Category Archives: citizenship

B-2 Visitor Visa: Traveling to the U.S. for Tourism or a Temporary Visit

When you seek to enter the U.S. for tourism or a temporary visit, the B-2 visa or combined B-1/B-2 visa is appropriate. Only certain activities are allowed on this visa. The U.S. consular officer will not grant the B-2 visa and the U.S. customs officer will deny your entry on this visa if your reasons for travel do not fit the criteria.

WHICH ACTIVITIES ARE ALLOWED ON THE B-2 VISA? 

Legitimate B-2 visitor activities are described below. The list is not exhaustive, but is specified in the Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual and other official guidance as appropriate reasons for the consular officer to issue the B-2 visa.

Visitor for Pleasure

You may use the B-2 visitor visa to:

  • Engage in tourism, i.e. take a vacation (holiday) and visit places of interest
  • Make social visits to family members and friends
  • Receive medical treatment to protect your health
  • Participate in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations
  • Participate in entertainment or athletic activity (e.g. event or contest) as an amateur who is not a member of any profession associated with the activity, but instead normally performs without compensation (except for reimbursement of incidental expenses)
  • Take a short course of study, which is incidental to the visit and not for credit toward a degree
  • Temporarily stay as dependent of alien member of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces temporarily assigned for duty in the U.S.
  • Temporarily stay as dependent of D visa crewman if you are coming to the U.S. solely to accompany the principal D visa holder

Visitor Under Special Circumstances

You may also receive the B-2 visitor visa under the following special circumstances:

Fiancé(e) of U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident

Foreign nationals must obtain a K-1 fiancé(e), instead of the B-2 visa, if they seek to come to the U.S. to marry a U.S. citizen and apply for adjustment to permanent resident status (green card).  The U.S. Consulate, however, may grant the fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) a B-2 visa if it determines the fiancé(e) will return to a residence abroad soon after the marriage.

B-2 status may also be granted if you are traveling to the U.S. to:

  • Meet the family of your U.S. citizen or permanent resident fiancé(e);
  • Become engaged;
  • Plan the wedding; or
  • Rekindle or maintain a relationship with your prospective spouse

In reality, however, B-2 visas are not routinely granted in this situation. The Consulate tends to find that fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens (in particular) or permanent residents (in some cases) will simply overstay until they can eventually get a marriage-based green card within the U.S. Therefore, it’s necessary to present strong evidence and persuasive testimony showing you will in fact depart on time, following a temporary visit, before you proceed with the K-1 or immigrant visa process.

Fiancé(e) of Nonimmigrant in United States

Fiancé(e)s who have a residence abroad to which they intend to return, and who are eligible to receive visas, may receive B-2 visas if the purpose of the visit is to marry a nonimmigrant in the United States, who has valid nonimmigrant F, H, J, L M, O, P, or Q status.  The U.S. Consulate will not grant the visa if it determines you will remain in the U.S. after admission and apply to adjust to permanent resident status, or request a change to a non-immigrant status that does not require a residence abroad.

Proxy Marriage Spouse of Nonimmigrant in United States

A spouse married by proxy to a foreign national in the United States in valid nonimmigrant status may receive a B-2 visa to join the spouse.  Following entry to the U.S., the joining spouse must file a timely request to change to the appropriate derivative nonimmigrant status (e.g. H-4 or F-2) after the marriage is consummated.

Spouse or Child of U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident

A foreign national spouse, biological child, or adopted child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident may be issued a B-2 visa if he or she is only accompanying or following to join the spouse or parent for a temporary visit.

Cohabitating Partners, Extended Family Members, and Other Household Members Who Do Not Qualify for Derivative Status

 The B-2 visa is issued to those who belong to the same household of another person in long-term nonimmigrant status, but who are ineligible for derivative status. These include cohabitating partners or elderly parents of temporary workers, students, diplomats assigned to the U.S. and accompanying parent(s) of minor F-1 student. It is also appropriate for persons who belong to the same household of a U.S. citizen who normally lives and works overseas, but will be in the U.S. temporarily.

