Understanding Why Rejections Happen and How To Avoid a Denial
United States citizenship is the endgame for many immigrants seeking to build a life in the country. Beyond being a symbolic victory, becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization confers numerous significant benefits, including the ability to vote and run for office. Naturalized citizens also cannot be deported.
Only lawful permanent residents with valid green cards can successfully initiate the naturalization process. Getting a green card in the first place is often a difficult task, but the citizenship process can also be an arduous and protracted process. Lawful permanent residents filing Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization, must meet numerous conditions in order to qualify for citizenship. Below, we cover the top 10 reasons why United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) rejects citizenship applications.
Reason #1: Complications from a Divorce
Many lawful permanent residents obtain their green cards through marriage to other lawful permanent residents or United States citizens. Because USCIS remains concerned about marriage fraud in these arrangements, those who become divorced from their partners typically become the subject of intense scrutiny.
Disqualifying complications stemming from a divorce can manifest in one of several ways when navigating the naturalization process. First, it is important to understand that those who got their green cards through marriage to a U.S. citizen face a briefer mandatory waiting period than other lawful permanent residents. Spouses of U.S. citizens can apply for naturalization after 3 years versus 5 years for those who got their green card through other means.
Problems arise when a divorce occurs during the naturalization process of someone married to a U.S. spouse. If the lawful permanent resident applies for naturalization as soon as they are able to – at least 3 years after receiving their green card – their ability to petition for citizenship “early” stems directly from their marriage. If the marriage ends, so does their ability to apply for naturalization after only 3 years.
This means that a divorce from a U.S. spouse can result in the rejection of your naturalization application. You must remain married and continue to live with your U.S. citizen spouse until you undergo the naturalization ceremony. Otherwise, any progress made with your application may be halted and terminated.
With that said, divorcees of a U.S. spouse can still potentially apply for citizenship on the basis of being a lawful permanent resident. However, they must wait the full 5 years before applying. Note that USCIS will most likely thoroughly inspect your previous marriage. Should the agency suspect it was fraudulent, they may reject your citizenship application and even rescind your green card.
Reason #2: Failing To Meet Physical and Continuous Presence Requirements
Lawful permanent residents are unable to apply for citizenship immediately. They must first endure a mandatory waiting period depending on the manner in which they procured their green card.
Most lawful permanent residents will need to wait at least 5 years before pursuing naturalization. Those who married a U.S. citizen will only need to wait 3 years.
During this mandatory waiting period, all lawful permanent residents must meet physical and continuous presence requirements. Physical presence is defined as the amount of time physically spent within the borders of the United States, while continuous presence refers to your maintaining your primary residence in the country.
To qualify for citizenship, a lawful permanent resident must maintain complete continuous presence for the length of their mandatory waiting period. In practice, this means they must maintain a residential address and cannot leave the country for periods longer than 6 months.
Lawful permanent residents must also maintain physical presence in the United States for at least half of their mandatory waiting period. For green card holders married to U.S. citizens, that means they must be inside the country for a minimum of 1.5 years – or 18 months – of their 3-year waiting period. Other lawful permanent residents must be in the U.S. for at least 2.5 years – or 30 months – of their 5-year period.
When submitting Form N-400, you must attest that you met both continuous and physical presence requirements. Strong applications will include evidence supporting these claims, including photographs or transactional documents that demonstrate the applicant was within the country at various points throughout their waiting period. Should USCIS suspect you disrupted either your continuous or physical presence, your application for naturalization may be denied.
Reason #3: Failing To Pay Taxes
Lawful permanent residents are required to file annual income reports with the U.S. government and pay associated income taxes. An intentional failure to pay taxes can lead to your being charged with tax evasion and other crimes, which will often by default preclude you from pursuing citizenship if convicted.
An inability to pay owed taxes or a misunderstanding of tax obligations that leads to tax debt can still imperil your application for naturalization. You to overcome this obstacle, you will need to demonstrate to USCIS that you have a viable plan to repay. They may reject your application if you have any outstanding tax debt at all.
Reason #4: Failing To Register for the Selective Service
This reason is fairly straightforward. Lawful permanent residents who are male and between the ages of 18 and 26 are required to register for the Selective Service upon receiving their green cards. If the lawful permanent resident is a minor child, they have 30 days to register upon turning 18.
Women and those older than 26 at the time of receiving their green card do not have to at any point register for the Selective Service. However, if you were required to do register for the Selective Service and failed to do so, USCIS can reject your citizenship application. You should assume USCIS agents will check your registration when evaluating your case.
Reason #5: Failing To Meet the 3-Month Residency Requirement
This problem is completely avoidable, but making the mistake can waste money and time. As a lawful permanent resident, you are generally able to move anywhere you wish within the United States. However, you are required to keep USCIS informed of any address changes.
If you are interested in pursuing citizenship, you will ultimately submit your Form N-400 to the state or service district in which your primary, registered address is located. You must have resided at this address for a minimum of 3 months before applying for naturalization.
In other words, if you move just before applying for citizenship, your application can be rejected, even if you meet all other requirements. You should consider USCIS’s formal acknowledgment of your change of address as the date in which this 3-month countdown begins. Do not submit your Form N-400 until at least 3 months have passed from that date.
