updated 6/22/2009 3:49:20 PM ET 2009-06-22T19:49:20

FBI name-checks on people seeking to work or live in the United States or become citizens are getting completed more quickly, slicing through a backlog that had left some petitions pending for more than a year, immigration officials said Monday.

The FBI hired more workers, beefed up its training programs and upgraded its technology to handle the average of 6 million to 7 million applications that stream through the agency each year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials said.

The delays came during the FBI's routine checks for possible criminal backgrounds and national security questions. But now, nearly all name check requests submitted to the FBI are being answered within 30 days. The remaining 2 percent are finished within 90 days, USCIS officials said.

"The FBI has made great strides ... and shown it's capable of sustaining that service level," Michael Aytes, acting deputy director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, told The Associated Press.

Petitions that require more evaluation or interaction with other agencies are not included in the FBI name check backlog count, immigration officials said. Currently, some 6,000 cases are pending with Citizenship and Immigration Services, including some in which the application was filed several years ago, Aytes said.

"They are being looked at, they don't just sit on a shelf," said Gregory Smith, the agency's assistant director for national security and records verification directorate.

The volume of pending FBI name checks peaked in November 2007 when there were about 350,000 pending cases. At the time, more than half had been waiting for more than three months and a large number had been pending for more than a year, Aytes said.

In April 2008, the two agencies established milestones and priorities for the name checks. The goals required processing all name checks pending more than three years by May 2008, those pending more than two years by July 2008, and requests pending more than one year by November 2008.

A government audit issued in June 2008 found the FBI had been using old technology and workers without enough training to do security checks.

That same month, a group of Muslim immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship in Missouri filed a federal class-action lawsuit claiming they had been made to wait for months or years because of slow background checks.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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