USCIS Update Policy on Naturalization Eligibility Following Voter Registration19 Jul 2021
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has updated its policy guidance related to the impact of registering to vote on a foreign national’s good moral character (GMC) requirement when applying for U.S. citizenship. The updated guidance is designed to prevent potentially catastrophic consequences for a naturalization applicant who registers to vote without intending to do so.
Background on Voter Registration
One of the requirements for a lawful permanent resident (LPR) to become a U.S. citizen is that the individual must demonstrate GMC during the three or (more commonly) five-year statutory period. An issue that historically has prevented many LPRs from establishing GMC is registering to vote, which is a right generally reserved exclusively for U.S. citizens. A major reason this has become such a problem is the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, commonly referred to as the Motor Voter law, which requires states to provide eligible with voters the opportunity to register to vote when applying for a driver’s license or state ID. Over the years, countless foreign nationals have inadvertently registered to vote when applying for a driver’s license.
USCIS Clarifies Policy on Effect of Voter Registration on Naturalization Eligibility
Individuals who are not U.S. citizens should not register to vote. However, the USCIS recently clarified that an individual who unknowingly or unwilfully registers to vote will not be penalized. Furthermore, the USCIS does not consider an individual to have unlawfully registered to vote if the individual did not complete or sign the voter registration section (including electronic signature, if applicable) in the relevant motor vehicle or state benefit application.
Similar Clarification Provided for False Claims of U.S. Citizenship
When a person registers to vote, one of the questions that may be asked is whether the applicant is a U.S. citizen. As with registering to vote, a foreign national who falsely claims U.S. citizenship is typically not considered to possess the GMC required to naturalize.
The updated policy explains that the USCIS does not consider a person to have unlawfully claimed to be a U.S. citizen if the individual did not affirmatively indicate that s/he is a U.S. citizen. However, if a foreign national registers to vote, that individual has the burden to prove that the registration form did not contain a question about whether the individual was a U.S. citizen.
The USCIS policy update does not change the basic rules that prohibit a foreign national from registering to vote or claiming U.S. citizenship. However, it should help to reduce the number of people who face potentially devastating consequences for simply renewing a driver’s license.
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