The B-2 visa is also granted to a spouse or child who qualifies for derivative status (other than derivative A or G status) but who finds it difficult or impossible to apply for the proper H-4, L-2, F-2, or other derivative visa, as long as he or she intends to maintain a residence outside the U.S. and is eligible for the B visa. Those who plan to remain in the U.S. for more than six months may request a one-year stay when they apply for admission at the U.S. port of entry.  They may then apply for extensions of stay, in six -months increments, while the principal applicant holds nonimmigrant status in the U.S.

Foreign Nationals Seeking Naturalization under INA 329 (Naturalization Through Active Duty-Service in the Armed Forces During World War I, World War II, the Korean Hostilities, or in Other Periods of Military Hostilities) 

A person who qualifies for naturalization under INA 329, and who seeks to enter the U.S. to make use of this benefit, may receive a B-2 visa without being required to maintain a foreign residence.

Children Seeking Expeditious Naturalization under INA 322 (Children of U.S. citizens who are born and residing outside the U.S. and meet the conditions to acquire certificate of citizenship)

The U.S. Consulate may grant a B-2 visa to a foreign-born child who is eligible for expeditious naturalization under INA 322.  But even when the child intends to naturalize, he or she must intend to return to a residence abroad after naturalization, i.e. overcome the presumption of immigrant intent.  The child whose parents are living abroad will normally meet this requirement, but a child whose parents reside in the U.S. will not.

The U.S. Consulate may also issue a B-2 visa to an adopted foreign-born child of a U.S. citizen who seeks to naturalize under INA 322 if he or she presents a DHS-issued Form G-56, General Call-In letter for a naturalization interview; maintains a residence abroad and does not intend to stay permanently in the U.S,; and meets other eligibility requirements.

Dependents of Alien Members of U.S. Armed Forces Eligible for Naturalization under INA 328 (Naturalization Through Service in the U.S. Armed Forces) 

A dependent of an alien member of the U.S. Armed Forces who qualifies for naturalization under INA 328 and who seeks to accompany the spouse or parent on the service member’s assignment to the U.S. may be issued a B visa. The possibility of adjustment to permanent resident status does not require a visa denial.

Foreign Nationals Enrolled in an Avocational or Recreational School

A person may receive a B-2 visa to attend a school for recreational or avocational purposes.  When the U.S. Consulate is unable to determine the nature of the school’s program, it normally asks DHS to confirm whether approval of Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status for Academic and Language Students (for an F-1 student visa) is required.

Lawful Permanent Residents Who Need to Come to the U.S. for an Emergency Temporary Visit 

 The I-551, Permanent Resident Card, becomes invalid for re-entry if the lawful permanent resident (LPR) remains outside the U.S. for more than one year. If the LPR needs to return to the U.S. sooner than when a returning resident visa can be obtained, the U.S. Consulate may issue a B-2 visa for re-entry purposes.

Adoptive Child Traveling to the U.S. to Acquire Citizenship foreign-born children who did not acquire U.S. citizenship at birth through a U.S. citizen parent to acquire U.S. citizenship automatically upon fulfillment of certain conditions while under the age of 18.

The U.S. Consulate may grant a B-2 visa to a child seeking to enter the U.S. to acquire U.S. citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-395), as long as the child shows an intent to leave the U.S. after a temporary stay.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR THE B-2 VISA? 

Temporary visitors must meet the following eligibility requirements:

1. Maintain a residence in a foreign country, which you do not intend to abandon

Under U.S. immigration law, the term “residence” is defined as the place of general abode, i.e. your principal, actual dwelling place in fact, without regard to intent. You must show strong ties to your country, including family connections, property ownership, investments, and steady employment. If the U.S. Consulate has doubts about your intent, you may offer to leave a child, spouse, or other dependent abroad.

2. Intend to stay in the U.S. for a specific, limited period

The period of stay must be limited and not indefinite in nature. The expected length of stay must match the stated purpose of the trip. You must show with reasonable certainty that you will leave the U.S. upon completing your visit, prior to expiration of the authorized stay.

