USCIS Struggles to Retrieve Paper Naturalization Files Leaving Many Stuck

Foreign nationals trying to complete the naturalization process are having difficulty due to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ inability to obtain these individuals’ records from the National Archives and Records Administration. There are 350,000 requests for records from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) still pending at this time.

NARA stores the records of active cases of foreign nationals that have not been naturalized as they went through the United States immigration and inspection process. These A-files can contain a variety of information, including permanent residence, visas, affidavits, death, biological information, deportation, as well as other information.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) started transferring the A-files of immigrants born over 100 years ago to the National Archives and Records Administration beginning in 2010. However, because of storage issues, the USCIS transferred some of its more recent A-files to NARA. NARA retains these A-files in Federal Records Centers (FRCs). These FRCs are located in Kansas City, Missouri, in the miles of artificial limestone caves where they were built.

Under normal circumstances, NARA would provide these records upon request. However, these centers were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and have not yet entirely reopened. Therefore, naturalization cases are basically on hold due to the inability of the USCIS to access these A-files.

Representative Ted Budd has received a number of complaints from people wishing to complete their naturalization process who have been unable to do so due to the lack of access to their A-files. The Representative complained to the White House about this problem and requested that the FRCs be reopened. However, due to the high transmission rate of COVID-19 in Kansas City, MO, the Federal Record Center is keeping staffing levels at 25% or less. Representative Ted Budd stated that other government workers continued to work during the pandemic or have gone back to work and that since vaccines are available, the federal record centers “need to open to full capacity as quickly as is feasible.” NARA has stated that it intends to increase access as well as allow the USCIS to retrieve the files it needs itself.

NARA has enjoined the USCIS to become less dependent on paper files to do their work. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services does have long-term goals of changing from a paper-based system to a digital system and improving data accessibility. However, until this happens, individuals whose A-files are stored in Kansas City, Missouri, will need to wait until their files can be obtained from storage.