On June 22, 2017, the US Supreme Court issued a decision that prevents a person from having their citizenship revoked because of a false statement, when that falsehood was to relevant to eligibility for citizenship.
In the case of Maslenjak v. U.S., the plaintiff - Divna Maslenjak - was originally from Bosnia and because a US citizen in 2007. It emerged that, in earlier immigration application, she had lied about her husband's involvement in the Bosnian conflict. When she completed the N-400, applying for US citizenship, she said "no" in response to the question about whether she had ever misrepresented anything to gain an immigration benefit.
The government argued that this lie justified revoking her citizenship, even though her telling the truth would have prevented her getting citizenship. In advocating for a very strict interpretation of the law, the government lawyers even agreed that minor falsehood, e.g. not disclosing a speeding ticket or membership in a legal, but potentially embarrassing group, was grounds to revoke citizenship.
The justices unanimously rejected the government’s position that it could revoke the citizenship of Americans who made even trivial misstatements in their naturalization proceedings. Justice Kagan wrote "We hold that the Government must establish that an illegal act by the defendant played some role in her acquisition of citizenship. When the illegal act is a false statement, that means demonstrating that the defendant lied about facts that would have mattered to an immigration official, because they would have justified denying naturalization or would predictably have led to other facts warranting that result."
There is no guarantee that Maslenjak will be able to regain citizenship. The case goes back to the lower courts which must decide whether her lies were, in fact, material to her citizenship approval. The significance of this case is that the Supreme Court has stated that the lies must be relevant, whereas the government argued that any misstatement, no matter how insignificant, was enough to revoke citizenship.
Full opinion here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/16-309_h31i.pdf
In general, you can apply for US citizenship after 5 continuous years as a permanent resident (PR) or 3 years as a PR if you were married to a US citizen for the 3 years.
In addition to being a permanent resident for the prescribed periods, there are very specific residence requirements you must meet before getting citizenship. Generally, you must have been physically present in the US for half of the 5/3 years before applying for citizenship. You must also have resided for at least 3 months in the state where you are filing. Limited exceptions exist to the residence rules, and it is important that you have not done anything to break the period of residence. Please contact your attorney if you’d like specific advice about your situation.
In addition to the residence and physical presence requirements, an applicant for naturalization must show the following:
There are special rules for people serving in the US Armed Forces, who can get a waiver of the usual residence and physical presence requirements, and do not need to pay filing fees. In addition, a person may be able to apply for citizenship before becoming a PR if the application is filed while on active duty, or within 6 months of leaving service. A person who served in the armed forces during hostilities and was honorably discharged or still serves, can also apply for citizenship without being a PR.
Information on naturalization generally is here. Information on naturalization for military personnel is here.
For any questions, please contact us for your free consultation.
Elaine Martin has been practising US and global immigration law since 1997. She is an immigrant herself (from Ireland), so has a special understanding of the legal and emotional challenges involved in relocating to a new country.