3. Seek entry solely to engage in legitimate activities permitted by the visa

You must be coming to the U.S. only to complete activities that are allowed by your visa classification. U.S. consular officers will deny the visa and U.S. customs officers will deny your entry if they have reason to believe or know that, while in the U.S. as a visitor, you will engage in unlawful or criminal activities.

You must have the funds and make arrangements to cover the cost of the trip and your stay in the U.S. Otherwise, the U.S. consular officer or customs officer will likely conclude that you will work in the U.S. without authorization to defray expenses. You could even be issued an expedited removal order at the U.S. port of entry if the customs officer determines you have previously violated your B-visa status or intend to do so.

4. Have no immigration violations or criminal offenses that make you inadmissible, or otherwise qualify for an inadmissibility waiver 

You will not receive the visa or be admitted if you are barred from entering the U.S. due to immigration violations or criminal offenses that make you inadmissible under U.S. immigration law. These include the 3/10 year bar due to accrual of unlawful presence of more than 180 days during a prior stay; conviction for a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (e.g. theft or fraud) that does not qualify for the petty offense or youthful offender exception; and willful misrepresentation of material facts to gain entry into the U.S.

When you are inadmissible, but are otherwise visa eligible, you may file a 212(d)(3) nonimmigrant waiver to be excused from almost all inadmissibility grounds. . A separate I-212 waiver (Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States After Deportation or Removal) is needed if you are barred due to a prior removal order or illegal (or attempted illegal) reentry into the U.S.

B-2 IS DIFFERENT FROM B-1

The B-2 is under the same B-visa classification as the B-1 Temporary Business Visitor visa, but is more limited. If you have only a B-2 visa – and not a B-1 visa or combined B-1/B-2 visa, you may not engage in any business visitor activities, such as attend business meetings or negotiate contracts.

WORK WITH AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY

Failure to overcome the presumption of immigrant intent and show strong ties abroad is one of the top reasons for a visa refusal or denial. Inadmissibility grounds can also prevent a visa grant or your entry into the U.S.

Consult an experienced immigration attorney to assess your visa eligibility, advise you on the forms and documents to submit, and assist you with the application process to get the B-2 or combined B-1/B-2 visa.

For more information, read our related articles, B-1 Visitor Visa: Traveling to the U.S. for Business and B-1 Visitor Visa: Traveling to the U.S. for Work as a Personal/Domestic Employee.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Why hire an immigration lawyer when immigration consultants and online immigration services offer lower rates?

The current political climate and 2016 election of Donald Trump for U.S. President have fueled fear among immigrant groups. Amidst the anti-immigrant rhetoric, it’s important to discuss your options in legalizing your status or securing the appropriate visa with an experienced immigration lawyer.

Why hire a lawyer when there is lower-cost help available through immigration consultants and online immigration services? The reasons are many, from ensuring you receive accurate advice to avoiding unnecessary delays.

The main advantages of hiring a reputable and trusted immigration lawyer, instead of depending on an immigration consultant or online immigration service are:

1. You receive guidance on which forms and documents to submit

A lawyer is not required to fill out application forms for immigration benefits. Anyone can complete the forms, which are, along with the instructions, available for free on U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services and the U.S. Department of State’s websites.

But U.S. government agencies are not your advocates and do not consider your individual situation when providing resources and information to you. Only an immigration lawyer, who truly understands the eligibility requirements, can give you the most reliable advice on which forms and documents to submit to receive immigration benefits.

Legitimate immigration consultants and online immigration processors can certainly help you complete forms and submit the paperwork to USCIS and DOS at a much lower cost than what lawyers charge.

Nevertheless, your knowing which forms and documents to submit is not always clear by just reading instructions or doing your own research. Immigration consultants and online immigration services are prohibited from giving any legal advice concerning your immigration case, including which forms and documents to submit. Rather, you yourself have to make this determination before they then fill out the forms with your answers and prepare the documents you have given them for filing with the appropriate U.S. government agency.

Even qualified immigration consultants and highly-rated online immigration services are just document preparers. While they are distinguishable from shady Notarios who prey on vulnerable immigrant groups and engage in immigration scams, they provide limited service that does not always meet your immigration needs.

