Parviz Malakouti, Esq.
5 Common U.S. Naturalization Mistakes to Avoid
Updated: Apr 19
By Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.
Most green card holders view applying for naturalization as the final finish line to a long race. At the finish line lies a valuable prize - U.S. citizenship, a shiny blue American passport and all the other benefits that come with U.S. citizenship.
Naturally, the instinct is to apply for naturalization as soon as possible and in fact, at the Law Office of Parviz Malakouti, that’s what we recommend most (but not all) of our clients do.
Applying before having three months of residence in your current location
However, before applying, it’s important that a green card holder be sure that they are eligible for naturalization, and more importantly that they do not have an issue in their immigration or criminal history that could result not just in a denial, but in being placed in removal (deportation) proceedings.
Of course all forms have to be properly filled out, and accompanied by the required supporting documentation. However, here are the top five mistakes to avoid specifically when applying for naturalization:
Let’s jump in!
Mistake #1 - Not Enough “Physical Presence”
In order to qualify for naturalization, a green card holder must have enough physical presence in the United States measured on a day by day basis. Green card holders married to U.S. citizens, must have at least 548 days out of the previous 1,095 days (3 full years).
Most other green card holders (with the exception of asylees, refugees, VAWA recipients and a few other exceptions) must have spent at least 913 days out of the previous 1,825 days (5 full years) in order to qualify to apply for naturalization.
Unfortunately, some people come to us who miscalculated their physical presence in the country before applying for naturalization, or they don’t know how many days they spent outside of our country. In most instances, these people end up having their naturalization case denied.
This is why our office advises our new green card holder clients to start making a travel log of all international travel once they become a green card holder.
Mistake #2 - Break in “Continuous Residence”
Successful naturalization applicants must also have maintained “continuous residence” in the United States during the previous five or three years before applying.
USCIS states that:
“The concept of continuous residence involves the applicant maintaining a permanent dwelling place in the United States over the period of time required by the statute.”
Most green card holders start running into USCIS challenging their continuous residence in a naturalization case if they’ve been outside of the United States for longer than six months at a time while they’ve been a green card holder.
If you’ve had an absence of more than six months at a time, you may have to present evidence to show you didn’t have a break in your continuous residence in the United States and that’s something you likely want to consult a licensed immigration lawyer about to make sure you don’t run into trouble.
Mistake #3 - 3 Month Residency Requirement
This is a sneaky mistake and one that many, if not most naturalization applicants are not even aware of.
Naturalization applicants must file their naturalization application in the state or service district that has jurisdiction over their place of residence, and the applicant must have lived in that location for at least three months before filing.
And yes, this can result in a denial. We’ve had a number of people have consultations with us who applied for naturalization on their own, and after as long as a year of waiting were denied because they hadn’t met the three month residency requirement when filing.
Mistake #4 - Fail Civics/English Exam
Naturalization applicants end up at a naturalization interview where they must show their English language proficiency and some basic knowledge about American civics and history (unless the applicant qualifies for an exception).
The naturalization interview is conducted in english and the english test usually consists of the USCIS officer asking the applicant to write a sentence said to them verbally and to also read a sentence out loud that is given to them on paper. The civics exam consists of a simple 10 question exam about American politics and history.
In our experience, older naturalization applicants sometimes have difficulty passing the English examination. During the 5+ months that the naturalization application is pending, applicants with weak English skills should practice and work to strengthen their english.
Mistake #5 Failure to Show “Good Moral Character”
Naturalization applicants must show that they have been a person of good moral character during the five years before their application. Volumes of books by immigration scholars about what exactly “good moral character” means,
Suffice it to say that any misdemeanor or felony conviction within that five year period could be a bar to a finding of a good moral character (meaning your application could be denied) depending on the criminal case circumstances.
However, can someone be found to not have good moral character based on something other than a criminal conviction? Unfortunately, yes. Failure to pay child support, committing acts of adultery, failure to file income tax returns, and even failure to inform USCIS of your address change have all been cited by USCIS as reasons for denial of naturalization applications.
If you have had any above the mentioned issues or brushes with the law, you can contact us for a consultation to go into the details of your situation and get professional guidance on how to proceed.
Related: 101 Dual Citizenship FAQs for Americans
Consult with Malakouti Law
If you think you’re about to start the naturalization process, it can pay to have a consultation with a professional that has years of experience with the U.S. immigration system. In a consultation, you can have your case screened for potential problems, including the most important ones - those you may not be aware of.
During the consultation, you can have your questions answered about the process, and find out how much it would cost to have the case handled for you by our firm, putting your mind at ease.
Most importantly, we'll put you on the path to getting the naturalization certificate and big, beautiful blue American passport that only American citizens possess.
When you’re ready, book a consultation right away.
Each immigration case is particular and you should consult with a qualified, licensed immigration lawyer about your case before taking any steps. The Law Office of Parviz Malakouti does not guarantee the accuracy of information presented nor assume responsibility for actions taken in reliance of this information. The information in this page could become outdated. Attorney marketing.