Requirements for Naturalization
US immigration law has established the following prerequisites to filing the N-400 citizenship application:
- You must be at least 18 years old on the date that you file your application.
- You must register with the Selective Service if you are required to do so. This applies only to males between 18 and 26.
- You must have been a US permanent resident for at least five years (three years if you have been married to a US citizen during this time).
- You must have lived in your state of residence or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) district for the past three months before filing Form N-400.
- You must have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the last five years (18 months out of the last three years if you have been married to a US citizen during this time).
- You must have resided in the US continuously (generally, this mean that any trips abroad should have lasted less than six months).
- You must have “good moral character.”
- You must demonstrate loyalty to the principles of the US Constitution.
- You must possess a basic knowledge of US history and government.
- You must possess a basic knowledge of the spoken and written English language.
The burden of proof is on you, the applicant, to prove that you meet all of the foregoing requirements.
Special Case: “The Child Citizenship Act of 2000”. This Act bestows citizenship upon eligible persons with at least one US citizen parent (including adopted children) once they enter the United States as permanent residents. Because citizenship is automatically bestowed under these conditions, there is no need to file an N-400 citizenship application. You can appeal an adverse decision under this Act by filing Form I-290B.
The Naturalization Process
The best way to win a citizenship case is to take pains to ensure that your initial application process goes smoothly. Following is a step-by-step guide for permanent residents wishing to become US citizens:
1. Complete Form N-400, Application for Naturalization and pay the $725 filing fee ($640 for the N-400 and $85 for biometrics). You should receive a receipt notice within two or three weeks of filing. If the USCIS considers your application incomplete, it might send you a Request for Evidence or even reject your application outright.
2. Attend a biometrics appointment and submit to fingerprinting, photographing and a background check (for criminal convictions, etc.). The USCIS will notify you of your biometrics appointment within three to five weeks after your N-400 filing date. Your biometrics appointment should be scheduled within two months after your filing date. Take your green card with you to your biometrics appointment.
3. Complete an interview with a USCIS officer. This will involve confirming your English language ability, taking a civics exam and answering questions from a USCIS officer confirming that the answers you supplied in your N-400 application are still true. The citizenship interview should take place about 6 to 10 months after your original N-400 filing date.
After the interview, the officer will give you Form N-652 which will either grant, deny or delay your citizenship application. It could be delayed if, for example, you fail the civics exam.
4. If your citizenship interview was successful, you will receive Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony, within one to four weeks after your naturalization interview.
5. Take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States at a naturalization ceremony. If all goes well, this ceremony will take place about 8 to 12 months after your N-400 filing date. After you take the oath, you will be provided with a Certificate of Naturalization. This is your proof of US citizenship.
Request For Evidence
The USCIS may issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) — in fact, about 20 percent of naturalization applicants receive at least one such request. At the very least, receiving one means that the resolution of your citizenship application will be delayed. RFEs are often issued when the applicant forgets to include a required document. It may also request new documentation.
Hypothetical Scenario: You marry a US citizen, obtain permanent residence and take advantage of the fact that US immigration law allows permanent residents married to US citizen spouses to apply for citizenship after only three years of US residence (instead of the usual five years). This is your second marriage, however, and your first marriage took place abroad to a non-US citizen. The USCIS may issue a Request for Evidence demanding that you submit certified divorce records for your previous marriage.
How to Handle an RFE
Following are some tips on how to respond to an RFE:
- Respond as soon as you can without sacrificing the quality of your response. The longer you delay, the longer your citizenship will be delayed, and if you miss the deadline, your application will be considered abandoned and will be consequently rejected.
- Make sure the USCIS receives your response before the deadline printed in the RFE letter. It’s not good enough if it is merely postmarked before the deadline, the USCIS must actually receive it before the deadline.
- If you have a 30-day deadline (for example), the 30 days starts counting from the date appearing on the letter, not the date that you actually receive the letter.
- Provide every document listed in the RFE, as far as possible. If you cannot include one, refer to it and explain why you cannot send it.
Denial of Your Application
Take great care in preparing your application. Under new regulations implemented by the Trump administration, your application can be denied without a Request for Evidence for an innocent error such as failing to include required supporting documentation. Although if your naturalization application is denied you can normally choose to either appeal or simply re-file the application, the government is allowed to keep your filing fee. If you reapply, you will have to pay it again.