Questions on applications forms and questions from immigration or consular officers might seem simple, but often relate to legal issues that can result in denials and setbacks in your case. Immigration consultants and online immigration processors cannot counsel you on how to best answer a question or cross-check or verify your answers on the forms. All they can do is replicate and type out your responses to the questions asked on the forms.

When non-lawyer immigration consultants or online immigration processors advise you on which immigration benefit to apply for and how to prove you qualify for it, they essentially engage in unauthorized practice of law.

In contrast, immigration lawyers advise you on which exact forms and documents to submit for a particular immigration benefit. They will cross check your answers on application forms with your biographic and immigration records to help ensure accuracy and completeness. They will also counsel you on the implications of your answers to questions, as well as the effects of providing or not providing certain documents.

2. You get legal advice on how to best present your case

A good lawyer will counsel you on eligibility standards and evidentiary requirements, including those that are not spelled out in the instructions for forms or are otherwise readily known.

For instance, while an immigration consultant or online immigration service will accept your marriage certificate and divorce decrees for prior marriages as sufficient in an I-130 spousal immigrant petition, a lawyer will counsel you on additional documents to submit to prove your marriage is valid and bona fide.

A lawyer might be unnecessary in very simple cases, where the bare minimum is all that’s required to get the case approved. But in many cases, a high volume of documentary evidence, as well as credible testimony, are needed to achieve a favorable outcome.

One of the fastest growing online immigration processors, RapidVisa, states specifically that it does not give legal advice or representation, but offers a service similar to TurboTax for visa applications. At a low price, they provide online processing of K-1 fiancée visas, spousal visas, parent visas, green cards (adjustment of status), removal of conditions, citizenship (naturalization), joint sponsorship, and deferred action (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, under President Obama).

RapidVisa boasts an approval rate of 99.7% and 4-hour turnaround time. But it’s fair to say that these cases most likely had no complications to require the work of a lawyer, and could have been handled just as well by an applicant who was willing and able to deal with the paperwork alone.

Reputable immigration lawyers, who have the expertise to deal with the worst types of cases, are best equipped to help you present the strongest case possible. They can steer you away from pitfalls that lead to complications in your case, such as USCIS issuing a Request for Evidence or a Notice of Intent to Deny Petition. They are trained to spot issues and weaknesses that can tank your case. Unlike immigration consultants and online immigration processors, they do not merely rely on generic templates and checklists that do not account for unique situations.

3. You obtain verification on whether you actually qualify for the benefit sought

An immigration lawyer will gather facts and review your record to confirm whether you are eligible for the immigration benefit you seek. For example, under current law, you cannot apply for a marriage-based green card within the U.S. if you were not lawfully admitted to the U.S. with inspection, and you do not qualify for 245(i) benefits. If your immigrant petition is not in the immediate relative category, you may not file for adjustment to permanent residence unless you are maintaining lawful nonimmigrant status after entry as an F-1 student, H-1B worker, etc. or certain narrow exceptions apply.

Immigration consultants and online immigration processors are not equipped or authorized to verify your eligibility for a benefit sought. They cannot give advice as to which immigration status you should seek. These are legal issues that requires a lawyer’s guidance, especially when there are complications in your case.

Complications include marriage/divorce complications, visa overstays, unlawful presence, prior removal orders, illegal entries and re-entries to the U.S., immigration fraud or willful misrepresentation, false claims to U.S. citizenship, a criminal record, and being from a high-fraud country.

In June 2016, the State of Colorado passed a law that forced RapidVisa to relocate out of Colorado Springs, Colorado to Las Vegas, Nevada, where regulations related to the document-preparation industry are favorable. Known as Immigration Consultants Deceptive Trade Practice, the Colorado law targets deceptive “notarios”, which are small operations common in Hispanic communities, but it further forbids any person from offering any immigration service, regardless of whether it involves practicing law, unless that person is a lawyer.

In a press release, Ben Ives, President of RapidVisa, stated “this was simply a case of lawyers protecting their income.” He noted, “Petitioning for a family visa is a benefit request, not a legal issue. Do you hire a lawyer to apply for your driver’s license?”

