But even before COVID-19, the wait time for citizenship applications had hit new highs under the Trump administration. According to USCIS numbers, the naturalization process averaged 8.8 months in 2020, compared with 5.6 months in 2016 and a peak of 10.3 months in 2018,2 though in some cases, it could take up to three years.
COVID-19 exacerbated this delay. On March 18, USCIS temporarily shut down all public-facing activities, including interviews for visas, asylum and naturalization as well as oath ceremonies. The agency did not make plans for virtual alternatives, bringing much of U.S. immigration to a halt.
For each day that USCIS remained closed, 2,100 potential new voters would be disenfranchised, according to a frequently cited report by Boundless, an immigration-services company co-founded by an Obama administration official.
USCIS field offices reopened on June 4 and prioritized in-person oath-swearing ceremonies. Some field offices held drive-through ceremonies, while others held more frequent, but smaller, indoor or outdoor ceremonies. By the end of July, the agency says that it has cleared the backlog of 110,000 oath ceremonies delayed by its closures, as well as an additional 7,905 oath ceremonies not scheduled before the pandemic.