Option 1: Appeal the Denial of Your Citizenship Application
You can appeal the denial of your citizenship application, if:
- Your citizenship application was denied by mistake (a clerical error, for example); or
- You can overcome the grounds for denial. Perhaps the officer misunderstood the applicable law, failed to properly consider documentation that you provided or failed to give you enough time to procure necessary documentation, or interpreted an ambiguous legal term (such as “moral character”) in a way that you consider inappropriate.
You can commence the appeal process by filing Form N-336, Request for Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings within 30 days of the date the denial was issued. A hearing before an immigration officer (not an immigration judge) should be scheduled within 180 days. The officer has the authority to deny your appeal, overturn the original decision, or conduct a full hearing. You can be required to take the civics or English language exam again, even if you have already taken and passed these exams.
Unfortunately, the N-336 appeal is often nothing more than a rubber stamp in which the officer simply upholds the original decision without a lot of forethought. If this happens to you and you don’t want to give up, the next step is to file a complaint in federal court. The federal judge is not under the authority of the USCIS and is entitled to make an independent decision based on facts and law. You may even get a trial.
Option 2: File a Brand-New Citizenship Application
Filing a new citizenship application might make more sense than filing an appeal if:
You missed the 30-day deadline for filing an appeal.
- Your application was refused for missing documentation that you will need more than 180 days to obtain.
- You failed the civics or English language test, and all you need is a little time to learn enough to pass these exams.
- Your application was denied because the USCIS decided that you lacked “good moral character” (Since you only have to show good moral character for the last five years if you wait long enough, your chances could improve).
- Your application was denied because you failed to maintain continuous residence in the US after you obtained permanent residence. You could become eligible for naturalization again by waiting a few years to re-establish a continuous residence in the US.
Keep in mind that if you file a new citizenship application that looks exactly like your previous one with no change in circumstances, it is likely to be denied for the same reason that the first one was.
The Danger Zone: Aggressive USCIS Action Triggered by a Citizenship Application
In some cases, the denial of your naturalization application could lead to revocation of your permanent residence and even eventual deportation from the United States. Observe the following precautions to avoid giving the USCIS an excuse to not only deny your citizenship application but perhaps also revoke your permanent residence and even deport you:
- Register with the Selective Service if you are legally obligated to do so.
- When you apply for permanent residence, make sure that your application contains no false statements and no omissions. If you are asked to provide your criminal record, for example, do not omit an arrest simply because it did not result in a conviction.
- Avoid criminal activity. Even an arrest that does not lead to a conviction could cause you problems. Not all arrests or convictions will result in the denial of your citizenship application, but some can result in not only denial of your citizenship but also revocation of your permanent resident status and even deportation.
- Make sure that your N-400 citizenship application contains no omissions or inaccurate statements. Suppose that the USCIS runs your biometric fingerprinting results through a database and discovers that you were arrested for a crime that you did not report on your citizenship application. This will cause you problems even if you were acquitted of the crime because you failed to report the arrest.
- Pay your taxes on time. If you can’t, try to compromise with the tax authorities to show the USCIS that you are at least making an effort.
- Do your best to keep up with any child support payments you have been found liable for.
In a nutshell, do everything you can to avoid giving the USCIS an excuse to deny your citizenship application or take action against you.
Worst-Case Scenario: Post-Naturalization Revocation of Your US Citizenship
Not everyone realizes that the citizenship of a naturalized citizen can be revoked easier than the citizenship of a birthright citizen. If the United States attempts to revoke your citizenship, you need to fight it, because if the attempt is successful, you could be deported. Because citizenship is revoked retroactively, if you sponsored any of your family members based on your own citizenship, they could be deported as well.
Some of the Grounds for Revocation
Some of the offenses that can justify revocation of citizenship include:
- Making false statements or omissions on your citizenship application by “willful concealment or material misrepresentation” (by far the most common reason for citizenship revocations);
- Becoming a member of a “subversive group”; or
- Receiving a dishonorable discharge from the military, if your citizenship was derived from your military service.
Revocation of your citizenship is not automatic once you have been charged. Suppose, for example, that you failed to mention a previous arrest on your N-400 application because you were eventually acquitted of the crime. You might have room to argue that you sincerely believed that only an actual conviction needed to be reported. You might also argue that a particular group is not actually “subversive”.
A federal court will have to hear your case, and you will be entitled to a full hearing where you can present evidence and call witnesses. You will also have the right to appeal the revocation decision to a federal Court of Appeals.
Your Chances of Victory
All told, there are many ways to win a citizenship case. A lot depends on the specific facts of your case, however — and no two cases are exactly alike. Although there can be no ironclad guarantees, the better you understand US immigration law, the better your chances will be. Moreover, the quality of your legal representation often makes a decisive difference.