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5 Common Reasons to Deny U.S. Citizenship

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Deceased Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev had his U.S. citizenship application delayed because of a prior FBI interview.

The interview was conducted in 2011 at the request of the Russian government, based on suspicion that Tsarnaev may have had links to terrorist groups, The New York Times reports.

Although Tamerlan's interview succeeded in delaying his citizenship application, that's not the only way such an application can be delayed or denied. Here are five common reasons why even law-abiding immigrants can be denied citizenship:

  1. Lack of eligibility. Candidates for naturalization must be at least 18 years old. They must also reside continuously in the United States for five years, and have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of those last five years; leaving the U.S. for more than a year can easily disqualify an applicant by failing to show continuous residence.

  2. Lack of proficiency in English. Becoming a citizen means showing basic skills in English reading and writing. During a citizenship interview, the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will test an applicant's English fluency by administering a simple dictation test. If an applicant fails this test, his application may be denied.

  3. Moral character application. Part of the naturalization application is a claim that a candidate is of "good moral character." This is not a philosophical question, and often past lies and crimes will be the reason that an application is denied. In the case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his prior arrest for domestic violence would have certainly stymied his chances at citizenship.

  4. Selective Service. All males between the ages of 18 and 26 applying for citizenship are required to register for Selective Service. If an eligible male willingly refuses to register for selective service, his citizenship application will be denied.

  5. Questionable residency. An applicant's residency in the United States must be legal to begin with in order to gain citizenship. So if you were less than honest in obtaining your resident alien status, or if there are some discrepancies in your personal information, you may want to contact an experienced immigration lawyer before applying for citizenship.

More questions about immigration? Join the conversation in our online community at the FindLaw Answers Immigration Law forum.

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