In an attempt to reduce the number of naturalized citizens, the Trump administration is making U.S. citizenship more difficult for permanent residents to attain. Many lawful permanent residents believe that applying for citizenship is as easy as applying for a passport by simply downloading the application form and sending in a filing fee. However, applicants often are not aware of the increasing detailed scrutiny conducted with a new “gotcha” strategy of finding any basis for denial. If the basis for denial is a ground of removability, USCIS also may commence removal or deportation proceedings. U.S. citizens who are found to have misrepresented facts in their previous applications may be subject to denaturalization proceedings.
Here are 7 things to watch out for before filing for naturalization:
- Employer sponsorship requirements. If the applicant or spouse obtained a green card through employer sponsorship, but did not work for the employer pursuant to the terms of the job offer, the naturalization applications for both the applicant and spouse can be denied. More seriously, the green card could possibly be revoked.
- Outstanding parking ticket. Applicants are often shocked to discover at their naturalization interview that an unpaid parking ticket resulted in a bench warrant. This can lead to an arrest since USCIS will not usually look behind a bench warrant and will simply hand the applicant over to ICE.
- Minor criminal conviction. A single DUI arrest in the five years preceding application could result in citizenship denial or delay whereas two or more could result in denial and possible commencement of removal proceedings. Similarly, two shoplifting convictions or a tax violation may result in denial and the commencement of removal proceedings.
- Registering to vote. Many permanent residents applying for driver’s licenses are often encouraged to fill out a voter registration form at the DMV and naively believe they are doing their civic duty. But they don’t read the fine print – only U.S. citizens can vote. Illegal voting is a deportable offense and it can even lead to jail time.
- Failure to register for the draft. Many believe that the U.S. abolished the draft after the Vietnam War but fail to realize that all males between age 18 and 25 who fail to register for the draft or selective service may find their naturalization denied. Selective service registration is required for lawful permanent residents, parolees, undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and any males whose nonimmigrant visa expired for more than 30 days.
- Failure to pay taxes. Applicants who fail to file a tax return or pay taxes are precluded from establishing their “good moral character.” Also, filing as a “non-resident alien” could jeopardize an applicant’s continuous U.S. residence as described below.
- Long international travel. Applicants who spend time outside of the U.S. to look after a sick parent and were absent for more than 180 days are often surprised to discover this breaks the continuity of their U.S. residence and renders them ineligible for naturalization. However, those absent for more than a year may have to respond to allegations that they abandoned their green cards.
In addition to denial and removal, USCIS is also delaying the naturalization process. While applications were normally adjudicated within six months, adjudication times of more than a year are the new norm as immigration examiners review old files looking for any basis for rejection and denial in the applicant’s immigration history.
Furthermore, applicants must be aware that USCIS has signed an MOU with the DOJ to prosecute visa fraud. Foreign nationals often don’t realize that mistakes or inconsistencies can actually be deemed visa fraud pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1546 where the criminal penalties can reach 25 years imprisonment.
Lawful permanent residents considering naturalization should always consult with an experienced immigration attorney to assess any issues that may arise during the application process or naturalization interview.