Risks of Applying for US Citizenship

Applying for US Citizenship is very risky for some foreign citizens who otherwise qualify.

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Taking the oath for US Naturalization is the final step in the immigration process. And for the vast
majority of foreign citizens, it takes years of time spent in the US before a Naturalization Application is
even a possibility.

As a proud American, I consider US Citizenship to be a blessing on multiple levels, and the US
Naturalization Ceremony often makes people taking the Oath of Citizenship teary-eyed. SO I usually am
a strong supporter in applying for US Naturalization when a successful application is possible. But there
are certain situations where applying for US Citizenship can be very risky.

It is no surprise criminal issues in a foreign citizen’s background may result in substantial risk during a
US Naturalization application. However, my experience has been foreign citizens with green cards but
removable criminal issues generally avoid applying for US Citizenship. Usually the more common
situation is a foreign citizen has multiple relatively minor convictions during the five years preceding a
US Naturalization Application. This may result in a denial of US Citizenship under the good moral
character requirement, but it should not impact anything beyond the Naturalization application.

As an aside over the years I have assisted a handful of clients arrested at the same time that they had
pending Naturalization Applications. And I once assisted a foreign citizen who was arrested the day
before a scheduled Naturalization Oath Ceremony.

More than arrests though, the biggest risks of applying for Naturalization often involve prior interactions
with the immigration service or consulates. Applying for US Naturalization enables the Immigration
Service to examine all relevant prior immigration applications and petitions before approving the
Naturalization Application. And if a foreign citizen applying for US Naturalization previously received a
US Immigration benefit either improperly or fraudulently, Naturalization is not an option. Afterwards, a
real risk exists the foreign citizen may have his/her US green card jeopardized.

For example, I have seen many cases where foreign citizens previously divorced have later married and
then received green cards through US Citizens. And then after a number of years these same foreign
citizens have applied for US Naturalization. Yet, when these foreign citizens have applied for US
Naturalization, the Immigration Service determined their previous divorce (for the marriage before
marriage to the US Citizen) was never finalized.

In these situations, the first marriage never legally ended. As a result there exists no valid marriage to the
US Citizen, which means the green card should never have been issued to the foreign citizen. These
situations are fairly common, especially where the previous marriage and divorce to the non-US Citizen
occurred overseas. And when this type of situation occurs, not only is the foreign citizen denied US
Naturalization, its possible the Immigration Service will also try to void the foreign citizen’s green card.

Adam Edward Rothwell is a US Immigration lawyer based in Baltimore, Maryland. He may be followed on
Twitter at: USAImmigration

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