Considering Applying for U.S. Naturalization? Here are 10 Common Myths and Misperceptions
The U.S. Citizenship Process Through Naturalization
Becoming a U.S. citizen is both a tremendous benefit and great responsibility. U.S. citizens have the right to vote, to obtain government jobs, to petition other family members for immigration benefits, to reside abroad without losing the right to return, and to receive certain limited protections of the U.S. government while overseas, among others.
In this election year, the amount of U.S. Naturalization applications received by immigration officials has surged. According to recently released data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), between January 1 and March 31 of 2016, 252,254 new citizenship applications were submitted, the most of any quarter in the past 12 months. The total is approximately 55,000 more applications than USCIS received during the same time period in 2015.
As the filing of applications is up, it is useful to recall 10 of the most common myths and misconceptions about the requirements for U.S. Naturalization.
U.S. Naturalization Processing Times are Too Long
Where in the past, applying for Naturalization took up to 10 months; over the previous year, U.S. Naturalization is only taking about 4-5 months from the time of filing in most cases to interview the applicant and issue a decision. If approved, the Oath Ceremony – and receiving the Naturalization Certificate – usually occurs a month later.
I’m Ineligible Because I’ve Traveled Out of the U.S. for Over 6 Months
A fundamental requirement to qualify for U.S. citizenship is proving that you have continuously lived in the U.S. in the five years preceding the application submission. During that period, if the applicant departed the U.S. for over 6 months at a time, a “rebuttable presumption” that he has abandoned residence and is ineligible for citizenship arises. However, with proof that overall the intention of the applicant to reside in the U.S. has remained, the absence of over 6 months is typically not an obstacle.
I do not Qualify Because I’ve Been out of the U.S. for Over 1 Year
Even someone who has been out of the U.S. for over a year can qualify, but they must wait four years and one day from the time of returning to the U.S. in order to regain eligibility. Such applicants should be sure they have not abandoned their residency.
I had a Re-entry Permit, so my Two Years out of the U.S. Don’t Matter
While Obtaining a Re-entry Permit (filed on Form I-131) generally allows a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident to preserve and not abandon their U.S residence while outside of the country, it does not affect the normal requirements that someone continuously and physically reside in the U.S. prior to filing for U.S. Naturalization.
…. Happened a Long Time Ago and is not Relevant
The U.S. Naturalization process is a deep examination of a person’s entire Immigration, Criminal and Biographic history. An applicant should be prepared to discuss and describe any previous encounters with law enforcement or immigration officers (including at the border/airport, judge or USCIS), as well previous marriages or immigration filings. If during the application process, USCIS discovers something amiss—for example, that serious criminal offenses have occurred; that the person abandoned their U.S. residence by residing abroad; or that fraud was at play in obtaining the permanent status, it can seek to terminate the permanent resident status and seek to initiate Removal Proceedings.
I Previously Submitted X Documents to USCIS, so Wouldn’t need to Submit them Again
It is important to bring any records related to immigration eligibility to the Naturalization interview, and not to assume that USCIS will have them. This includes: any previous immigration and criminal records; marriage or divorce decrees; and, if Naturalizing based on marriage to a U.S. citizen, proof of the continued validity of the relationship.
I Received my Green Card Based on Marriage to a U.S. Citizen, but that’s no Longer Relevant
Individuals who obtained their residence based on a petition from a U.S. citizen spouse should be prepared to discuss and present evidence to show that the marriage was a valid one and not entered into for the purpose of evading immigration laws. This is particularly the case when the marriage ended shortly after the green card was obtained or multiple petitions have been filed on behalf of the applicant.
Scrutiny of my Employment-Based Green Card Ended When it was Approved
Residents who adjusted their status on the basis of employment should be prepared to present evidence that they actually worked for their petitioning employer in the form of Form W-2, pay statements and other personnel records. USCIS will be evaluating whether a legitimate job offer was open to the applicant on the day of adjustment.
There is Little I can do to Raise my Chances
During the Naturalization process, USCIS will evaluate whether the applicant is a person of Good Moral Character. To that end, and especially when there are pervious crimes in the applicant’s past, it is good to bring proof of one’s “good moral character” to the Naturalization interview. Examples include proof of gainful employment; letters of commendation from religious or community organizations; proof of paying taxes; and proof of completion of probation or relevant rehabilitation classes, if applicable.
I am Only Eligible for Naturalization Five Years After Becoming a U.S. Resident
Actually, USCIS will accept the application four years and nine months after the applicant’s Green Card was approved (the “resident since” date on the actual card). Applicants who have been married to and residing with their U.S. citizen spouse for two years and nine months after obtaining their Green Card have a shorter waiting period, and can file two years and nine months after first becoming a permanent (or conditional) resident.
By some estimates approximately 2.3 million Lawful Permanent Residents in California, and about 8.6 million nationwide are eligible for Naturalization. Before taking that major step, it is wise to have an attorney evaluate the case and correct any myths or misunderstandings about the process.