Getting your green card is exciting. Once the novelty wears off, it’s time to think about the next step — citizenship. Be aware from the outset what issues can place your opportunity for citizenship in jeopardy. Here are the top five biggest mistakes applicants make.
1. Too Much Travel Outside the Country
You may have felt relieved when your green card was approved, in part because the restriction on travel was lifted. Now you can travel back home to see family or go on holidays wherever you want without having to obtain travel documents. You just need your passport from your country of citizenship and your green card to reenter the United States.
However, if you plan to travel extensively, strictly track your trips and dates of travel. First, you will need that information for your naturalization application to prove the physical presence criterion. Second, spending too many days outside the United States can jeopardize your application.
To obtain citizenship, you must have been physically present on U.S. soil for at least half of your legal permanent residency. For those applying for citizenship after three years of permanent residency based upon marriage to a U.S. citizen, you must show physical presence for 18 months. For all others applying after five years, you must show you were here for 30 months.
2. Extended Holiday Abroad
An extended absence from the United States can interfere with the continuous residence requirement. You must present evidence as to why your absence of six months to one year did not disrupt your continuous residence, which may include you maintained continued employment in the United States, your immediate family members remained here and you still had a home to return to.
If you plan to be outside of the United States for more than one year, obtain a reentry permit to prove your intention to return. You must also demonstrate you had a good reason for your absence, such as a qualifying job.
3. Not Paying Your Taxes or Registering for the Draft
Everyone who earns income in the United States is responsible for paying taxes. The USCIS demands certified tax returns for the past five years, or three years if your application is based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen.
Men between the ages of 18 and 26 are obligated to register for the draft, including legal permanent residents. If you are a man under the age of 31, bring proof of registration. If you did not register, bring a written document to explain why.
4. Not Reporting All Arrests
You must report all crimes for which you were ever arrested, detained or cited. Bring certified documents pertaining to the disposition of every case, including nolle prossed, expunged and sealed charges. If your record was sealed, have it unsealed for the purposes of your application.
5. Applying for Citizenship with a Deportable Offense on Your Record
Although you will have to explain the arrest, not all crimes are detrimental to your naturalization application. However, beware, because some crimes could put your right to remain in the country at risk. You may decide to forgo the application altogether if you have certain deportable offenses on your record or risk being placed in deportation proceedings. For this reason, talking to a qualified immigration attorney is especially important if you have a criminal record.
*The content and materials available via Ask Ellis are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.