For thousands of immigrants in Minnesota and surrounding states, the route to citizenship can now be taken by bus.

It was announced Monday that the office for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, the federal agency that handles thousands of interviews for citizenship and work visa issues each year, will relocate to downtown Minneapolis.

The office will occupy the entire seventh floor at Marquette Plaza, 250 Marquette Av., in the central business district.

The decision to move downtown reverses plans to house the new office along the Bloomington/Eden Prairie border, which was far from available mass transit, sparking criticism that it would be inaccessible for many immigrants. The previous office was located on a bus route and accessible by light-rail transit near the Mall of America in Bloomington.

In violation of its own policies that require easy access to public transportation, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) had set the site of the new building 3 miles from the closest bus stop. The GSA has admitted it misread a bus schedule in reviewing applications. What it thought was a bus route for the new location was really a commuter line without regular stops.

The 10-year, $14.3 million contract to relocate the office to the former site of the Minnesota School of Business on Ensign Avenue in Bloomington, near the Eden Prairie border, was signed in early 2014. The move was expected later that September.

But the plan became the subject of intense criticism from local elected officials and immigration advocates who were concerned that the new location would make it difficult for many immigrants to obtain services they need for such things as work visas and citizenship papers.

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison had strongly objected to the location.

On Monday, the three praised the announcement of the move to the downtown Minneapolis venue because it is closer to the communities the office serves.

"The GSA's new proposal for the Twin Cities USCIS Field Office will ensure that those who arrived in Minnesota seeking a better life can get the assistance they need," Ellison said in a statement.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office is the location where immigrants go for face-to-face interviews, to pick up forms and to ask general questions about their resident status. It sees about 28,000 people a year who schedule interviews, use its information center or go there to pick up citizenship certificates. It processes more than 13,000 applications for naturalization and serves all of Minnesota and the Dakotas and a large swath of western Wisconsin.

The office handles more cases than Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Immigration Court, both of which are moving to renovated offices at the Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building near Fort Snelling.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434