Citizenship might be the final step of your immigration journey. If you don’t have birthright citizenship, you will need to go through the naturalization process. Hundreds of thousands of people complete this process every year. But the requirements are stringent, and you will need to thoroughly prepare to ensure you have everything you need to succeed.
Learning about common pitfalls is a crucial part of this preparation process. The more you know about what could trigger a denial, the better equipped you will be to obtain approval. The following is a list of the 4 most common reasons why USCIS denies citizenship applications.
1. Not meeting the “good moral character” standards
Checking this box is more difficult than turning in a completed application or studying for the civics test. The “good moral character” requirement is much more ambiguous, and USCIS evaluates it by considering a wide range of factors.
Conduct that may affect your eligibility for citizenship includes:
- Green card fraud
- Criminal history (including controlled substance violations)
- Severe financial issues (like unpaid taxes)
- Failure to support dependents (e.g. not paying child support)
- Fraud (or simply misinformation/inconsistencies) within your citizenship application
While USCIS says it will primarily evaluate the 5 years preceding your application, it may consider conduct before this period as well.
2. Failing to register for Selective Service
If you are male and between ages 18 and 26, you must register for Selective Service if you want to become a citizen. Registering does not mean you are signing up for the military—it is a database in case of a national emergency.
3. Failing to fulfill the physical presence requirement
As a permanent resident, you are allowed to leave the United States, but you cannot leave for more than 6 months in a single year if you’re applying for citizenship. You must also have lived in the U.S. with a green card for 5 years (or 3 if your spouse is a citizen), and, for at least 30 total months in the 5 years before applying for citizenship, you must have been physically present in the U.S. Finally, once you apply for citizenship, you cannot leave the U.S. until you officially become a citizen.
4. Failing the civics or English exam
During your interview, you will need to demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking the English language. For each application you file, you can try twice to pass these tests.
The officer will assess your speaking ability throughout the interview, but you also must correctly write one provided sentence and correctly read another provided sentence aloud. For the civics portion, you must correctly answer six out of ten questions the officer asks you about U.S. civics and history.
You may take the civics test with an interpreter if:
- You are over 55 years old and have had a green card for 15 years; or
- You are over 50 years old and have had a green card for 20 years.
If you have a medical disability that significantly hinders your ability to pass the tests, you may file Form N-648 to waive this requirement.
What to Do if USCIS Denies Your Application
No matter what triggered an application denial, you still have options. One of these options is to file an administrative appeal using Form N-336. Although less than 10% of applicants who receive a denial file an appeal, more than half of all appeals each year are successful.
You must act quickly, however, as you will only have 30 days after receiving the denial to file an appeal. Generally, an appeal is an appropriate course of action if you believe the adjudicating officer made a mistake or you have new evidence to present. If the grounds they used to deny your application are valid, however, you may consider restarting the application process after the issue has been resolved.
No matter the case, Gambacorta Law can help you decide whether an appeal is the best course of action. If you have not yet submitted your application or attended your interview, our support and guidance can give your case the highest possible chances of success. When you are applying for citizenship, the stakes are high, and we want to make sure you have everything you need.