On What Grounds Can I Be Denied U.S. Citizenship?

Find out when being rejected for citizenship can also put your green card in danger.

By , J.D.

If you are applying for U.S. citizenship through the process known as naturalization, using Form N-400, there are a number of grounds upon which you can be denied. (We're assuming that you're not using a more obscure route to U.S. citizenship, such as requesting automatic citizenship through your parents' U.S. citizen status using one of the legal processes called acquisition or derivation.)

The grounds upon which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) might deny a Form N-400 include, for example, that:

  • you actually never merited the green card in the first place, or should never have been approved for it
  • since getting a green card, you did something to make you removable (deportable) from the United States, and
  • you don't meet the basic eligibility criteria for U.S. citizenship after all.

Whether You Merited the Green Card in the First Place

An application for U.S. citizenship gives the U.S. immigration authorities another chance to review your entire file. Occasionally, USCIS encounters instances where the applicant really shouldn't have been given a green card to begin with.

For example, let's say an applicant immigrated as the unmarried child of a U.S. citizen, but was in fact married when he or she immigrated. This applicant might, on the N-400 application, unthinkingly put down his or her actual marriage date. If USCIS notices that this date was before the applicant's receipt of the green card, it could ask further questions, and ultimately place the applicant into removal proceedings.

Once stripped of the green card, the applicant will have no more right to U.S. citizenship.

Whether You've Done Something to Make You Removable From the U.S.

Green card holders are subject to the grounds of deportability found in Section 237 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.), or 8 U.S.C. § 1227.

For instance, you could become deportable for having committed certain crimes or immigration violations, engaged in subversive or terrorist activities, or even failed to advise USCIS of your change of address within ten days of moving.

If you happen to have spent six months or more outside the United States and then returned, you were also subject to the grounds of inadmissibility upon your return. These cover not only various crimes and immigration violations, but the issue of whether you have become a public charge (received need-based government assistance) or developed certain physical or mental disorders that present a threat to the public or yourself.

If, during your application for citizenship, USCIS notices that you have become removable or were inadmissible upon entry to the U.S., it can place you into removal proceedings and you might lose your green card (lawful permanent residence).

Whether You Meet the Basic Eligibility Criteria for U.S. Citizenship

Citizenship is the highest benefit a person can obtain under U.S. immigration law, and therefore comes with a list of requirements. These include that you:

  • are at least 18 years old at the time of applying
  • have had permanent residence (a green card) for the required number of years (usually five, but fewer for certain categories of applicants, such as spouses of U.S. citizens).
  • have been physically present in the United States for a least half of your required years of permanent residence
  • have been continuously present in the United States; that is, have not spent long periods of time in another country
  • have lived in the same U.S. state or USCIS district for three months before applying to the USCIS office there
  • have demonstrated good moral character in the years leading up to application for citizenship
  • can speak, read, and write English
  • can pass a test covering U.S. history and government, and
  • are willing to affirm loyalty to the U.S. and serve in its military if necessary.

Failure to meet any of these criteria can mean that your application for citizenship will be denied. In most cases, you will not lose your green card at the same time, but will simply need to wait, and once again apply for citizenship when you are ready. However, there are exceptions, for example if you were out of the U.S. for so long that you appear to have abandoned your residence here.

To avoid being denied on basic eligibility grounds, fill out your N-400 application carefully, and consult with an attorney if you have any crimes on your record, have spent long periods of time outside the United States, or have any other questions about your eligibility for naturalized U.S. citizenship.

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