By:  Shane C. Sidebottom
March 12, 2021

If you are a permanent resident in the United States, you are eligible to become a U.S. citizen on the fifth (5th) anniversary of your permanent residence status (sometimes called “green card”). If you are already married to a U.S. citizen, you are likely eligible to file for your citizenship on the third (3rd) anniversary of your permanent residence status. As long as you are at least 18 years of age, you may file a Petition for Naturalization (N-600) anytime within the ninety (90) day anniversary date of your permanent residence card.

There are many benefits to filing for your U.S. Citizenship. You obtain the right to vote. You may run for public office. You may serve on a Jury. You may apply for federal jobs. U.S. citizens will have a priority processing status for certain visas filed for family members, such as your spouse, children, and parents, and U.S. citizens may file a petition for a fiancé overseas. Many countries will allow you to maintain your original citizenship even if you become a U.S. citizen.

Current timeline for processing a Naturalization Petition varies based upon your geographic location. It typically is a minimum six-month process from filing to interview date. After your file your Naturalization Petition, you will have your fingerprints taken and be scheduled for an interview with a USCIS immigration officer.

During your interview for citizenship, the USCIS immigration officer will review your Petition and verify all petition information. It is extremely important to answer all questions honestly as best as you can. You will also be required to pass an English test and a Civics test. These tests ask questions about U.S. history and government.

Some potential problems that could delay or deny your Petition include:

1) Criminal Conviction. All applicants for U.S. Citizenship are required to demonstrate that in the preceding five (5) years they have lived with good “moral character.” Having a minor misdemeanor conviction in the preceding five (5) years can result in a denial of your Petition and delay your eligibility to be a citizen for five (5) years. If you have a serious criminal conviction, such as a felony, that conviction could even put your permanent residence status in jeopardy.

2) Other Moral Character Issues. An immigration officer has discretion to weigh your public record and deny your Petition for a lack of “good moral character.” For example, if you have six (6) speeding tickets in the previous five (5) years, an officer could determine that you lack the necessary good moral character to become a U.S. citizen because you fail to follow traffic laws.

3) Travel Issues. Many permanent residents spend time in their home country. To be eligible for U.S. citizenship, at the time of filing your Petition, you must have lived in in the United States more than in your home country. If you cannot demonstrate you are residing in the U.S. more than in your home country, your Naturalization Petition could be denied, or worse, your standing as a permanent resident could be put in question with USCIS.

4) Taxes and Child Support Obligations. There is not a financial test to become a U.S. citizen. However, if you have outstanding financial obligations that are delinquent, such as taxes or child support, your Naturalization Petition can be denied if you cannot show you are working on retiring the balance of your obligations by having a payment plan on the obligation.

5) Selective Service Registration. All male applicants who are in the U.S. between the ages of 18-26 are required to register for Selective Service. Failure to register for Selective Service can bar your eligibility to petition for naturalization for five (5) years.

6) Lacking Candor in the Interview. An immigration officer will have access to all your immigration related files, including Embassy/Consular records. If you are ever questioned about a prior immigration or Embassy interview, you answers should be consistent with past statements. If you give answers in your Naturalization interview which are inconsistent with prior answers given to government officers, the USCIS immigration officer can deny your Naturalization Petition for dishonesty.

What if your Naturalization Petition is denied?

All petitioners may file a request for a rehearing, along with any new evidence, and request an opportunity to meet with an USCIS immigration officer to explain why the decision should be overturned. There is a significant filing fee required, and the decision will be difficult to overturn without strong evidence in your favor. A petitioner will also be able (in most cases) to file a new petition for naturalization five (5) years from the date of denial, so long as they maintain good “moral character” during that time.

If you have questions about the Naturalization process, or about your eligibility to be a U.S. citizen, please contact Ziegler & Schneider today at (859) 426-1300.

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