How to apply for us citizenship

By: Bernard P. Wolfsdorf, Esq., Robert J. Blanco, Esq., and Richard Yemm, Esq.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

What are the requirements to become a US citizen?

If you are living in the US with a Green Card and want to become a citizen, then there are specific US citizenship requirements. These requirements for US citizenship are as follows:

  • You have to be at least 18 years old when you file the application
  • You must have had a Green Card for at least 5 years
  • You must have continuous residence in the US for at least 5 years before you file the application
  • You must have lived physically in the US for at least 30 months from the 5 years that you have had the Green Card
  • You must prove that you have lived in the state you are applying for at least 3 months
  • You must be able to speak, read, and write basic English
  • You must understand US history and government
  • You must show you respect the US Constitution
  • You must be a person of good moral character, which means you have not committed any serious crimes.
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If you do not fulfill one of these requirements for citizenship, then you are not allowed to apply. Applications must go through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Even if you apply without meeting the American citizenship requirements, USCIS will deny it.

Are you ready to apply for citizenship?

The cost of applying for U.S. citizenship will depend greatly on whether or not you are eligible to begin the naturalization process.

In some cases, you may already be a U.S. citizen and not even know it. For more information check out our article: Who is Already a U.S. Citizen?

If you are not already a U.S. citizen, then the next step will be to determine whether you are eligible to begin applying for U.S. citizenship.

Having a green card (permanent residency) can lower these costs considerably. If, however, you haven’t yet obtained permanent residency these costs can rise quickly.

If you are not a legal permanent resident:

For those without legal permanent residence, filing for a green card is a necessary first step in the naturalization process. However, just getting a green card can be quite expensive.

For example, you can expect to pay around $5,000-$7000 total to get a family-based green card. Once you have obtained this green card, and meet the other requirements to begin naturalization, the next step is to pay the fees outlined in the section below.

If you are a legal permanent resident who is ready to begin the naturalization process:

If you already have a green card and you are eligible to begin the naturalization process, then you can expect to pay around $1,500 – $2,600 to complete the documents necessary for naturalization. These costs are outlined below:

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Amount Type of expense More information
$725 ($640 filing fee plus $85 biometric fee). Government fees In most cases, government fees are required. There is no negotiating these fees. These are what the U.S. Federal Government requires you to pay before they will even look at your application. If, however, you are 75 years of age or older, you are not charged a biometric fee. This makes the total fee $640. Also, there is no fee required for military applicants filing under Section 328 and 329 of the INA.
$1,500 – $2,000 Attorney fees. This will vary depending on the complexity of your case, your location, the experience of the attorney,
$100-$400 Document preparation, translations, etc. Your application will require that you put together certain evidence. You must submit all of this evidence in its original language. You must also provide an English translation if applicable. In certain situations, you will also have to submit multiple copies of these documents.

Other Cost Considerations

Regardless of whether you are a legal permanent resident or not, factors like a criminal history or a negative immigration history can make the process much more complex, and therefore more expensive.

In these cases, you must submit additional forms, which require more government fees, more of your attorney’s time, and more prepared documents.

Given these potential expenses, it is crucial to know whether you want to apply for citizenship in the first place. For a comparison of the benefits of naturalization to green card status, check out this article.

Are there ways to lower the cost?

Certainly. In fact you can save yourself a great deal of money if you don’t hire an attorney to do the work for you. However, you need to realize the value an attorney can bring to the table.

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An experienced immigration attorney is familiar with the system. They can help you avoid timely delays and potential errors that may lead to a rejected application.

In the end, hiring an attorney to do it right the first time can save you from the repeated expenses of messing it up on your own.

You will fill out the form, gather the evidence, etc. Once you have done your work, your attorney will look over your packet and make sure that everything is in order before you send it to USCIS. Often, attorneys will charge you a much lower rate if you are willing to do this work yourself.

Conclusion

While becoming a naturalized citizen can be a rewarding experience, the process of naturalization can be expensive and riddled with complexity. For most naturalization cases, hiring an experienced immigration lawyer is almost always the best option to save you headaches and a lot of money.

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