Contrary to Mr. Ives’ claim, applying for an immigration benefit involves many legal issues that determine whether a person can live, study or work in the U.S., and even visit the country. Filing for an immigration benefit has a much more serious and broader impact than applying for a driver’s license.

A U.S. citizen’s decision to bring a fiancée, spouse,  or parent to the U.S. , for example, affects the fate of the family and their reunification.  An applicant’s mistake in filing for an immigration benefit, such as a green card or citizenship, for which he does not qualify can sometimes lead him into removal proceedings and get him deported from the United States.

4. You have comprehensive counseling from start to finish

In the initial evaluation of your case, and during the course of representation, an immigration lawyer can identify your priorities and pinpoint issues to help you achieve your objectives. They can lay out your various options and describe the pros and cons of pursuing each path.

An immigration lawyer can guide you on how to avoid complications or address them as they arise, such as responding to a Request for Evidence, a Notice of Intent to Deny, a Notice of Intent to Revoke, or a denial decision. He or she can intervene on your behalf to resolve problems.

An immigration lawyer can also prepare you for interviews before USCIS and the U.S. Consulates by describing what questions to expect and which issues are likely to arise, and how to best address them. They can appear with you at green card interviews and naturalization interviews to help protect your rights, present documentary information, and ask clarifying questions. They can further prepare and submit a legal brief to stave off concerns and persuade the officer to approve your case.

Lawyers must keep up with changes in the law, the risks (not just the benefits) of applying for immigration relief, and the nuances in the immigration process, and advise you accordingly.

A non-lawyer immigration consultant or online immigration processor cannot perform these vital services.

5. You get legal help from a licensed professional who is held to the highest ethical standards

When an immigration consultant or online immigration processor overlooks critical pieces of information or documents, which results in an avoidable denial or delay, there is generally no recourse. You typically have to rectify the harm through their channels or file a consumer complaint with the state attorney general.

Lawyers, on the other hand, are held to ethical standards set forth in their state rules of professional conduct. They can face disciplinary action, such as a suspension or disbarment, for failing to perform duties owed to clients. As a licensed professional, a lawyer has obligations and responsibilities that go above and beyond those of a non-lawyer immigration service.

Consult an immigration attorney at the very least 

Some states, such as California, Minnesota, and New York regulate the conduct of immigration consultants, instead of forbid them from performing any immigration service. While they may provide document preparation, they cannot offer legal advice in any situation.

Legitimate immigration consultants and online immigration processors can ease the stress that comes with handling the immigration paperwork yourself. But realize they do nothing more than document preparation. A complete reliance on non-lawyer immigration services gives you a false sense of security and could open you up to making mistakes and bungling your immigration matter.

Reliable legal representation may be more affordable than you assume. There are solo practitioners and small firm lawyers who charge reasonable fees for high-quality, comprehensive service. There are also non-profit legal service providers and pro-bono attorneys who will accept your case for sliding scale or reduced fees or no fees.

Almost everyone can gather funds to consult an experienced immigration lawyer at least once, or retain unbundled legal service to address the complicated parts of the case. Before you file for an immigration benefit, talk to a reputable immigration lawyer about the eligibility standards, documentary requirements and filing process. Relying on immigration consultants and online immigration processors can save you money upfront, but cost you a lot more in the long run.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You File for Naturalization (U.S. Citizenship)

Before you file a Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, to obtain U.S. citizenship, there are five key questions to ask  yourself. Your answers will help you determine whether you qualify for naturalization and may become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

QUESTION #1: Were you lawfully admitted to the U.S. as a permanent resident? (Do you meet the LPR Admission requirement?)

With few exceptions (which apply to U.S. nationals and certain members of the U.S. armed forces), you must first be lawfully admitted as a permanent resident before you may file for naturalization when you are 18 or older.

If you were granted a green card or immigrant visa in error, or if you obtained permanent residence by fraud or willful misrepresentation, you do not meet the lawful admission requirement for naturalization.

