Trump Changes Naturalization Test and Policies

The Trump Administration has changed the naturalization test, making it more difficult to pass, changing answers to previous questions in politically questionable ways, and increasing the burden on applicants.

Trump also changed how USCIS decides whether to approve or deny a naturalization application, again further restricting the ability of persons to become U.S. citizens.

Such changes come as no surprise from Mr. Trump, who will need to vacate the White House on January 20, 2021.  We eagerly await his departure.

The changes to the naturalization test will affect all persons whose naturalization applications are filed with USCIS on or after December 1, 2020.  The changes will not affect persons whose applications were filed before December 1, 2020.

The new test has 128 questions (instead of 100) to study.  At the naturalization interview, the officer will ask a total of 20 questions chosen at random (instead of 10), and the applicant must answer at least 12 correctly (instead of 6).  And, apparently, the USCIS officer will not stop the questioning once the applicant obtains a sufficient number of correct answers, but instead is supposed to go through all 20 questions.

The new list of questions includes some insidious changes.  For example, the question “Who does a U.S. Senator represent?” which had the correct answer of “all people of the state,” has been replaced with the following answer:  “citizens of their state.”  This change tracks the Trump Administration’s assault on noncitizens.  Trump is trying to exclude undocumented persons from the 2020 census count, despite the fact that the census is to count all persons in the United States, regardless of status.

Another example of Trump’s politicization of the naturalization process is a new question:  “Why is the Electoral College important?”  One of the authorized answers is:  “It provides a compromise between the popular election of the president and congressional selection.”  This answer makes no sense, and appears to be an attempt to inject politics into the naturalization process.

In addition to changes in the naturalization test, USCIS recently updated its policies to include a very long list of reasons to deny an application based on the applicant’s immigration history, including innocent errors committed by U.S. immigration officials in approving an applicant’s previous application, even if that U.S. government error occurred many decades ago.

The naturalization changes fit into a pattern we have grown accustomed to seeing from the Trump Administration:  change as many things as possible to make things more difficult for noncitizens.

We look forward to a brighter future beginning January 20, 2021.

USCIS’s Naturalization Delays Will Reduce Access to Voting

USCIS is processing naturalization applications at a slower rate than usual.  That means that many persons who had expected to be able to vote this November might not be able to do so.

The Coronavirus pandemic has contributed to the delays, but the Trump Administration had slowed down the process well before 2020.  In 2016, under President Barack Obama, the naturalization process averaged 5.6 months.  President Trump became president in January 2017.  By 2018, the average processing time was 10.3 months.

USCIS maintains that when they reopened field offices in June 2020, they focused on conducting naturalization oath ceremonies, and by the end of July 2020 they cleared the backlog of ceremonies.  But overall, July 2020 had only about one-twelfth of the number of naturalization ceremonies that typically occur in a month.

Although USCIS might have “cleared the backlog” in ceremonies of persons already approved for citizenship, the truth is, USCIS continues to delay the processing of many persons still stuck in the naturalization application process.  There are currently more than 700,000 people waiting for their naturalization interviews.

One research group estimates that the naturalization delays will mean that nearly 400,000 persons will not be able to vote.

Diego Iñiguez-López of the National Partnership for New Americans states, “It’s part of the larger anti-immigrant agenda that the Trump administration has pursued over the last few years.  Keep immigrants feeling unwelcome, keep them afraid, keep them intimidated, and keep them away from knowing and asserting their rights, including their right to vote.”

Citizenship for Children and Stepchildren

If you are in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, also called naturalizing, and you have children and/or stepchildren, you are probably wondering what your naturalization will mean for your kids if they are not already U.S. citizens.  It is possible for your children or stepchildren to become U.S. citizens automatically when you do, but your family has to meet specific criteria in order for this to happen.  The criteria for a biological child to automatically become a citizen when you do also apply to your stepchild, but there are a few extra requirements for stepchildren.

