MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) – More than 500 people became U.S. citizens this weekend during the largest naturalization ceremony ever held in New Hampshire.

The state has seen a sharp rise in the number of new citizens, from 971 in fiscal year 2005 to about 3,500 in 2007. The latest group, which combined applicants from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, took the oath of allegiance Saturday at the New Hampshire National Guard Armory.

Mohan Jayaraman arrived in the United States from India nine years ago. Since then, he has taken on two jobs to put himself through college, graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a degree in engineering, gotten married and had two children and purchased a home.

“The whole process really serves to build character. It was tough, but it taught me how to deal with new challenges, and I know it has helped to make me a better person,” said Jayaraman, 38, of Nashua. “It gives you a sense of permanency and acceptance. This is where I live and this is where I want to raise a family. Becoming a citizen really gives you a sense of freedom to pursue your own dreams.”

The Dominican Republic delivered more than half of the ceremony’s 504 new citizens. Experts say immigrants from that country typically settle first in New York or Boston then move farther north for affordable housing and safety.

Isidra Taveras, who arrived from the Dominican Republic in 1987 and now lives in Lawrence, Mass., celebrated her 56th birthday Saturday. “This is the best birthday,” she said, calling her citizenship one of the greatest gifts she’s ever received aside from her children.

The number of immigrants becoming U.S. citizens jumped in 2006 because the government provided more funding to relieve a backlog of cases, said Denis Riordan, district director for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. More recent increases are a reflection of many people applying before application fees rose from $400 to $675 in July 2007.

A recent government projection predicted people applying there would see the nation’s second longest wait come September.

But Riordan said he expects the processing time will be much better than the predicted 14 months. The current wait is about eight months but he said he hopes that will shrink to six months as employees work weekends and implement other measures to process applications more quickly.


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