Applying for Citizenship as a Former Asylee or Refugee
If you received a green card after coming to the U.S. as an asylee, you may eventually decide to apply for citizenship in this country. However, the benefits of citizenship come with certain risks in the application process. USCIS will conduct a thorough review of your immigration file going back to your arrival. If you know that you eventually will apply for citizenship when you arrive as an asylee, you will want to be aware of these risks so that you do not unwittingly harm your future application. If you are just now considering applying for citizenship, you should take certain factors into account when deciding whether this is the right path for you.
During this process, USCIS will check that the basis of your asylum application was legitimate. In other words, the information on your naturalization application should be consistent with your grounds for seeking asylum, and your life in the U.S. should support the grounds for asylum. If you fled your home country while claiming persecution on the basis of your religion, for example, USCIS may be suspicious if you practice a different religion after getting asylum in the U.S. However, this type of change does not necessarily indicate bad faith. You may be able to show that circumstances in your life significantly changed after you entered the U.S. To avoid a denial, though, you must supply a letter explaining the change in your circumstances, together with strong corroborating evidence. USCIS will be more likely to believe that you are acting in good faith if you address the potential inconsistency openly and directly.
Review of Travel History
A foreign national can receive asylum in the U.S. only if they fear persecution in their home country. If USCIS finds that they regularly return to their home country, they may wonder whether the asylee actually feared persecution. Again, you should confront this potential inconsistency directly by writing a letter to explain the purpose of your trip and explain why the risk of persecution remained real. You might discuss the urgency of the basis for your trip and describe precautions that you took to protect your safety in your home country. Letters from family members and photos from your trip might illustrate these precautions. Or you might explain how the situation became safer in your home country between the time when you requested asylum and the time when you took the trip. Country conditions reports and news articles can help support your position.
Inaccuracies on the Application
If you make statements on your naturalization application that do not correspond to the statements on your asylum application or in your asylum testimony, you may need to address those inconsistencies. You should make sure to avoid any preventable mistakes while completing your naturalization application. If you are not able to explain inconsistencies, USCIS may deny your naturalization application and question the legitimacy of your asylum application. Some common inconsistencies include listing different relatives from the list on the asylum application, disclosing criminal convictions or arrests that predated the asylum application, or listing organizations to which you belong that did not appear on the asylum application. If the applications contain different information, but there is a legitimate reason for the difference, you should make sure to explain the reason to USCIS. You can address it in your naturalization application or in your interview. USCIS likely will view an inconsistency less suspiciously if you address it without being asked.
Other Issues to Consider
If you were in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 25, you were required to register for the Selective Service. Failing to register may be an honest mistake, but it still can undermine your application for citizenship. (The Selective Service allows the U.S. to expand its military if a national emergency arises.) Also, if there is any possibility that you are on the Interpol wanted person list, you should consult an immigration attorney before applying for citizenship. Even if you are on the list by mistake, you may struggle to get approved.
The future status of the refugee program has become unclear under the administration of President Donald Trump. The administration has proposed eliminating refugee admissions entirely in 2020. If this happens, many people who currently would qualify for refugee status might not have a legal basis to come to the U.S. The government cannot end the refugee program entirely, but it has the authority to set the refugee limit for each year. Setting the limit at zero would have the same practical effect as pausing the program for that year.