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U.S. Raises Cover Charge

The price for becoming a United States citizen is about to increase.

Beginning Feb. 19, those applying for citizenship will have to pay $310, a $60 increase from the previous year. It is the second increase in three years, and some immigration advocates have expressed frustration at the rising costs.

"It was already a lot of money," said Ana Maria Noriega, a caseworker from the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation.

Officials with the Immigration and Naturalization Service said the increase was approved to help the agency quicken the application process.

In the past, applicants have waited at least 30 months before their application was completed, said Tony Leu, an INS spokesman. In recent years, the agency has reduced the waiting period to one year. Leu said the additional funds could make it as quick as four months.

The INS budget for completing applications and naturalization programs comes largely from applicants' fees from. The programs' budget has nearly quadrupled since 1994 to $500 million, and the staff has more than doubled to about 6,100.

But during the same time, the INS backlog on processing applications increased nearly fourfold to about 3.9 million, according to a report by the General Accounting Office issued last year.

INS raised 30 of 40 fees in 1998 and 1999.

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