In order to prepare a strong case for U.S. citizenship, there are a number of things you should do first, even before you submit an application to become a U.S. citizen. Number one on that list of things is to determine whether you already are a U.S. citizen. You may be a U.S. citizen already if you were born in the United States or if you acquired U.S. citizenship through your parents. In which case, you will not need to prepare a case to obtain U.S. citizenship.
If you determine that you are not already a U.S. citizen, then you must be eligible to become a U.S. citizen before you can apply. The more requirements you satisfy, the more likely it is that you will be eligible to become a U.S. citizen. This, in turn, can help strengthen your case for citizenship.
Some factors that may indicate that you are eligible to apply to become a U.S. citizen include:
- You must be 18 years old to apply for U.S. citizenship;
- You are a permanent resident of the United States and have been issued a permanent resident or green card;
- You must have been a resident for three to five years or for five years or longer (note that depending on your answer, these time periods will have different requirements);
- For instance, if you have only been a permanent resident for three to five years, then you must be married to and living with a U.S. citizen (or a spouse that has been a U.S. citizen for at least three years), and you must not have traveled outside of the country for 18 months or longer.
- In contrast, if you fall under the other category of five years or longer, then you must be able to read, write, and speak basic English, demonstrate good moral character, be willing to take an Oath of Allegiance, and several other requirements.
Once you have established that you are eligible to apply, then you can prepare and submit your Application for Naturalization (i.e., Form N-400) and any supporting documents to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) agency. Many applicants will also need to take a Civics Test, attend a biometrics appointment, and schedule an interview with the USCIS as part of their application process.
If you have properly complied with all of the above steps and have provided the accurate information requested during any of those steps, then you will most likely have a strong case for U.S. Citizenship. However, you can make your case for U.S. citizenship even stronger by hiring a local citizenship attorney. A citizenship attorney can help you build your case, prepare you for your USCIS interview, and recommend materials to ensure you pass the Civics Test.
What Type of Documents and Questions Should I Gather Before I Meet with My Citizenship Lawyer?
There are a number of documents that an applicant should gather before meeting with their citizenship lawyer. This step is especially important if the applicant and their lawyer have discussed submitting the Application for Naturalization during the meeting.
Some types of documents that an applicant should bring with them when meeting with their lawyer include:
- A completed version of the forms being filed along with any supporting documents that are part of the application;
- Their Permanent Resident Card or a photocopy of the card;
- Any documents associated with a criminal matter (e.g., if the applicant has been arrested, has had a conviction vacated, was placed in a community service program, etc.);
- Any documents associated with a federal or state tax issue (e.g., agreements or correspondence with the IRS);
- A check, money order, or credit card to pay for the application fees (if applying for U.S. citizenship during the meeting);
- Evidence that proves the applicant has continued to live or work in the United States if they have traveled abroad for six months or longer; and
- If the applicant is obtaining U.S. citizenship through marriage:
- A marriage certificate;
- Divorce papers if an applicant or their spouse was previously married; and
- Copies of their spouse’s passport and birth certificate (or certificate of naturalization or citizenship, depending on the situation).
The above list is not exhaustive of the types of documents that may be required to apply for U.S. citizenship. Thus, an applicant should review such requirements by visiting the website for the USCIS. Their attorney can also review these requirements with them at the meeting.
Additionally, a person should also prepare a list of questions they have about U.S. citizenship or about the application itself. For instance, if they do not understand a specific requirement or if they believe they might be denied citizenship because of their criminal history, they should mention these concerns at the meeting with their lawyer.
What Makes a Strong or Weak Citizenship Case?
There are many ways for an applicant to ensure that they have a strong case. Some tips that can strengthen a citizenship case include:
- Providing accurate information and completing all application requirements;
- Preparing for both the Civics Test and the USCIS interview;
- Attending the biometrics appointment;
- Submitting strong evidence that proves that an applicant is eligible to receive U.S. citizenship;
- Registering for Selective Service (note only certain applicants must fulfill this requirement); and
- Hiring a lawyer for assistance (e.g., with the application, interview process, the Civics Test, etc.).
In contrast, there are also many factors that can weaken a case for U.S. citizenship. Some of these include:
- Failing to renew a green card;
- Having a fraudulent green card;
- Doing poorly on the Civics Test or during the USCIS interview;
- Having a criminal record;
- Lying on the citizenship application or during the USCIS interview;
- Failing to pay child support or taxes; and/or
- Not completing the application, including not submitting the proper documents for a sponsor (e.g., documents that prove their spouse is a U.S. citizen).
What are Some Dos and Don’ts in Citizenship Cases?
Some Dos and Don’ts when attempting to prepare a strong case for U.S. citizenship include:
- Do be careful when filling out forms and providing information at the interview.
- Do not leave out important information, make mistakes, or lie when answering questions.
- Do check for updates or recent changes to immigration laws and/or the process to obtain U.S. citizenship.
- Do not forget to review the factors for eligibility before applying since this can delay the process even further.
- Do make note of anything that might disqualify the applicant (e.g., criminal violations).
- Do not fail to renew a green card or to check that it is not expiring soon before applying for U.S. citizenship.
- Do be sure to prepare for the Civics Test and interview.
- Most importantly, do not give up hope if the application is denied or an applicant failed their Civics Test.
When Do I Absolutely Need a Citizenship Attorney?
Although you do not necessarily need a lawyer to apply for U.S. citizenship, there are certain circumstances that may warrant the need of a citizenship attorney more than others.
For instance, it is strongly recommended that you hire a citizenship attorney if you are considering renouncing your U.S. citizenship, or alternatively, are requesting to have it reinstated. Your attorney can advise you of the repercussions of either action and can provide guidance on the process to obtain either status.
You may also want to contact a citizenship attorney if you need help with your Application for Naturalization or to prepare for the Civics Test. Your attorney can make sure that you completed all of the requirements on the application and can provide the right testing materials, which may increase your chances of passing the Civics Test.
Finally, you should absolutely retain the services of a citizenship attorney if you need to attend a citizenship hearing or meeting held in immigration court.