Naturalization applicants who previously had asylee or refugee status have unique issues that may affect their eligibility for naturalization. Make sure you understand these potential issues before applying!
1. Applicant returned to the country where persecuted
Refugees and asylees who returned to the country where they were persecuted after being granted refugee or asylee status could risk being put into removal proceedings by applying for naturalization. How great a risk this is will depend on how their local USCIS office treats this type of situation, how soon after being granted refugee/asylee status they returned to the country of persecution, the duration of their trip abroad, the number of trips abroad, and the purpose of their trip. The reason that they risk removal is that USCIS could determine that the applicant no longer meets the definition of "refugee" if the applicant no longer fears returning to the country where they were persecuted.
2. A parent naturalizes before their derivative spouse or child becomes a permanent resident
Principal asylees and refugees (the person initially granted asylee/refugee status) may petition their spouses and children (called derivatives) to enter the U.S. as derivatives and later apply for permanent resident status. But a principal asylee who has naturalized no longer meets the definition of a refugee. Therefore, once the principal has naturalized, a spouse or child is longer eligible to adjust status as a derivative asylee because they no longer qualify as the spouse or child of a refugee. Make sure to get copies of any pending I-485s of the spouse and children and their current status before filing for naturalization so that derivative asylees (spouse and children) don't end up having to wait many more years to obtain permanent resident status. There is a way for these derivatives to file a "nunc pro tunc," meaning "now for then" asylum application if this happens. If granted by the asylum office, the derivative spouse or child would be given the same date of asylum status as the principal applicant. That derivative would then become a principal asylee and would be eligible for adjustment of status (permanent resident status or a green card)
3. Inconsistencies or non-disclosure of important facts on prior applications
Many asylees and refugees have been persecuted based on their membership in a particular social group or their political opinion and their membership in such a social or political group may have been central to the reason they were granted asylum. If they later failed to list that group on their application for permanent residence, or failed to disclose an arrest, a spouse, a child, or other important facts on their Form I-485 Application for Permanent Residence, it could lead to removal proceedings when they apply for naturalization. This is particularly problematic for refugees, who often don't have a copy of their refugee applications and such documents are extremely difficult to get. Asylees can and should get a copy of their Form I-589 and all supporting documents from the attorney who represented them with that matter, or through a Privacy Act request to USCIS.
4. Wrong effective date of permanent residence on green card
The date of adjustment of status for approved asylees should be one year prior to the date of being approved for permanent residene. For example, if a person is granted asylum on 1/1/2012 and the asylee files for adjustment of status on 6/1/2013 and it is approved on 2/1/2014, the effective date of permanent residence on the permanent resident card should be rolled back one year to 2/1/2013 - one year before it was approved. That person would then be eligible to apply for naturalization 90 days before 2/1/2018, or in other words, in early November 2017. Sometimes, USCIS makes an error on this date on the green card. With advocacy with USCIS and perhaps the filing of a Form I-90 to replace the incorrect card, the person should still be eligible to apply for naturalization but will likely need an attorney to remedy this error.
5. Travel to "problematic" countries after asylum/refugee status granted
USCIS considers certain countries to be problematic, as seen by the executive orders that attempted to ban nationals of certain countries from entering the U.S. If an applicant has traveled to one of those countries, particularly if they have family there, have visited many times, or have sent money there, expect extensive questioning about this at the naturalization interview.
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