Financial Issues That May Affect Your Ability to Naturalize as a U.S. Citizen
A question that comes up frequently in our practice is whether certain financial issues can affect a person’s ability to naturalize. These include tax-related issues such as failure to pay or underpaying federal or state income tax, receiving or having received welfare or other government benefits, failure to pay alimony, bankruptcy issues, foreclosures, unpaid loans, or unpaid bills.
The short answer is that while most of these issues will not affect naturalization (exceptions are to be discussed below), they may result in a denial of the application if fraud was involved. This is especially true if the fraud occurred during the five- or three-year statutory period (three year period applies to applicants married to a U.S. citizen).
Before getting into the issue of fraud, let us discuss the financial issue most common on the minds of permanent residents applying for naturalization – taxes. On the N-400, such questions as “Do you owe any overdue Federal, state, or local taxes?”, “Have you EVER not filed a Federal, state, or local tax return since you became a lawful permanent resident?”, “If you answered ‘Yes,’ did you consider yourself to be a ‘non-U.S. resident’?”, and “Have you called yourself a ‘non-U.S. resident’ on a Federal, state, or local tax return since you became a Lawful permanent resident?” all hammer home the fact that tax is an important issue to USCIS.
However, while willfully failing to file taxes is an issue that could result in denial of a naturalization application, simply failing to file taxes alone may not result in a denial, as long as the applicant has taken steps to correct this problem. One of the most common ways to address a prior failure to file taxes is to file all of the required tax returns late and pay any amount due – including penalties. If the applicant is not able to make all of the payments at once, they can make arrangements with the IRS, either through a payment plan or through some other arrangement. The applicant will then present these documents (proof of filing, receipt for payment of fees, and/or copy of the payment plan, as well as evidence of payments made on the plan) at the naturalization interview to the officer as proof that the issue has been taken care of.
Another financial issue that worries some naturalization applicants involves failure to pay required alimony and/or child support. Such an applicant must present their divorce documents, which typically include a reason for the divorce, allocation of assets, custody determination (if applicable), and information on alimony payments to be made. The applicant will also need to present receipts, cancelled checks, or other proof of payments made. If required payments have not been made during the statutory period, the interviewing officer may determine that the applicant does not have good moral character and the application will be denied. However, a few missed payments or a proven inability to pay, coupled with evidence of a petition to the family court for a modification of the amount or frequency of alimony payments, will not automatically result in a denial.
The other issues mentioned at the beginning of the article, such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, unpaid loans/bills, and welfare or other government benefits relate mostly to a person’s financial distress and do not generally reflect on their good moral character. Therefore, these are not absolute bars to naturalization. However, this changes if fraud is involved. An example is when a person lies on an application to obtain welfare or health benefits by hiding the amount of their assets. By lying on the application, the applicant has committed a deception intended to result in financial gain. This is considered a crime of fraud and such an applicant will be denied naturalization for lack of good moral character. However, if the act of lying on the application, as well as benefits received from the lie occurred outside of the statutory period and the applicant has shown reform of character (no disqualifying action since, no arrests/convictions), then it may be possible to obtain naturalization at that point.
Ultimately, these are complex issues that cannot be completely addressed in an article. If you need help with your naturalization case and have any of the issues mentioned above, please contact our office for a consultation at (847) 763-8500 or at our web form.