Fraud or Misrepresentation

In reviewing your naturalization application, USCIS will make sure your permanent resident status was lawfully obtained, instead of merely rely on your having a green card. If USCIS determines you were granted lawful permanent resident (LPR) status by mistake or fraud, it will not only deny your Form N-400, but will likely place you in removal proceedings.

QUESTION #2: Have you continuously resided in the U.S. for at least 3/5 years?(Do you meet the Continuous Residence requirement?)

You must reside continuously in the U.S. for at least 5 years as a permanent resident at the time you file your naturalization application. An exception is if you are a qualified spouse of a U.S. citizen, in which case your continuous residence must be at least 3 years at the time you file for naturalization.

You must also maintain continuous residence from the time you file the Form N-400 up to the time of naturalization (i.e. take the naturalization oath and become a U.S. citizen).

You may file your naturalization application up to 90 days before reaching the 3/5-year continuous residence period. This is known as the 90 day early filing period.

Your LPR status begins when USCIS approves your adjustment application or when you are admitted to the U.S. on an immigrant visa. For certain groups, the start date of becoming an LPR may be earlier than the actual approval of the status (commonly referred to as a “rollback” date). For example, USCIS generally considers an asylee’s date of admission as an LPR to be one year prior to the date the adjustment application was approved.

Breaks in Continuity of Residence

Continuous residence relates to the time you resided lawfully in the U.S. without any single absence long enough to “break” continuity for naturalization. There are two types of absences from the U.S. that interfere with the continuity of residence for purposes of naturalization:

1.  Absence of more than 6 months but less than one year is presumed to break the continuity of residence.

Example: Melinda is absent from the U.S. from September 19, 2013 to June 26, 2014. Her absence of 280 days is presumed to break the continuity of residence because it lasted more than six months. Any time spent in the U.S. prior to September 19, 2013 presumably does not count toward her continuous residence.

She may, however, provide evidence showing she did not disrupt her residence during her stay abroad, such as keeping her job in the U.S. and not obtaining employment while abroad; maintaining a residence in the U.S. to which she retained full access; and  having strong family ties in the U.S.

2. Absence of one year or more (without an approved Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes, which only certain persons may file) absolutely breaks the continuity of residence.

Example: Jonas was absent from the United States from December 11, 2014 to January 11, 2016. His absence of 396 days absolutely breaks the continuity of residence because it lasted more than a year. Any time spent in the U.S. prior to December 11, 2014 does not count toward his continuous residence.

Four Years and One Day Rule | Two Days and One Day Rule

If you broke the continuity of residence because you stayed abroad too long, you may not file your naturalization application as early as 90 days before you meet the continuous residence requirement.

Instead, if you are subject to the 5-year continuous residence requirement, you must wait at least 4 years and 1 day after re-entering and continuously residing in the U.S. to file for naturalization. If the 3-year continuous residence requirement applies to you, the wait is 2 years and 1 day.

NOTE: Absences of less than 6 months may also break the continuity of residence depending on the facts surrounding the absence. An example is if you claimed nonresident alien status to qualify for tax exemptions or if you failed to file income tax returns because you consider yourself  a non-resident alien.

You must have the intent to maintain lawful permanent resident status and consider all absences from the U.S. to be fixed, temporary visits abroad. Abandonment of LPR status makes you ineligible for naturalization.

USCIS will consider the entire period from the LPR admission until the present when determining whether you meet the continuous residence requirement.

QUESTION #3: Have you been physically present in the U.S. for at least half the continuous residence period? (Do you meet the Physical Presence requirement?)

You  must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months of the five years prior to filing your naturalization application (or at least 18 months if the 3-year continuous residence requirement applies).

Physical presence concerns the total number of days you are actually or physically in the U.S. during the period required for naturalization.

You also must have resided for at least three months immediately prior to filing the Form N-400 in the USCIS district or state where you claim to reside.

QUESTION #4: Are you a person of good moral character? (Do you meet the Good Moral Character requirement?)

You must show good moral character (GMC) during the applicable statutory period, i.e. 3/5-year period immediately before you file for naturalization and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance.

