We hear this question often, and the answer is not easy. While there are many DIY resources online, determining whether you are eligible to Naturalize can be tricky.
Filing for United States citizenship through Naturalization includes filing a form, including necessary evidence, and attending an interview. Even though that may sound simple, the complexities are in the details.
While filing to Naturalize on your own is possible, it is not always the smartest thing to do. This will depend on how complicated your case is, whether you're even eligible, and how apprehensive you are.
Are You Eligible To Naturalize Now?
It may seem odd to ask such a question, because if you're wondering whether you need to hire an attorney to Naturalize, then you should already know you're eligible to file. However, it is not that easy.
Basic eligibility requires:
- The required period of time as a Permanent Resident (usually five years, but less time in some cases)
- Proving that you have "Good Moral Character" as a green card holder, and
- Being physically present in the United States for at least half the time as permanent resident
In addition to the above requirements, you also need to pass a a United States civics and government exam and prove you can read and write English. Before you go to the interview, you can take a sample practice test and watch a sample interview to prepare.
These basic requirements are not complicated, there are many hidden requirements which may cause you eligibility problems if you are not aware of them. Consider the following examples:
- If you were outside the U.S. for 1 year or more, the physical presence clock in the United States gets reset, even if you have enough physical presence days, you will still be unable to meet this requirement.
- If you ever failed to file taxes or owe back taxes, have claimed to be a non-resident, you may not be able to prove good moral character.
- Being cited, arrested, detained, charged, convicted, have cheated on your spouse, or failed to support your children, you might be ineligible.
Is Your Case Complicated or Risky?
When you are certain that you are eligible, then it would be possible to file your naturalization on your own. Before moving forward, consider whether there are complicating factors or risks involved.
- An arrest record
- Prior conviction of misdemeanor or felonies, here in the U.S. or in another country, even if they get expunged or sealed
- Multiple traffic citations
- Marriage problems or cheating
- Not paying your taxes on time
- Not paying Alimony or spousal support
- Not paying child support on time or failing to support your children
Criminal convictions can have a serious impact on your ability to naturalize. You could technically have all the requirements to naturalize, but also have an old criminal conviction, which could trigger deportation proceedings if you apply for naturalization. Even though it is not a guarantee that the government would try to deport you if they found out about a past criminal conviction, however it is a risk you must consider before applying for citizenship.
Even if you have never been convicted of any crime, if you have ever been detained, cited, or arrested by police, you should talk to an attorney before applying for an N-400. Even if you believe you don't have a criminal record because a conviction has been expunged or sealed from your record, or charges dismissed, you will still have to report any criminal record on your naturalization application.
Charges that have been dismissed or expunged can be dealt with proactively. Convictions that may seem minor under state law such as misdemeanors may have serious immigration consequences. You may consider not mentioning minor infractions on your application, however this may have very serious consequences on your naturalization and may result in USCIS determining that you intentionally lied about your history.
Further, you may be able to naturalize while owing back taxes, however you will be required to set up a payment plan and comply with it before being naturalized.
Even if you are not at risk of being deported, if you apply before you are eligible, the government will keep your filing fee and deny your application
Do you Know What to Do?
I you have a clean criminal record, you have maintained your physical residence and recorded all travel abroad, you have filed your taxes properly and don't owe any past due taxes, and you are confident in your ability to file government forms in the right place, you may be able to proceed with filing on your own without hiring an attorney
If you can do your own taxes correctly without help, you can probably apply for naturalization. however, this process has recently gotten much harder. Just a few years back, the naturalization form was only 10 pages long, now it's 22 pages long. These days, USCIS will likely request an exhaustive list of documents to produce, including records of citations, criminal records, tax transcripts, and record of travel documents, which can be difficult to hunt down.
Are you Already a U.S. Citizen?
This may seem like a silly questions, speaking from experience, we meet with a number of people each year who wanted to naturalize, only to discover that they are already a U.S. citizen.
For instance, it is possible to automatically acquire citizenship, without even knowing it, through your U.S. citizen parents at birth. Further, if you had your permanent resident status as a child, then one of your parents naturalize, their naturalization may have automatically transferred citizenship to you. In both of these cases, you may have never been told that you are already a U.S. citizen because the government does a poor job of notifying derivatives. In these situations, you will not be allowed to naturalize because you are already a U.S. citizen. Therefore, your application for naturalization will be denied and you will lose your application fee.
Should you Hire an Attorney?
If you are certain that you are eligible for naturalization, fully understand the process of filing and where to file, and don't have any red flag issues, then you should be fine filing on your own.
Our attorneys can still help you by streamlining the application process, file the applications quickly, properly and completely, so it does not get rejected, prepare you for the interview and attend it with you. The attorney will protect you from abuse at the interview and help resolve problems if they arise.