Green card holders who have established a long-standing presence in the U.S. may feel that becoming a citizen would make sense. It can give them access to additional benefits. However, applying for citizenship also involves certain risks, since USCIS will review your file as part of the application. They will examine your full history in the U.S. and determine whether you properly received the immigration benefits that you have been granted so far. Additional fingerprinting and background checks in foreign countries may happen as well. Any problem that USCIS discovers could result not only in the denial of your citizenship application but also in the revocation of your current legal status. In other words, you could face removal proceedings if your file contains red flags.
The most obvious risk is applying for citizenship when you have a criminal record. You will need to show that you have a good moral character to get citizenship, which is rare if you have committed crimes. Some types of crimes may also subject a foreign national to the revocation of their green card. Similarly, substance abuse issues can lead to deportation if USCIS discovers them during a review of a naturalization application. Almost any violation of a drug law can result in the revocation of your legal status, unless it consists of one incident of marijuana possession in an amount of 30 grams or less. Even if you were not convicted of a drug crime, though, evidence of drug abuse (or lying about your drug use) could result in removal proceedings.
Risks Related to Fraud in a Green Card Application
Seeking citizenship in the U.S. will trigger a review of the basis for your green card. If USCIS finds that you committed fraud in your green card application, you can lose your green card. You might not necessarily know whether you committed fraud. For example, you might have provided inaccurate or incomplete information in the application because you did not understand immigration laws or the wording of the application. Green cards based on marriages may receive special scrutiny from USCIS, which will want to make sure that the marriage was valid and made in good faith. Otherwise, the foreign national can lose their green card.
Sometimes a foreign national who has an employment-based green card will not know if their U.S. employer committed fraud during the application process. They may not have conducted a good-faith search for U.S. applicants for the position, which is required to get a PERM certification from the Department of Labor. Or they may have violated immigration rules for paying foreign national employees. A foreign national may lose their green card through no fault of their own in these cases.
Risks Related to Trips Outside the U.S.
If you left the U.S. as a green card holder and did not return for six months or more, this means that you may have abandoned your green card. You would need to show that you did not form a primary home in another country during that time, such that your U.S. residence remained continuous. Abandoning your green card can lead to your removal in addition to a denial of citizenship. USCIS will review every trip that you took during your green card status, so a trip that happened a long time ago could potentially come back to haunt you.
Risks Related to Political Membership
Somewhat less often, USCIS will deny an application for citizenship when it discovers that a foreign national has been a member of the Communist Party or another totalitarian party. It also may deny an application if the foreign national has advocated for a totalitarian party, even if they are not a member of it. This is because support for this type of organization conflicts with the commitment to democracy and constitutional principles that is required for citizenship. However, it is less likely that you will be deported on this basis.