Citizenship Application Denied? Here’s What to Do Next.

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedMay 18, 2022
7 minute read

Citizen application denied: those words are what every applicant for U.S. citizenship dreads. Roughly 75,000 people who applied for U.S. citizenship were denied this year. If you’re one of them, you may be left wondering what now?

We want you to know that this denial does not have to be the end of the road for you. In this article, we’ll explain other paths that you may be able to take to achieve U.S. citizenship.

In This Article:

  1. Things to Keep in Mind if You Were Denied Citizenship
  2. Common Options to Fight Citizenship Denial
  3. File an Administrative Appeal
  4. Re-File for Naturalization
  5. File a Motion to Reopen or Reconsider
  6. The Federal Court Option
  7. Filing a Lawsuit for Appeal Denial
  8. Filing a Lawsuit for Appeal Delay

Our Immigration Attorneys Are Here to Help

Often, the hardest part of the immigration process is the worrying, especially when it feels like you have a whole bureaucracy against you. Our experienced immigration attorneys work with the USCIS every day and know how to get the best results for their clients. If you want peace of mind, get a strong legal advocate on your side. To begin your case assessment, call us at 303-688-0944. Si gustarÍa hablar con nosotros en español, por favor llámenos al 720-359-2442.

You love the United States enough to try to be a citizen. You went through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) naturalization process. You invested your time and money. Perhaps you were pleasantly surprised by how straightforward the process was compared to getting a green card or visa.

You were feeling good about the future – until your application was denied.

Citizenship Application Denied? You aren’t alone. About 10 percent of naturalization applicants are denied every year.

Things to Keep in Mind if You Were Denied Citizenship

We can only imagine how defeated you may feel. We want to help. As you learn about your next steps, please remember:

  • You’re still a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. So even though your application for citizenship was denied, it does not mean you will be deported.
  • You get more than one opportunity to apply for citizenship.
  • The USCIS did not reject you as a person. More than likely, there was an issue with your application that can be explained or corrected, and the USCIS is required to tell you, in the denial letter, the specific reason(s) your application was not approved.
  • You have options. If becoming a U.S. citizen is important to you, one denial letter can’t be the end of the road. Contact an attorney and get your petition back on track.

Common Options to Fight Citizenship Application Denial

Option One: File an Administrative Appeal 

If you believe you have a strong legal basis to reverse your citizenship application denial, and that a different USCIS officer would decide in your favor, an administrative appeal may be the way to go.

Do not base this decision on a “gut feeling.” Unless you bring new or additional evidence to your appeal hearing, you are likely to get denied again. You and your immigration attorney will discuss what evidence you have and whether it’s strong enough to pursue an appeal.

Appeal Timeline

If it turns out that an administrative appeal is the right choice, you’ll have to act quickly. You have either 30 or 33 days (if you were notified by mail) from the date of your citizenship denial to file your appeal.

Your Step-by-Step Appeal Process 
  1. Download and fill out Form N-336, which is known as a Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings. It can be printed and filled out at home, then mailed to your local USCIS processing center, or it can be completed online.
  2. There is a $700 filing fee, whether you mail it in or complete the form online.
  3. After you file, the USCIS has 180 days to hear your case. The appeal hearing and interview are usually scheduled within two to six months.
  4. A different USCIS officer will hear your appeal.
  5. You do not have to bring an immigration attorney to your appeal hearing but it’s highly recommended. The immigration system is deeply intricate, and legal arguments tend to prevail. Having an attorney’s expertise and guidance can make all the difference between getting approved, or getting denied again over a procedural error.

There is no guarantee that your appeal will be approved, but this can be a crucial first step if you don’t have other options. Later, if you decide to sue the USCIS in federal court, you will have to show that you appealed (filed an N-336) and were denied.

Option Two: Re-File for Naturalization 

In many situations, it’s best to wait and re-file for citizenship (Form N-400) again.

Sure, it’s a hassle going back to the end of the line, filling out those forms again, re-taking the passport photos, and re-doing the interview and oral exams. For many people, though, this option is the most practical path to citizenship if the reasons for your initial denial can be fixed by simply waiting.

Reasons re-filing may be the best option for you:

  • You failed the English test or the oral history and government questions
  • There were simple, fixable mistakes on your N-400 forms
  • You didn’t quite meet the requirement of a ‘continuous resident,’ either by filing your N-400 too soon or by staying outside the country for more than six months anytime during the past three to five years
  • There were still criminal convictions on your record during the period you applied (within the past five years, usually) and you can wait for them to recede further into the past
  • More time is needed to generate evidence of good moral character

Remember, even if you already filed an N-400, re-filing means you start over from scratch. You will have to pay the $725 filing fee again.

