The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in February proposed increasing the application fees for citizenship by more than $200. If approved, immigrants who want to become naturalized citizens would have to pay nearly $600, compared to $330 now. The fee for a background check, which is required with the application, will go up $10, to $80, officials have proposed. It would be the first major increase in the citizenship fees since 1998, federal officials said. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials say the fee increase will help the agency hire more employees. Additional workers will improve customer service, as well as reduce the waiting time for processing citizenship applications, officials said. Right now, the average wait time is about six months, said officials at the agency, which processes more than 6 million citizenship applications a year. WHITTIER – Agnes Pugo immigrated from Mexico 60 years ago, but it took a proposed hike in naturalization fees to spur the Pico Rivera resident into applying for U.S. citizenship. “I want to vote, and prices are going up, so I wanted to beat the deadline,” she said. “It’s about time, because for too many years, I let it go.” She’s not alone. Educators who conduct citizenship-preparation classes say they’re seeing a rush of new students eager to complete and submit their applications before the fees go up. If approved, the new fees could be in place by as early as June, immigration officials said. That deadline is ticking away in the minds of potential new citizens, said Elaine Yang, a citizenship instructor at Rio Hondo College. “They talk a lot about wanting to apply as soon as possible before the fee increase,” she said. Yang said her citizenship course, held biweekly at Evergreen Elementary School in Whittier, has more than doubled in size since February. She started with 11 students; last week the class was up to 25. Some critics say the fee increase will discourage qualified immigrants from seeking U.S. citizenship, particularly low-income people. “It’s going to be a difficult thing for folks – it’s a lot of money,” said Debbie Roberts, assistant principal at Whittier Adult School. The adult school has seen enrollment in naturalization classes increase by 30 percent this year, Roberts aid. Carlos Sotomayor, director of the Southern California Immigration Center in Downey, said while it likely will cost more to become a citizen, many immigrants will gladly pay up. “It is going to be expensive, but when you’re going to become a citizen of the United States, it’s very little,” he said. [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3024160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!