USCIS is not limited to reviewing your conduct only during the statutory period. Your conduct prior to the 3/5-year period may also affect your ability to establish GMC if your present conduct does not reflect a reformation of character or the earlier conduct relates to your present moral character. USCIS will consider the totality of the circumstances and weigh favorable and unfavorable factors, when considering reformation of character, including family ties; absence or presence of other criminal history; education; employment history; other law-abiding behavior (e.g. paying taxes); community involvement; your credibility; compliance with probation; and length of time in the U.S.

If you lie on your Form N-400 application or during the naturalization interview,  and you are caught, USCIS will deny your application for lacking good moral character. If you are granted naturalization and you are later found to have lied during your interview, your citizenship may be revoked through rescission proceedings.

USCIS will consider your criminal history when determining whether you meet the GMC requirement. Committing certain crimes may lead to permanent bars or conditional bars to naturalization.

Permanent Bars to Establishing Good Moral Character

There are certain convictions or criminal offenses that permanently bar you from establishing GMC for naturalization. They include a conviction for murder at any time, and a conviction for an aggravated felony on or after November 29, 1990 (e.g. murder, rape, or sexual abuse of a minor; illicit trafficking in controlled substance; and crime of violence, theft offense and passport/document fraud leading to imprisonment of at least 1 year). They also include involvement in Nazi persecutions, genocide, torture, and particularly severe violations of religious freedom.

Conditional Bars to Establishing Good Moral Character

Other offenses are conditional bars to naturalization. These temporary bars are triggered by acts, offenses, activities, circumstances, or convictions within the statutory period for naturalization, including the period prior to filing and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance.

Conditional bars include a conviction or admission of one or more Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude (other than political offense), such as theft, forgery, and terroristic threats – except for one petty offense; violation of any law on controlled substances – except for simple possession of 30g or less of marijuana; prostitution offenses; and willful failure or refusal to support dependents, unless extenuating circumstances are shown.

Criminal History May Lead to Denial of N-400 and, In Some Cases, Cause You to be Placed in Removal Proceedings 

The Form N-400 asks several questions about arrests, charges, and convictions. You should report all criminal offenses, including those that have been expunged or sealed or those that occurred before your 18th birthday.  You are required to submit the certified court disposition and, in many cases, USCIS will request the police report and other related documents.

If you have committed certain serious crimes that make you removable from the U.S., USCIS will not only deny your naturalization application but may also place you in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court.  Be sure to read Immigration Consequences of Criminal Offenses: Myths & Facts. 

QUESTION #5: Can you pass the English and civics tests? (Do you meet the English or Civics requirements?)

You must be able to read, write and speak basic English. During the naturalization interview, the USCIS officer will instruct you to write a certain phrase in English and will give you an English phrase to read, e.g. “Only U.S. citizens may vote.”

You also have to know the fundamentals of U.S. history and the form and principles of the U.S. government. The USCIS officer will have 10 civics questions to ask, and you must answer 6 correctly. You need to study for the civics test; you have one opportunity to retake it if you fail it the first time.

Certain applicants, because of age and time as a permanent resident, or because of a disability, have different English and civics requirements. Those over 50 years old and have lived in the U.S. for at least 20 years as a permanent resident, or those over 55 years old and have lived in the United States for at least 15 years as a permanent resident, or those with a disability that prevents them from fulfilling this requirement and will be filing a “Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions” (Form N-648) qualify for an exemption.

Consult an experienced immigration attorney

Sometimes the answers to these five key questions are clear. Sometimes they are not. Consult an immigration attorney, who fully understands the naturalization requirements, to verify your eligibility for naturalization before you file a Form N-400 application with USCIS. The attorney can also help you assess and maximize your likelihood of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Getting counsel to prepare and file the naturalization application, advise you on what to expect at the interview, and attend the interview with you typically makes a positive difference.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Photo by: Josh Hallett

Saying Thanks on Thanksgiving Day

In the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving today (November 26). In the spirit of this holiday, I’d like to express my gratitude for your connecting with me as a current client, a prospective client, a past client, a referral source, or a friend of Dyan Williams Law PLLC, or a reader of our blog, The Legal Immigrant.

No one wants to talk to a lawyer about their problems. But eventually, most people end up needing to consult with a lawyer.

