Saturday, December 1, 2012

Do I Need a Lawyer to Apply for Citizenship?

While attending a class with other immigration lawyers, I heard a presenter express her experience that USCIS is reviewing the basis of a person's permanent residency in many more cases when that person has applied for citizenship.  Indeed, I have personally come across a number of people who found themselves in trouble after submitting a naturalization application because USCIS had uncovered some problem with their permanent residency.  Indeed, other immigration lawyers stated that the situation had gotten to a point that when a person comes to them for assistance in filing a naturalization application, the lawyers are now going in depth in questioning the potential client on how they became a permanent resident.

When a person submits a naturalization petition, USCIS does not simply adjudicate whether that person should become a citizen.  Quite the contrary, USCIS sees this a its last opportunity to look into the background of the applicant, and be sure that everything in the applicant's background is in order.  This means that the adjudicator routinely reviews the applicant's basis for applying for permanent residency in the first place, to ensure that the applicant was granted permanent residency properly.

While it may no seem fair, if, during the naturalization application process, the adjudicator finds something was wrong with the way that the green card was issued, he or she can recommend that the green card be revoked.

For example, if an adult child of a permanent resident was granted an immigrant visa, he or she must remain unmarried until being admitted to the United States as a permanent resident.  If that person were to get married at some point after the U.S. consulate issued the visa, but before actually entering the United States, then that person would have been unqualified to have been admitted as a permanent resident.  When applying for naturalization, that person will be required to disclose the details of all marriages.  A thorough adjudicator could notice that the date of marriage preceded the date of admission, conclude that at the point of admission the person did not qualify for the green card, and then recommend that the green card be revoked.

Similarly, there is a requirement that an applicant for citizenship show five years of good moral character.  Applicants should be aware that the FBI will be conducting a background check on them.  That means that any convictions will likely be brought to the Government's attention if a naturalization application is filed.

The bottom line is that sometimes it may be the better course simply not to apply for citizenship.  But, in order to know that, a person would likely need to consult with a knowledgeable immigration lawyer.  Thus, while the application process would appear simple, consulting with a lawyer beforehand can avoid some disastrous consequences.

By: William J. Kovatch, Jr.
(703) 837-8832


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