Applying for US citizenship
August 3, 2014 5:57 AM   Subscribe

My question is whether we need to hire an attorney to facilitate my husband's citizenship application. He has a coworker who used one himself and insists a lawyer is necessary because the stakes are so high. The coworkers situation is a bit different, though, since he had two DUIs on his record. My husband has a clean record, never arrested or charged with anything.

We have been married close to a decade, have a small child together, and he has had his green card for about five years (yes, he procrastinated and waited longer than the necessary time period to apply for his green card). In the end that was a really easy application and interview process, though we did have a lawyer because his firm hired one to accompany us.

Looking at the US citizenship application and the documents checklist, the process seems really straight-forward and pretty simple. My inclination is to have him fill out the application, send the photos, fee, and documents (a copy of our marriage certificate, my passport, and an IRS return transcript for the last three years), and wait to hear back. My husband's inclination is to pay for a lawyer because better safe than sorry and what if they deport him, etc. I'd rather avoid hiring a lawyer because of the expense and also the trouble of looking for one, meeting with them, and whatever else it entails. If we did it ourselves I could have the application in the mail right away.

Does anyone have experience with this process? Is it necessary to hire a lawyer, or is it as straightforward as it seems? Looking at the checklist, is it OK to send the minimum amount of documents required or should I just send copies of everything (specifically where it says "documents referring to you and your spouse" it says either tax returns, leases, bank accounts, mortgages, birth certificates, OR return transcript from IRS for three years)?

We live in the SF Bay Area.

(anon because my spouse considers his immigration status to be very private)
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I used to work for an immigration attorney.

I take it that you are a US Citizen and his green card is from being married to you and not from his job or another relative acting as sponsor? If he's already got his green card, the hardest part is done. If there are ANY extenuating circumstances (like for instance if he was in the US out of status for more than 180 days at any point or if he ever worked without legal work authorization), you should get a lawyer.

But if it's truly as straightforward as you say and his green card is from being married to you and he's simply looking to apply for citizenship on the basis of your relationship, you should be fine without hiring an attorney.

When dealing with the USCIS, the trick is basically to bury them with well organized information. Have all of your documents neatly labeled and tabbed, and include a cover letter with an explanatory list of your supporting documents.

Include EVERYTHING you can think of: joint tax returns for sure, birth certificates, copies of passports and all photo IDs of the both of you, copy of your kid's birth certificate with both of you listed as the parents, copy of your marriage certificate, copies of accounts held in both of your names (bank accounts, mortgage, utilities, vet bills if you've got pets, gym membership, etc). Basically if you're sitting there assembling it and wondering "oh, I don't know" about an item, include it.

Make sure you fill out all the forms required and that they're filled out correctly, and make sure you include checks for all the filing fees and that they're made out to the proper authorities.

Put his name and A Number and "in support of filing form N-400" on all his documents--the USCIS loses things.

Good luck!
posted by phunniemee at 6:17 AM on August 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

Seconding phunniemee. I did this without a lawyer 40 years ago, and I'm sure it has gotten more complicated, but if you follow all the directions to a T you should be fine. And yes, more documentation is better than shooting for the bare minimum.
posted by beagle at 6:23 AM on August 3, 2014

p.s. If it gets rejected you can always hire a lawyer for the appeal. And unless you're leaving out some huge glaring piece of information, no one's going to deport your husband. My guess is that any rejection would be based on either a technicality or lack of evidence grounds.
posted by phunniemee at 6:23 AM on August 3, 2014

As ROU_Xenophobe usually says in these kinds of threads, the forms are designed to be submitted by people without professional assistance. They require attention to detail, but if you're fastidious and there aren't special circumstances, you shouldn't need a lawyer.

Naturalization is actually one of the simpler immigration processes: as a general rule, the bureaucracy tends to get more straightforward the further along you go, because you're in the system, with nudges to get permanent residents to become citizens. If your husband has had his green card for more than five years, you shouldn't even need to include proof of marriage, though there's nothing stopping you from doing so.

