USCIS updates processes for getting green cards, naturalization

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The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently updated its policies on awarding green cards (lawful permanent residency) and granting citizenship to green card holders.

The updates to the policy manual also changed every instance of the phrase “foreign national” to “alien.” Also, the changes assert that Congress’s goals for permanent residency are primarily public safety and national security. In the past, the policy manual had listed family unity as the main Congressional goal.

According to the USCIS, the new measures “assist officers in making more consistent discretionary decisions by providing a foundation to identify and analyze negative and positive factors in adjustment of status applications.”

This is generally thought to give immigration adjudicators more discretion to deny people’s green card applications.

When applying for adjustment of status (applying for a green card), the agency says, the applicant has the burden of demonstrating their eligibility. If negative factors outweigh positive ones, it will now be appropriate to deny the application. The factors include things like:

  • The applicant’s conduct
  • The applicant’s character
  • The applicant’s family ties or other lawful ties to the U.S.
  • The applicant’s immigration status and history
  • Any humanitarian concerns

This process is somewhat more confusing than the previous green card adjudication process. Be sure to work with an experienced immigration lawyer when you apply for lawful permanent residency.

Naturalization could be denied based on error or fraud

The USCIS also announced that it will deny more naturalization (citizenship) applications based on perceived fraud or error.

For example, before they can apply for citizenship, green card holders must maintain their residence in the U.S. continuously for at least five years (three years if your green card was obtained by marriage to a U.S. citizen.) If the government determines you were absent from the U.S. for more than six months but less than a year, it could deny your citizenship application.  It is the applicant’s burden to show this continuity and all other requirements of naturalization.

The agency also announced that it will be making an effort to identify people whose green cards were obtained via fraud or mistake. A mistake would be, for example, when the applicant knew of disqualifying material facts but did not tell the government when applying for the green card. If the government determines that your green card was issued unlawfully, it could decide you are ineligible for citizenship.

If you have questions about these changes, contact Yew Immigration Law Group. Alison Yew is a board certified specialist in immigration law and has years of experience helping people get green cards and U.S. citizenship.