceremony on the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum.
Spencer Platt
Getty Images
Three people hold U.S. flags as they wait to be sworn in as American citizens at a naturalization ceremony on the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum.

About 967,400 adult immigrants took the oath of allegiance and became U.S. citizens this past fiscal year, according to a new report released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The high number comes as the federal government works to reduce a backlog of applications that was worsened by the pandemic.

There were only two other times recorded in U.S. history when the number of adults naturalized was greater than fiscal year 2022. In 1996, about 1,040,000 adults became U.S. citizens, and in 2008, roughly 1,046,000 adults gained citizenship, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security.

The 2022 fiscal year's tally of people who were administered the oath of allegiance includes data from October 2021 through September 2022. However, it does not include children who were able to derive citizenship through their parents. In total, 1,023,200 adults and children became U.S. citizens in 2022.

Most people are eligible to become a U.S. citizen after they have lived in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years. Spouses of U.S. citizens can gain citizenship after three years. There is also a path toward citizenship for those who have served in the military.

In 2022, USCIS issued a growing number of some visas compared to past years

Every year, the U.S. grants green cards to hundreds of thousands of foreign workers and their family members. In 2022, the USCIS issued a total of 275,000 employment-based visas, which is nearly double the number of employment-based visas issued in 2019.

Over the years, high-skilled workers from China and India have made up a significant portion of these visas. But recently, the number of visas issued to people from India has outpaced those given to workers from China. From 2019 to 2022, the number of visas given to people from India grew five-fold. This fiscal year, they accounted for a third of all employment-based visas.

In 2022, the USCIS also expanded the number of available H-2B visas, which allows American companies to hire temporary, foreign workers for non-agricultural jobs. Businesses from vacation resorts to seafood processors often rely on the program to staff their seasonal work.

Demand for temporary workers only heightened during the pandemic. USCIS typically issues 66,000 H-2B visas each year. In 2022, the federal agency added 65,000 more visa slots in response to the labor market.

Due to COVID and a hiring freeze, the total USCIS backlog doubled by the end of 2021.

In 2022, with the help of a hiring surge, USCIS said its application backlog has been reduced by 62%. The federal agency said its goal is to permanently eliminate its backlog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.
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