Applying for to become a naturalized citizen is a big deal – it’s a request for a huge set of rights and benefits. If you are approved to naturalize, you will be scheduled for an oath ceremony where you will swear loyalty to the United States. Once you naturalize, you get citizenship in the United States, which cannot be taken away unless fraud was committed in your naturalization application. It means being able to get a US passport, which may make travel to other countries easier. It also means being able to vote in elections in your state, local area, and for federal offices including the presidency. Here’s what to do if your N-400 is denied.
What to Do if Your N-400 is Denied
What if you apply for naturalization, but your N-400 is denied? You may be wondering what you should do. N-400 applicants whose cases are denied usually have two ways to go forward in fighting a denial:
1) File an N-336 request for a hearing about the denial within 30 days of the denial; or
2) Re-file the N-400, either now or at some point in the future.
What’s the best way to move forward after a denial of an N-400? The answer depends on why your application is denied and your personal information.
Reasons your N-400 May Be Denied
There are several basic requirements for naturalization. If you do not meet any one of these basic requirements, your N-400 will be denied:
- Be a permanent resident for the required period of time:
- Any permanent resident may apply for naturalization once they have been a permanent resident for 5 years.
- If your spouse is a U.S. citizen, you can apply if you have been a resident for three years and you have been married to and living with your spouse for the last three years.
- There are also special cases for people who have served in the military or other scenarios. Consult with an experienced immigration attorney about your situation if you think you may qualify to file under a special provision.
- Physical Presence: You must show that you have been physically within the United States for the required amount of time (half of the last 5 years if you are applying based on being a resident for 5 years, or half of the last 3 years if you are applying based on being married to and living with a U.S. citizen.
- Continuous Residence: You must show that you maintained a residence in the United States throughout the last 5 years (or 3 if you are filing based on marriage to a U.S. citizen)
- Good moral character: You must be able to show that you have good moral character within the last 5 years (or the last 3 years if you are applying based on being married to a U.S. citizen); and
- Civics and English Test: You must be able to show that you are proficient in English and understand U.S. history and government by taking a test.
More detailed information on these requirements is available here.
Requirements for Naturalization with No USCIS Discretion
Some of these requirements are absolute, and whether you meet them or not is a factual, black-and-white issue. An applicant must meet these requirements, or the application will be denied. An officer has no discretion to approve the application in these circumstances. Some of the requirements that must be met (there is no USCIS discretion) are:
Being a permanent resident for the required amount of time. Unless you qualify to file under a special rule, you must have been a resident for at least five years, or if you are filing based on marriage to a US citizen, you must have been a resident for three years (“the three-year rule”). If you do not meet this requirement, your application cannot be approved. Also, if you file based on the three-year rule, but you have not been married to and living with your U.S. citizen spouse for the last three years, your application cannot be approved.
Physical presence requirement. This is a hardline rule. If you do not have the required amount of days within the United States, USCIS cannot approve your case. If this is the reason for your denial, you need to look at whether you qualify now and if you can file a new N-400.
Continuous residence requirement. If you have been out of the United States for a continuous period of one year or more, this generally means that you must wait four years and one day after your return to the United States to file for naturalization (or 2 years and one day if you are filing under the three-year rule). This is true even if you had a reentry permit while you were out of the U.S. Exceptions to this are people who have an approved N-470 Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization that covers the period of their absence from the United States, and people filing under the expedited naturalization provisions of section 319(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
English, History and Civics Test. You must pass the test and you must show proficiency in English unless you meet an exception to the English language requirement. If you do not qualify for an exception to the English requirement, but cannot answer questions in English, your application will be denied. If you cannot correctly answer at least six of the 10 history and civics questions during the test, your application will be denied. If you do not pass the test for either of these reasons, USCIS will reschedule your interview for 90 days later to give you an opportunity to study and take the test again. However, after your second test, if you do not pass or cannot show proficiency in English during your interview, your application will be denied. If your N-400 is denied for this reason, it may be best to file a new N-400 and study the history and civics questions and practice speaking English in preparation for the interview.
Requirements for Naturalization with USCIS Discretion
Some of the requirements for naturalization are subject to USCIS discretion, such as determining if a person can show good moral character. In some cases, a person may have a criminal conviction that occurred outside the last 5 years (or three if filing under the three-year rule). This can be a basis for denial of naturalization and can even lead to the person being placed in immigration court.
Another area in which the Service has discretion is proving continuous residence in the United States where the applicant has been absent for periods of more than 180 days but less than one year.
Immediate Next Steps if Your N-400 is Denied
If your N-400 was denied, you need to review the denial and be sure you understand why it was denied. If the denial appears to be based on an error, it’s a good idea to speak to an immigration attorney with experience handling these cases to help you verify that the denial really was made in error and then take action to try to get the decision reversed if possible.
If the denial does not contain errors, determine which of the requirements you did not meet. Some of the requirements for naturalization are not subject to officer discretion, so if you do not meet these requirements, the application was properly denied.
Immigration Lawyer in Houston
In all naturalization cases, a person’s entire history may be scrutinized. If there was any issue in the applicant’s application for permanent residence, this may come up in the naturalization process and can even be a basis for a denial. Even if you believe your case has no issues, it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer to understand what you can do to ensure that you file a thorough application and are prepared for the interview.
If you’re ready to get help applying for citizenship, contact us: