Some Applicants for Citizenship Tripped up by Basic Requirements

MAy 22, 2008

Last year, about 12 percent of citizenship applications were denied (89,682 applications). According to the New York Times, this statistic represents a decrease in denials, down from the year 2000 when one-third of applications (399,670 applications) were denied. The Migration Policy Institute attributes this positive trend to immigrants' increased utilization of civics classes and immigrant advocates.

Nevertheless, the New York Times writes that in the last twelve years denial rates have been consistently higher than at any time since the 1920s. To explain these numbers experts and immigration officials point to the number of people not meeting the basic requirements for citizenship: residency requirements, knowledge of English and civics, and good moral character among others.

CUNY Citizenship and Immigration Project attorneys believe that many of these occurrences can be avoided if individuals are more aware of the grounds for denial. They offer the following tips:

  • Be aware of the English language and civics requirements. Even if an applicant is exempt from the English requirement because of age and years of permanent residency, the applicant will still have to take the civics test in his/her own language.
  • Have a basic level of English knowledge BEFORE applying for citizenship. Applicants who are required to demonstrate a basic knowledge of English should have some competence in the language before filing the application for naturalization. The interview may be scheduled sooner than expected, and the applicant may not have sufficient time to study.
  • Do not send the application for naturalization in anticipation of qualifying for an exemption. If an applicant sends the application even a few days before qualifying for an exemption (e.g. of the English language requirement, the full civics knowledge requirement, the biometrics fee), the applicant may not receive the exemption. For example, if a 55 year old woman wants to do the USCIS interview in Spanish, and she sends her application when she has 14 years and 11 months of permanent residency, she may not be permitted to do so. It is irrelevant if she has reached the 15 required years of permanent residency by the time she goes for her interview. In order to have the interview in Spanish, she needs to wait until she has reached the 15 years of permanent residency before sending in her application.
  • Speak with an immigration attorney or other immigration legal expert about ANY arrests, citations or detentions. Even if this occurred in an applicant's home country many years prior, and it was later expunged from the record, this criminal activity could affect the applicant's ability to naturalize. In some cases, applying for citizenship may even result in removal (deportation).
  • Ensure that there were no previous misstatements or omissions of facts on earlier applications to USCIS and in the current naturalization application. A misstatement of fact on an application can result in denial of naturalization and possible removal. For example, this can occur when an individual who acquired permanent residence as an unmarried child of a U.S. permanent resident, marries while his/her petition for permanent residency is pending and does not report the marriage to USCIS. At the interview the officer may see the marriage certificate, see the date of marriage, deny the case, and possibly put the person in removal proceedings.
To avoid a naturalization denial, make sure to see an immigration attorney or other immigration legal expert. You can visit one of our centers for free and confidential immigration assistance.

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