The process of going from an immigrant with permanent residency status in the U.S. to a naturalized citizen can take a while. Now. thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be taking longer than ever.

According to USA TODAY, around 300,000 people in the U.S. are dealing with a backlogged naturalization system, due to the lockdowns and safety restrictions triggered by the global pandemic. Federal budget problems are also a problem.

COVID-19 and USCIS

In March, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) suspended all in-person interviews and naturalization oath ceremonies. The agency did not resume these services until around June 4. Thousands of in-person interviews were cancelled, and with oath ceremonies suspended, thousands more could not become U.S. citizens.

A USCIS spokeswoman said that rescheduling oath ceremonies is the agency’s top priority, and that it is also working hard to reschedule interviews postponed also. But a budget issue could be hampering this effort.

Budget shortfalls caused layoffs

USCIS has been in a budget shortfall since 2019. The agency largely depends on the fees people pay to request visas, permanent resident status and citizenship. Requests for services has slowed during the pandemic, worsening the problem. In response, USCIS has furloughed many of its workers, which is slowing down its response times.

Among other things, the delays could impact people’s ability to vote in the presidential election. While the election is in November, many states have registration deadlines weeks earlier. In Maryland, you must register to vote by Oct. 13 to be allowed to vote in the general election. If you are not a citizen by then, you cannot register.

While many delays might be out of your control, working with a qualified immigration attorney can help you avoid common errors that slow down the process of naturalization or adjustment of status.