The big wrinkles are the 'good moral character' test (where DUIs are very much an issue) and accurate records of any travel outside the US to meet the residence/presence test. And make sure that your husband has kept his address updated with USCIS.

As phunniemee says, your husband isn't going to be deported unless there are some big skeletons in the closet.
posted by holgate at 6:28 AM on August 3, 2014

My understanding is that you don't need an attorney (I don't think my mom used one and a friend of mine just went through the process without one). I am, however, well-acquainted with your husband's anxiety around anything to do with immigration. If you can reasonably afford an attorney, I think it might be worth spending the money. However irrational, the "What if I get deported?" fear is a big one and it's probably worth it for family sanity to take a slightly shorter vacation this year or whatever cutback would pay for the attorney.
posted by hoyland at 6:32 AM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you really have no 'red flags', then yes this is super simple to do without a lawyer. In fact, you say he's had his green card almost 5 years? If you wait until the 5 year mark, it's even easier, because your husband can then apply under the '5 year permanent resident' rule rather than the '3 year spouse' rule, meaning you don't have to send as much evidence. But still, the 3 year spouse route is still pretty easy too.

I went through all this year or so ago (3 year spouse route) with no trouble. I found the website an incredibly helpful resource. Here is their Naturalization guide and check out their Forums and the current processing timelines too. Feel free to Memail me if you have any questions!
posted by atlantica at 6:57 AM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

My parents didn't use an attorney. Worked out just fine. This was about four years ago.

It can be done.
posted by Neekee at 7:27 AM on August 3, 2014

I also used to work for an immigration attorney (IANAL). Hiring a lawyer for a case of the sort you describe is an insurance policy. If something goes awry, you've got an attorney who's up to speed and has copies of all your casework.

One piece of advice I haven't seen yet: make copies of everything, because then if your case file is lost, you have another copy to (copy again and) send along. Also send everything via some form of tracked/signed delivery so you have solid proof of what you sent when.
posted by immlass at 7:28 AM on August 3, 2014

As someone who works in the immigration field, I would say U.S. naturalization is something you can safely undertake without a attorney. It's quite straightforward and for someone without a history of immigration violation or arrests, an attorney would just be overkill.
posted by whitewall at 7:42 AM on August 3, 2014

I handled my wife's green card application without a lawyer. There is a lot of stuff to keep track of, but much of it needs to be prepared by the applicants, rather than a lawyer, anyway (e.g. evidence of financial intermingling). If you are detail-oriented, I'm not entirely sure what the benefit to hiring a lawyer for a straightforward case would be.
posted by deadweightloss at 8:16 AM on August 3, 2014

I did the paperwork for my immigration to the US from start to citizenship. The main thing is to drown them in well organized and clearly labelled paperwork, send them proof and then some. Keep copies of everything. I keep an exact replica of the paperwork I sent them. I found the NOLO books on immigration super handy and just followed their step by step guides as ours was a pretty straight forward case.

The Visa Journey website is handy, and has great tips on how to organise your info, but can be a bit judgmental in the forums.

The lawyer will be asking you together all the paperwork up together and send it to them anyway. Filing in the forms is the easy part so you might as well just send it straight to

posted by wwax at 9:00 AM on August 3, 2014

Just to add anecdata. I became a US citizen based on marriage without a lawyer. If your husband is already a Permanent Resident (green card), and it's a routine case, he's done all the hard stuff already. The time it took him to become a PR or to apply for naturalization isn't a concern. Some folks take decades. The rules are the rules and if you check all the right boxes you're in.

The application for naturalization (citizenship) is comparatively straightforward bureaucracy, as you've already discovered. As always, just be fastidious in following the instructions and providing the required paperwork. There's no trick questions. He'll need to pass the citizenship test when the time comes. If he reads and writes English, it's a breeze. Check the book of standard questions beforehand, anyhow.

If there's any complicating factors in your life (unresolved or recent criminal history, for example), or even things you're uncertain about whether they might be complicating factors, then yes, employ a lawyer, if only for peace of mind. I'd only suggest someone go it alone if they're pretty sure their case really is a nice and tidy routine one.
posted by normy at 6:03 PM on August 6, 2014

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