JEFFERSON CITY - Thirty-nine people became American citizens Friday in a naturalization ceremony by taking the oath of allegiance in the Jefferson City federal courthouse. Twenty-four countries were represented by the applicants as their families watched from the back of the courtroom, taking photos and video and applauding.
Immigration to the United States has been in decline since a peak in 2008. According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2008, more than one million people were naturalized in the US, but in 2009, that number dropped to just under 750,000. The number dropped again in 2010, but there was a slight increase in 2011 to about 694,000. However, there has not been an increase in Missouri.
After a high of about 5,849 new citizens in 2008, there has been a steady decline in naturalization in Missouri. In 2011, 4,175 people were naturalized, which is the lowest since 2006. In mid-Missouri last year, the majority of people naturalized come from Asia or Oceania, as opposed to the rest of the country where the majority of naturalizaed citizens come from Mexico.
The USCIS reports several reasons for the immigration and naturalization decreases, with most involving money. The economy took a sharp nosedive in 2008 and since then, more than just Americans are feeling the heat. In order to get a visa to come to the U.S., a person needs a U.S. family member or employer to sponsor them. But with fewer jobs available, it's harder to find an employer sponsor, and with many Americans strapped for cash, the financial burden of sponsoring a relative can be overwhelming.
Additionally, the naturalization fees charged by the USCIS that are required to apply to become citizen increased drastically in 2008 from $330 to $680.
But for the people who made it to the end, the ceremony was a joyous occasion. Each new citizen stood up to tell Judge Nanette Laughrey his or her name and from what country he or she came. Some were from Europe, some were from Africa, and some were from Eastern Europe.
According to the Department of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), applicants have to be permanent residents for at least five years and have a permanent residency card, better known as a "green card." However, people who are naturalizing as the spouse of an American citizen only have to wait three years instead of five.
After three to five years of permanent residency, applicants can apply for naturalization with the proper documentation and Form N-400. The applicant then takes a test over U.S. government and history and English proficiency and is reviewed with a full background check. After those steps are completed, he or she is ready to take an oath to become a citizen.