FAQs for the Immigration Attorney: Our Answers

In our line of work, we answer a ton of immigration-related questions every month. Here are five questions we hear all the time, and their answers.

What is conditional permanent residence? And how does it differ from legal permanent residence?

Conditional residence mostly applies to marriage-based green cards. Because these marriages need to be tested for authenticity for a period of time, USCIS does not want to give these applicants permanent residence just yet. For all intents and purposes, a conditional resident and a permanent resident have the same rights. Conditional resident status expires after two years, and at that time, the immigrant can apply for permanent status continuing to prove the validity of the marriage or by seeking a waiver of the joint filing requirements. Time under conditional residence is ultimately counted as permanent residence for the purposes of naturalization. 

Why would a green card application be denied?

Unfortunately, there is a litany of reasons why your green card application may have been denied. Some of the main reasons include:

  • Incorrect paperwork
  • Violating the terms of your current immigration status by overstaying a visa
  • Discovery of a criminal history
  • For family-based applications, failure to adequately prove relationship to the sponsoring party

Because there are so many potential reasons, you are best off contacting us about your specific scenario.

How long after I get my green card can I apply for naturalization?

The standard rule is that you need to have lived in the United States as a legal permanent resident for 5 years before being able to apply for citizenship. As a matter of fact, you can take a look at the date on your green card, add five years, and that is the earliest possible date you can become a United States citizen. You are allowed to apply within 90 days of this 5 year anniversary date, because it does take some time to process your application. 

There are some exceptions to the five year rule:

  • Those married to a United States citizen only need to be a permanent resident for 3 years before applying for naturalization
  • VAWA participants, refugees, and asylum seekers may be able to apply sooner
  • Spouses of United States government employees who travel overseas for work can get expedited naturalization for logistical reasons

As mentioned above, if you are first a conditional resident and then become a permanent resident, the 2 years of conditional residence do count toward your total time as a permanent resident.

How does an expungement affect my immigration case?

One of the main factors USCIS looks for in evaluating applications for permanent residence is whether they should exercise favorable discretion or for naturalization is “Good Moral Character”. An important aspect of this is any criminal history the applicant may have. For purposes of naturalization, the most relevant period USCIS checks at the time of application is the previous 5 years, but older crimes could still affect your chances. In relation to permanent residence, criminal history at any point that makes you inadmissible could be a problem.

As far as expungement goes, USCIS clearly states that

A record of conviction that has been expunged does not remove the underlying conviction. For example, an expunged record of conviction for a controlled substance violation or any crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) does not relieve the applicant from the conviction in the immigration context. In addition, foreign expungements are still considered convictions for immigration purposes.

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has held that a state court action to “expunge, dismiss, cancel, vacate, discharge, or otherwise remove a guilty plea or other record of guilt or conviction by operation of a state rehabilitative statute” has no effect on removing the underlying conviction for immigration purposes.

The officer may require the applicant to submit evidence of a conviction regardless of whether the record of the conviction has been expunged. It remains the applicant’s responsibility to obtain his or her records regardless of whether they have been expunged or sealed by the court. USCIS may file a motion with the court to obtain a copy of the record in states where the applicant is unable to obtain the record.

Therefore, immigrants with a criminal history should NOT expunge their criminal cases as this only complicates the situation for their immigration case in that records are not readily available as needed. Even if expunged, the criminal case  is still considered a conviction for immigration purposes. The person may have to return to court to unseal the case to obtain the records needed and then reseal the case Expungements create an unnecessary obstacle in an immigration case. 

Can I change my name when applying for citizenship?

Yes, you are able to change your name when applying for citizenship. One common reason for this is that people realize the spelling of their name on their green card is not the one they prefer or some people choose to change their first or middle names entirely. 

The first way to request a name change is to indicate it on your form N-400 when you file. 

Even if you don’t indicate this on your application, you can ask to file a Petition for Name Change during your USCIS interview and you can change your name at the naturalization swearing-in ceremony in court. The naturalization ceremony is necessary in order to not only have your name correct on your Certificate of Naturalization, but also so you can have your name legally changed in the more general sense.

Have another question for us? Reach out to us, and we will do our best to answer it!