You can wait as long as you need to re-file. Since you are not appealing a denial, you do not have a narrow 30-day window.

Option Three: File a Motion to Reopen or Reconsider 

This is like an appeal, but with one key difference: you’re asking the agent who denied it to take a fresh look and make a different decision instead of asking a new officer to review your application and new evidence.

As with an appeal, this form (I-290B) must be filed within 30 days of citizenship application denial, or 33 days if the notice was issued by mail. The filing fee for I-290B is $675.

Motion to Reopen: Used when there are new facts, supported by documentary evidence, that could help your citizenship application get approved. Let’s consider a couple of examples:

Denied for Failure to Show

Let’s say the USCIS denied your citizenship application because it says you failed to show up for the interview. You, however, never received information about the interview date and time. As it turns out, the USCIS mailed the interview information to the wrong address. You may be able to submit proof of the USCIS’ error.

Denied for Failure to Provide Evidence

In this example, the USCIS denied your citizenship application because you neglected to provide additional evidence. You may be able to show that the requested evidence was not pertinent to your case.

Motion to Reconsider: Filed if an application is denied due to a legal or policy error. You should be ready to support this motion by pointing to previous decisions, statutes, relevant precedent, or pertinent statements by the USCIS or Department of Homeland Security.

The motion to reopen or reconsider should only be used when the evidence on your side is strong enough to overturn a denial. Of course, there’s no way to be certain in advance. That’s why it’s always best to talk with an immigration attorney first.

The Federal Court Option 

If you’ve done what you can to rectify your original application for citizenship denial and feel like you’re still not getting anywhere, filing a lawsuit in federal court may be your best option.

In most cases, suing the USCIS will be a last resort, so to speak. If the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) has denied or delayed your appeal, a lawsuit could be appropriate.

It is important to have established a good faith attempt to work with the U.S. immigration system before taking them to court. So before you can sue the USCIS in federal court, you must have first filed form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings, and been denied a second time.

Filing a Lawsuit for Appeal Denial

  1. You must submit your petition for review within 120 days of the administrative denial of your appeal. This petition should be filed at the Federal District Court that has jurisdiction over the USCIS center where your application and appeal were denied.
  2. The court will schedule a hearing within 180 days of your request.
  3. At the hearing, an officer – other than the one who first denied your application or the one who denied it on appeal – will conduct what is known as a “de novo” review. This means previous decisions will have no influence on the court’s findings.
  4. The officer will closely review your case and determine if the USCIS failed to follow U.S. immigration law.
  5. The denial of your application will either be upheld as presented, upheld based on new findings, or it will be overturned. If it is overturned your citizenship will be approved.

8 USC 1535: Appeals

Filing a Lawsuit for Appeal Delay

When you request an Administrative Appeal, the AAO has 120 days to review your denied citizenship application and notify you of a decision.

If that time passes and you’re still left hanging, you have the option to submit a mandamus relief petition – to sue the USCIS and force it to decide on your case.

A mandamus relief lawsuit is considered drastic. But it gives people without leverage the power to force a government entity to take action or render a decision.

Bringing such a case to federal district court can be particularly effective if you are able to show, with documentary evidence, how the long delay has impaired your opportunities such as:

  • time-sensitive business investments
  • educational scholarships with a maximum age requirement
  • federal jobs for which only a U.S. citizen can apply

“If there is a failure to make a determination . . . before the end of the 120-day period after the date on which the examination is conducted under such section, the applicant may apply to the United States district court  . . . for a hearing on the matter. Such court has jurisdiction over the matter and may either determine the matter or remand the matter, with appropriate instructions, to the (USCIS) to determine the matter.”  8 USCS § 1447: Mandamus

The Limits of a Mandamus Action 

While a federal district court has jurisdiction to make a decision on your appeal, it more than likely will only compel the USCIS to hurry up and decide your case.

Additionally, unlike other types of lawsuits that allow the petitioner to request damages, a mandamus action does not permit the court to award you any kind of compensation.

Whether asking a federal district court for a mandamus action or for a review of your denied citizenship application, it’s best to have an immigration attorney at your side. As a general rule, one does not take a branch of the U.S. government to court without good legal advice or before all other options have been tried.

Don’t Let a Denial Derail Your Dreams of U.S. Citizenship 

The United States of America is not just a wonderful nation. It’s your home now. If your N-400 application for U.S. citizenship has been denied, don’t give up. At Robinson and Henry, we have experienced and compassionate immigration attorneys who will listen to you and develop an effective action plan to put you back on the road to American citizenship. To begin your case assessment, call 303-688-0944.

Si gustarÍa hablar con nosotros en español, por favor llámenos al 720-359-2442.

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