Biological Children: In order for your biological child to automatically gain citizenship when you do, the following conditions must apply:

  1. The child must have one parent who is a U.S. citizen, so that would be you once you are sworn in at your naturalization ceremony.
  2. The child must be under the age of 18 when you naturalize.
  3. The child must be a lawful permanent resident, meaning the child is a green card holder.
  4. The child must be residing in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent. That means that you, the parent applying for citizenship, need to be the legal guardian of your child. Additionally, the child needs to be living with you.

If your biological child meets all four of these criteria, the child will become a U.S. citizen when you do and can receive a certificate of citizenship and a U.S. passport.  However, if the child is missing just one of the above requirements, he or she needs to apply for citizenship on his or her own after being a permanent resident for 5 years, or 3 years if he or she has been married to a U.S. citizen and been a permanent resident for 3 years.

Stepchildren: As stated above, in order to get automatic citizenship when you naturalize, your stepchild will need to meet all of the same criteria as your biological child, plus a few more.  The only way for your stepchild to gain citizenship automatically when you do is if your family meets all of the following requirements:

  1. The child must have been in the legal and physical custody of the permanent resident stepparent for at least 2 years. This means you need to have legally adopted your stepchild over 2 years ago and lived in the same home as him or her for at least 2 years.
  2. The child must have been under the age of 16 when legally adopted by you.
  3. The child’s legal parent-child relationship with his or her previous parent needs to be terminated. For example, if you are married to the child’s mother, you would need to make sure the child is no longer in the legal custody of the father.
  4. The child must have one parent who is a U.S. citizen, so that would be you once you are sworn in at your naturalization ceremony.
  5. The child must be under the age of 18 when you naturalize.
  6. The child must be a lawful permanent resident, meaning the child is a green card holder.
  7. The child must be residing in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent. That means that you, the parent applying for citizenship, need to be the legal guardian of the child. You would, of course, already be the legal guardian if you adopted your stepchild.  Additionally, the child needs to be living with you.

The main difference between getting your biological child and getting your stepchild citizenship automatically when you do is that you need to have legally adopted your stepchild at least 2 years ago, and you need to have lived with him or her for at least 2 years as well.  Only if you meet all seven of the criteria can your stepchild automatically become a U.S. citizen when you naturalize.

What if your stepchild doesn’t meet all of the above requirements?  You can still petition for your stepchild to become a permanent resident, even if you haven’t legally adopted or lived with him or her.  You can do this if they are inside or outside of the country.  An immigration attorney can help you through this process to get your stepchild permanent resident status, so he or she can one day apply for citizenship.

See our recent blog post, “The Benefits of Citizenship,” if you want to learn about the advantages your children and/or stepchildren will have if they too become citizens.

The Benefits of Citizenship

If you have been a permanent resident for over five years, or three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen, you should consider citizenship.  Some of the advantages of becoming a U.S. citizen are the right to vote, run for elected office, work for the government, and even change your name. Becoming a citizen, also known as naturalization, can also protect you from deportation, of which even permanent residents are at risk.

Maybe the most important benefit of becoming a U.S. citizen is the right to vote to elect representatives.  When the people have the right to choose who will represent them, they are participating actively in the development of their communities.  When voters make a conscious vote in their local elections, years later they might be able to vote for the same person in state or federal elections.  In the 2018 midterm election more women were elected than ever before.  This is a clear example of how conscious voters influence the future of the country.  New citizens can also participate as candidates in elections!

Another crucial reason to naturalize is that U.S. citizens convicted of crimes do not face deportation consequences.  However, non-citizens, even permanent residents, can be deported for a variety of convictions such as violating drug laws, domestic violence, shoplifting, and other crimes, major and minor.  Even if the crime was committed decades ago, legal grounds for deportation exist for non-citizens.  Becoming a U.S. citizen will give you the peace of mind that any crimes from your past or future will not lead to a deportation order in the present.

Also, a requirement for some government jobs is to be a U.S. citizen.  Even if your education or work experience is high, you will not be able to obtain certain jobs in the government or for contractors of the government if that job requires that the applicant is a U.S. citizen.  If you become a U.S. citizen, you will have more options to apply for jobs.