Reason #6: Deliberate Failure To Support Dependents
Lawful permanent residents who seek to become citizens must demonstrate “good moral character.” This broad requirement covers a number of conditions, among them the need to support dependents and minor children.
Applicants for naturalization will need to demonstrate that they are adequately providing for any minor children – even if they do not live together – and any other dependents. This typically translates to providing sufficient financial support, with or without a court order. If a court order for support has been issued, assume USCIS will locate it and provide evidence to prove you are complying with its instructions.
Reason #7: Failing the English Component of the Citizenship Test
All lawful permanent residents who clear the initial stages of naturalization processing will be expected to complete a two-part citizenship test in the presence of a USCIS agent. One of these parts is focused on the applicant’s proficiency in the English language.
If you filed your initial naturalization application on or after December 1, 2020, you will need to prove basic proficiency in the English language in the following ways:
- Speaking. Your interview with a USCIS agent, which will be conducted ahead of the test, will be spoken in the English language. The agent will evaluate your ability to speak and have conversations in English in the course of completing the interview.
- Reading. You will be presented with three sentences written in the English language. You must select and successfully read one of your choosing aloud.
- Writing. The USCIS agent will speak three sentences aloud in English. You must select and successfully dictate one of the spoken sentences.
Should you fail to complete any portion of the English component of the exam, your USCIS agent will schedule a follow-up test within 60 and 90 days. On that date, you will have a second opportunity to complete the exam. Should you fail a second time, your entire naturalization application will be rejected.
Reason #8: Failing the Civics Component of the Citizenship Test
The other part of the citizenship exams surrounds United States history and civic knowledge. The test is oral, meaning the questions will be spoken and answers must be delivered in the English language.
For those who filed their initial Form N-400 on or after December 1, 2020, USCIS will randomly pull 20 questions from a pool of 128 for each individual test. The applicant must answer at least 12 of the 20 questions correctly to pass.
Like with the English language component, an initial failure should not result in the rejection of your candidacy. You will have a second attempt at the civics exam in 60-90 days. If you fail for a second time, your citizenship application will likely be denied. Note that all 128 of the questions you can potentially be asked can be found on the USCIS website.
Reason #9: Having a Disqualifying Criminal Record
USCIS has a tremendous amount of discretion in rejecting citizenship applicants on the basis of not having “good moral character.” Some of the most common justifications for denials on this basis stem from criminal records. An applicant can have a temporary or permanent bar to citizenship depending on the severity of the offense or offenses.
Temporary bars do not preclude you from ever applying for citizenship, but they do significantly delay when you will be permitted to apply. Generally, receiving a temporary bar due to a criminal offense means you must wait an additional 5 years from the date of the crime before you can apply for naturalization. Lawful permanent residents who are married to U.S. spouses may only need to wait an additional 3 years.
The following types of offenses can trigger a temporary bar:
- Drug possession, including possession of over 30 grams of marijuana (even in states where possession is legalized)
- Minor fraud
- Any criminal conviction that results in a prison sentence of 180 days or more
- Any combination of two or more criminal convictions that result in a cumulative prison sentence of 5 years or more
Note that you are not guaranteed the ability to apply for citizenship after clearing a temporary bar. USCIS may still decide to reject your application on the grounds of poor moral character.
Permanent bars not only prevent you from ever applying for U.S. citizenship, they also tend to be deportable offenses. USCIS has no ability to overlook these types of bars and will frequently target those convicted of qualifying crimes for removal.
Examples of crimes that can lead to permanent bars include:
- Drug trafficking
- Weapons trafficking
- Child pornography or sexual abuse of children
- Significant levels of fraud
- Any theft crime resulting in a prison sentence of 1 year or more
- Any violent crime resulting in a prison sentence of 1 year or more
Reason #10: Detection or Suspicion of Fraudulent Behavior
Any amount of criminal fraud can lead to either a temporary or permanent bar that will limit your ability to pursue citizenship. The consequences of fraudulent behavior when communicating with USCIS can be especially severe for those seeking citizenship or any other type of immigration status.
Intentionally or unintentionally lying or misrepresenting facts to USCIS officials can result in the rejection of your citizenship application. This principle applies to information provided in Form N-400 or answers given in your in-person interview. If at any time USCIS suspects you are engaged in deceptive behavior, they may move to deny your application, even if you did not intend to omit or misrepresent something.
USCIS also has the ability to rescind lawful permanent residency status if they at any point believe a green card was obtained through fraud. This means that a citizenship application could be jeopardized if, in the course of reviewing your materials, USCIS discovers information that they believe suggests your green card was procured through deceptive behavior.
We Can Help You Overcome Naturalization Challenges
Our immigration attorneys at Kanu & Associates, P.C. have over 15 years of experience helping clients overcome complex legal difficulties. We are intimately familiar with the requirements of naturalization and are prepared to help you navigate whatever obstacles you might face in filing your application. Our team can assess your eligibility, help you avoid common mistakes, and work to prepare you for the citizenship exam and interview. We are committed to helping immigrants become naturalized citizens and are ready to give you the compassionate legal support you deserve.
Call (602) 353-7795 or contact us online to schedule a consultation today.