Immigration naturalization ceremonies on the rise after COVID-19 delay

For 150 immigrants from 45 countries, the U.S. is now their official home. It was an emotional ceremony inside Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, marking the beginning of a new chapter: life as an American citizen.

For these new Americans, citizenship can mean family reunification, freedom, security and the pursuit of a better life for themselves and their children.

“You can do anything you want without ‘you cannot do that. You cannot do this,’ because it was like that in our country, especially for women,” said Amil Bilal, a naturalized citizen from Iraq.

Now, they can vote, hold a U.S. passport and sponsor other family members for U.S. residency.

At museums, national parks, sports arenas and courtrooms across the country, naturalization ceremonies are making a major comeback after pandemic delays. Nearly a million immigrants became U.S. citizens last year — a 15-year high according to the Pew Research Center.

Available government data for 2023 shows naturalizations remain historically high.

Experts attribute the naturalization surge to Biden administration efforts to streamline the process — and to immigrants realizing, under the Trump presidency, that only citizenship fully shields them from deportation.

“I actually applied in 2020. Because of the pandemic, of COVID-19, we was waiting until now,” said Bilal. 

For Bilal and others, the path to citizenship is still relatively long and costly, with application fees adding up to $725.

After being a permanent resident for at least five years or three if married to a U.S. citizen — immigrants are eligible to apply for citizenship.

They must provide a slew of supporting documents and pass background checks and English and civics tests.

But in the end, what could be a better gift than becoming a citizen just in time for the holidays?