Finally, if you dislike your middle name or have had a lot of problems because your name or last name(s) are constantly misspelled or pronounced incorrectly, you will have the opportunity to change it when you apply for your naturalization.  The best part is that you won’t need to pay an extra fee for that.  You can even choose to change to a totally different name.

Do not procrastinate the application for naturalization.  Even if you have had encounters with the law different from traffic tickets, you might be eligible for naturalization.  Depending on the country of your nationality, you may be able to have dual citizenship.  An immigration attorney can help you to apply for naturalization, so you can protect yourself from deportation and have the advantages that U.S. citizenship will offer you.

Patience required

Do you have conditional permanent residence? You will probably need some patience. If you married a U.S. citizen and obtained permanent residence less than two years after your marriage, then your permanent residence is conditional, which means that your first permanent residence card has a validity of two years. Three months before your card expires, you will need to submit a petition to remove the conditions of permanent residence.

Depending on your location, your petition will be processed by one of the four USCIS centers that handle them. The time it takes for each of the centers to process your application varies from 14.5 to 23 months. In some cases, the process can take up to 43 months. Yes, you read that right: in some circumstances, USCIS could take 3 years and 7 months to process the petition.

Normally, a few weeks after USCIS receives your petition, they will send you a receipt for the payment of fees in which they assign you a receipt number. The receipt will indicate that if you filed timely, you will have an 18-month extension to your permanent resident status.

Unfortunately, some applicants have had to wait weeks or months to receive that important notification in which USCIS grants them an extension of 18 months to their permanent resident status. We understand that this creates uncertainty, especially for those who need to travel abroad.

USCIS is constantly modernizing and automating processes. Every day, the agency processes thousands of requests, and with USCIS errors, applicants must prepare to wait a long time, usually at least 14 months, for the petition to be processed. If approved, you will have your second permanent residence card, now with a validity of 10 years.

For many people who file the petition to remove conditions, they become eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship while their petition to remove conditions is still pending. In fact, filing for naturalization can speed up your process. When the application for naturalization is made, there is an opportunity to provide more evidence that reinforces the request to remove the conditions. Part of the process in both includes an interview. USCIS often conducts both interviews on the same date.

Some advantages of naturalizing are that you will become a U.S. citizen, you will be able to vote, and you will obtain a United States passport. You also will never have to renew a permanent residence card again.

Please Consider Naturalization

If you are a permanent resident, you may be eligible to apply for naturalization – the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.  There are many compelling reasons to consider applying for naturalization.

Here are a few things that only U.S. citizens are eligible to do:

  • file petitions for permanent resident (green card) status for your mother, father, brother, sister, or married son or daughter.
  • help your spouse, parents, or unmarried children under age 21 to become permanent residents more quickly than permanent residents are able to.
  • vote in national, state, and local elections.
  • be a candidate for elected positions.
  • obtain certain jobs that require applicants to be U.S. citizens.

Another important benefit of U.S. citizenship is something that many of us don’t consider very much, but that could end up causing a very big problem:

  • U.S. citizens cannot be deported from the United States.

Suppose that you are involved in an incident that results in a criminal conviction.  As we all know, sometimes persons are accused of crimes that they did not commit.  At other times, we might suddenly be placed in a stressful situation, and we make a poor choice.  We might also happen to commit a crime without being aware that what we have done is illegal.  The truth is, even though we might never consider doing anything illegal, any of us could end up with a criminal conviction.  A permanent resident who has been accused of a crime or who has a criminal conviction must immediately consult with an experienced immigration attorney to determine if there are any possible deportation consequences of a criminal conviction.  On the other hand, a person who is already a U.S. citizen at the time the incident occurs will not face any deportation consequences.

Some of the eligibility requirements of naturalization are:

  • be a permanent resident for at least 4 years and 9 months (or 2 years and 9 months if you have been married to, and living with, a U.S. citizen for the entire 2 years and 9 months).
  • submit federal tax returns every year, if you are required to do so under U.S. tax laws.
  • have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the most recent 5 years (3 years if married to, and living with, a U.S. citizen for the entire 3 years).

These are only a few of the eligibility requirements.  If you are considering naturalization, please contact our office.  We would be glad to work with you.