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Can I Apply for Citizenship with a Criminal Record?

One question clients frequently ask is whether they can ever become a U.S. citizen if they have a criminal record. The answer to that question depends on many factors unique to each case, so it is impossible to give a firm answer without knowing the details. But here are some general guidelines.

Factors That Impact Your Ability to Become a Citizen After a Criminal Conviction

When considering whether you qualify for citizenship through naturalization, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will consider a wide variety of issues. In terms of your criminal record, some of the factors that affect your eligibility for citizenship include:

  • How long ago you were convicted
  • The type of crime you were convicted of
  • The severity of the crime
  • Whether you went through some type of pretrial intervention program
  • Whether the offense was a deportable offense

One thing to be aware of is that even if an act is not wrongful enough to lead to deportation, the government can still see it as evidence of bad moral character, and it can be used against you for citizenship purposes. 

Even something very minor such as a traffic ticket can prevent you from gaining citizenship if officials see it as proof that you lack the right character for naturalization. In some cases, it is best to wait until five years have passed before you apply for citizenship so that the action will not count against your moral character. Your attorney can review the details of your situation and advise you about the best course of action.

An Attorney Can Help You Determine Your Best Strategy

Sometimes if you do have a criminal record, it is in your best interests to submit a naturalization application with the idea that you can get your case resolved before an immigration judge. If you have committed a deportable offense you could be put in removal proceedings, but your attorney can make the case that you are entitled to one or more forms of relief. The judge can rule in your favor and then you can resume your citizenship application process without the threat of deportation hanging over your head continually.

Some Clients Learn That They Have Already Become Citizens

If you came to the U.S. as a minor and one of your parents became a citizen before you turned 18, you might also have acquired citizenship at the same time. This is referred to as automatic acquisition of citizenship after birth. The year you were born and a few other factors determine whether this procedure applies to you. 

Individuals who arrived in the U.S. at a young age do not always need to go through the naturalization process themselves if one of their parents went through it. If you’re already a citizen, your criminal record obviously cannot prevent citizenship or lead to deportation.

An Experienced Immigration Lawyer Can Help You Choose the Right Path to Reach Your Goals

At American Dream® Law Office, our attorneys work toward a simple goal. We want you to achieve your immigration dream just as we are enjoying our own. We have the knowledge and experience to guide you through the process and avoid mistakes that could delay or deny your opportunities. Call us today to find out how we can help.

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