On Nov. 18, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services updated policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to to ensure consistency in the naturalization decision-making process and to clarify circumstances under which an applicant may be found ineligible for naturalization if the applicant was not lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence in accordance with all applicable provisions under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
In addition to meeting other requirements under the pertinent naturalization provision, a naturalization applicant has the burden of establishing that he or she was lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence in accordance with all applicable provisions under the INA at the time of filing the naturalization application.
For example, an applicant is ineligible if he or she obtained lawful permanent resident (LPR) status in error, by fraud, or if the admission was otherwise not in compliance with the law. In addition, an applicant for naturalization who has abandoned his or her LPR status is not eligible for naturalization. The updated guidance contained in Volume 12 of the Policy Manual is controlling and supersedes any related prior USCIS guidance on the topic.
The update affirms that an applicant is ineligible for naturalization in cases where the applicant did not obtain LPR status lawfully (including cases where the U.S. government was unaware of disqualifying material facts and had therefore previously granted adjustment of status to that of an LPR or admitted the applicant as an LPR).
The update also provides further guidance on circumstances under which USCIS may find an applicant to not have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence and therefore ineligible for naturalization. The update provides that USCIS reviews whether an applicant has abandoned his or her LPR status during the adjudication of the naturalization application.
The update also provides that USCIS denies naturalization applications, filed on or after November 18, 2020 (effective date of policy), if the applicant is in removal proceedings because USCIS lacks the authority to consider the merits of a naturalization application if the applicant has a pending removal proceeding initiated by a warrant of arrest.
If an applicant does not meet the burden of establishing that they maintained LPR status, USCIS generally denies the naturalization application and place the applicant in removal proceedings by issuing a Notice to Appear (NTA).
USCIS has 120 days from the date of the initial naturalization interview to issue a decision. If the decision is not issued within 120 days of the interview, an applicant may request judicial review of his or her application in district court. The officer must base his or her decision on the laws, regulations, precedent decisions, and governing policies.
The officer may approve the application; continue the examination without making a decision (if more information is needed), if the applicant needs to be rescheduled, or for other relevant reasons; or deny the application. The officer must provide the applicant with a notice of results at the end of the interview regardless of the outcome. The notice should address the outcome of the interview and the next steps involved for continued cases.
If an officer approves a naturalization application, the application goes through the appropriate internal procedures before the USCIS office schedules the applicant to appear at a ceremony for the administration of the Oath of Allegiance. The internal procedures include a “re-verification” procedure where all approved applications are reviewed for quality. The officer who conducts the re-verification is not the same officer who conducts the interview. While the officer conducting the re-verification process does not adjudicate the application once again, the officer may raise any substantive eligibility issues.
USCIS does not schedule an applicant for the Oath of Allegiance in cases where USCIS receives or identifies potentially disqualifying information about the applicant after approval of his or her application. If USCIS cannot resolve the disqualifying information and the adjudicating officer finds the applicant ineligible for naturalization, USCIS then issues a motion to reopen and re-adjudicates the naturalization application.
USCIS will deny a naturalization application when an applicant does not meet all eligibility requirements under the law. Furthermore, USCIS cannot consider the naturalization application of an applicant who is in removal proceedings. Therefore, effective November 18, 2020, when a removal proceeding is pending against a naturalization applicant, USCIS denies the naturalization application under INA 318, except for certain cases involving naturalizations based on military service.