Foreign nationals who seek to immigrate to the U.S., study or work temporarily in the U.S., or become naturalized U.S. citizens usually need a trusted immigration lawyer to help them figure out the process. A full-on Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach often gets you into trouble when it comes to navigating the U.S. immigration system. The immigration process is governed by complex laws, changes constantly, and is riddled with confusion and uncertainty.

When prospects call me on the telephone, send me an email, or submit an online inquiry to discuss their case, I strive to make our communication not only comfortable, but also surprisingly pleasant. I speak in layman’s terms they can understand, instead of use legal jargon that is meaningless to them. I ask clarifying questions to understand where they want to go with their case. I provide insightful information to steer them in the right direction.

To give prospects a sense of what it’s like to work with me, I offer a complimentary case evaluation by telephone (and sometimes by email). This involves addressing general concerns and questions about their case. I also write articles and post them on my blog, The Legal Immigrant; participate in a legal Q&A forum that deals with tough immigration issues; and speak to small and large groups on hot immigration topics.

When offering specific and detailed guidance to potential clients, I charge a consultation fee. Why? Two reasons: First, I want to avoid tire kickers who have no intention of working with me, but simply want free advice. Second, I offer tremendous value in the consultation that is worth much more than the fee. When a person is willing to pay the consultation fee, this shows there is some understanding of the value I bring. The consultation is typically the first step to creating a trust-based relationship that makes a huge difference to my clients and their families.

Your contacting me about your case, hiring me as your attorney, or referring others to me is key to having a successful law firm that serves the community well. I appreciate your support and our connection, not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day.

May you and your family and friends experience joy and gratitude on Thanksgiving Day and beyond.

Cheers,

Dyan Williams

Founder & Principal Attorney
(612) 225-9900
dw@dyanwilliamslaw.com

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Photo by: woodleywonderworks, universal thank you note

The Joys and Benefits of Becoming a U.S. Citizen

After many years of living in the United States – first an F-1 student, then an H-1B professional worker, and next a lawful permanent resident – I finally became a naturalized U.S. citizen on Monday, September 28, 2015.

As an immigration attorney, I have helped many foreign nationals attain U.S. citizenship for more than a decade. I found my firsthand experience of becoming a U.S. citizen to be quite momentous.

My naturalization oath ceremony was held at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Along with more than 400 other persons from all around the world, I took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America – pledging to support and defend the U.S. Constitution and renouncing allegiance to my former country (Jamaica).

The Honorable Tony N. Leung (U.S. District Magistrate Judge) administered the oath, spoke about immigrating from Hong Kong to the U.S. with his family when he was a child, and encouraged us to treasure our cultural past while embracing our future as U.S. citizens.

We received our certificates of naturalization at the end of the ceremony. I happily display mine in the photos of me with my husband and daughter, and with Judge Leung.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is a special milestone for immigrants and is the pinnacle of an immigrant’s long journey. It brings unique benefits, such as the ability to:

  • file immigrant petitions for more family members (including parents, siblings and married children)
  • gain automatic citizenship for your lawful permanent resident children under age 18
  • receive full protection from deportation
  • obtain a U.S. passport
  • travel more easily to foreign countries
  • travel outside the U.S. for as long as you want with no barriers to re-entry
  • obtain federal jobs and government benefits that are available only to U.S. citizens
  • run for public office
  • vote in federal elections

The right to vote is perhaps the most well-known and appreciated benefit of becoming a U.S. citizen. It often drives the decision of many immigrants, including me, to apply for citizenship.

Before my naturalization oath ceremony began, members of the League of Women Voters presented on the importance of voter registration and voting, and gave instructions on filling out the registration form, which were part of our ceremony packet. They stood at the exits to collect our voter registration forms at the end of the ceremony – after we completed the oath, received our naturalization certificates, and officially became U.S. citizens.

No doubt, immigration is a hot topic among the 2016 presidential candidates and a divisive issue in the United States. This ever-growing, complex problem has no easy fix. A candidate’s position on immigration and plans for immigration reform will likely be a deciding factor for most New Americans who choose to vote.

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