At the end of May, USCIS made an announcement with regards to policy for adjudicating the applications. They’ve made changes in how immigration determines or makes a decision on an application. The change has to do with good moral character and registering to vote.
Read: Policy Manual | USCIS
This policy is making some clarifications about the impact of registering to vote on your naturalization application. And by that, it means registering to vote before you were a US citizen.
For naturalization, the process where an individual who has had a green card is able to apply to become a US citizen, there’s a difference between being a lawful permanent resident and becoming a United States citizen. To do that process, it’s called naturalization.
One of the requirements of naturalization is showing you have had a good moral character for the past five years before filing your naturalization application or three years if you’re married to a United States citizen.
Good moral character means that you can show that you have been a good citizen or a good member of society. Things that would show that you don’t have good moral character would be criminal history such as DUIs. If you’ve had a criminal history in the past three or five years, depending on your basis for filing naturalization, you wouldn’t be able to show a good moral character.
If you have a criminal history, talk to an immigration attorney about whether or not you’re eligible for naturalization.
With good moral character, something that comes up has to do with registering to vote or actually voting in a US election. Voting is something that’s only allowed for US citizens. It’s a right to be able to vote in US elections.
The issue that can come up with registering to vote when you’re not a citizen is a false claim to citizenship. A false claim to citizenship is really serious. It can lead to an individual being ineligible to apply for a green card or in the case of somebody who already has a green card and is trying to naturalize, it can lead to deportation.
A false claim to citizenship is when somebody says they are a United States citizen but they’re not. That’s a very serious immigration offense. If you registered to vote, which is something that’s for United States citizens only, that can cause that issue of a false claim to citizenship.
The reason they’re releasing this policy is that in some states, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles or BMV automatically registers you to vote when you get a driver’s license. It’s helpful in theory but there could be implications or ramifications of registering someone to vote who wasn’t a United States citizen.
USCIS has changed the policy to be a little less strict. If you had registered to vote and you did it intentionally, knowing you were not a United States citizen, that’s still a problem.
The policy has clarified that USCIS will not penalize an applicant who unknowingly or unwillingly registered to vote. This policy clarification is really helpful because we have seen that it’s a common thing. It happens unfortunately a lot where individuals apply for a driver’s license and somebody at the BMV thinks they’re being helpful and registered them to vote. Then they later find out they were registered but they never did that intentionally. They didn’t do it on their own and they had no idea.
Before this policy, it would have been really impossible for an individual to become a citizen to file for naturalization. USCIS is clarifying that if it happened to you unknowingly or if it was something that happened that you unwillingly were registered, that’s not going to necessarily penalize you and that you could still be eligible for naturalization.
The policy also clarifies that USCIS does not consider an applicant to have unlawfully claimed to be a United States citizen if the applicant did not affirmatively indicate that he or she is a US citizen. This is in relation to registering to vote, which is something that’s reserved for United States citizens. That you could be found to have made a false claim to citizenship.
This is a huge change. It’s great that they have clarified this. If you happen to have a situation similar to this, where you had been registered to vote, definitely still talk with an immigration attorney. It’s very important you speak with an immigration attorney because while this policy is great and it makes these clarifications, it’s very fact-specific.
What we would do here in our office is looking exactly what happened and whether or not we can really show that it was something that you did not willfully do. It’s great news but still, it doesn’t mean you should just go out if this is your situation and apply. Get legal advice first.