Loss of American legal residence or citizenship

Is it possible to lose your legal permanent residence or your citizenship? What can you do to avoid it? Learn this and more in this article.

Leaving your country of birth could be one of the most difficult decisions you could ever make. Moving to the United States and finally getting permanent residence (“Green Card”) or even citizenship is a dream come true for many people. A legal status has many benefits such as working and living in the country permanently with a feeling of confidence and safety. But did you know that it is actually possible to lose your legal status in the United States?

The American immigration authorities could deprive any person of his or her legal permanent residence or citizenship when they have committed certain acts and under certain circumstances. For example, if you committed fraud in order to obtain your residence, or if you lied to become a citizen. These cases have increased in the past few years, and people have lost their legal status in the country.

For you to have a better idea of what it means to be a citizen, we will explain it to you according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Being a citizen means that you pledge “allegiance” to the Constitution and that commitment is meant to be total.  In exchange, you receive many rights and privileges along with your citizenship. That is why you should be careful not lose the advantages that the American citizenship grants.

You may now wonder: What happens if I lose my legal status? Do I have to leave the United States? Can you lose a work permit also? The answer is yes. You can lose all of your privileges as an immigrant, if you are involved in some particular illegal activities or because you renounce to your legal status.

It is very important to know what to do if you face a situation that could lead to you losing your legal status beforehand. The best possible way to protect yourself is by hiring a competent immigration attorney who could help you navigate through the legal system successfully. 

Under what circumstances can I lose my residence or citizenship?

There are many reasons why you could lose your American citizenship. When you look at the United States Immigration and Nationality Law, you can find the following reasons: 

  • When you become a citizen of a different country to the United States after you turn have reached the legal age. 
  • If you swear your allegiance to a country other than the United States after you are 18 years old.
  • When you serve in the armed forces of another country.
  • By offering to work for another country after he or she has reached legal age. It would be necessary to prove whether the person has double citizenship and if they take an oath pledging allegiance to that nation in order to get the job. 
  • If you are convicted for treason.
  • If you are convicted for trying to overthrow the American government.
  • When you voluntarily renounced to your American citizenship.

What happens after you lose your residence or citizenship? This is, without a doubt, a devastating blow to your stability because you would lose all the rights and benefits that the American citizenship granted you. In fact, a person who loses his American citizenship is considered to be stateless person by the US government, and therefore loses much of the protection he had by law.

Another aspect that you need to keep in mind is that if you renounce or lose your citizenship, this does not necessarily mean that you as a foreign citizen will be tried for crimes in American soil. It does not exempt you from paying taxes or from any other financial obligation you may have.

When is your citizenship NOT at risk? 

American authorities acknowledge that you will not lose your citizenship under the following circumstances:

  • When you serve in the armed forces of a country that is not a rival of the United States.
  • If you work in a position that is not related to politics.
  • There is an alliance with another country

There is no risk of losing your citizenship if you fall into any of those three categories. However, it is likely that if you are in the process of renewing your passport, or exercise your right to vote, you might be asked if you wish to abandon your citizenship.

If you did actually want to voluntarily give up your citizenship, and you are in United States territory, you would need to go to the Department of Homeland Security. If you are in another country, you would need to go to a United States consulate or embassy in that country. As part of the process to renounce your citizenship you need to prove that the action of giving up your citizenship is voluntary, and the goal is to lose your citizen status.

The authorities acknowledge that there are in fact good reasons for a person to lose his citizenship when he serves in the armed forces of a country that is an enemy of the United States. When he holds a government position in another country, or when that person is has been accused of a coup d’etat. If any of those conditions are met, the consulate or embassy in charge will verify the information given and give effect to the request of renouncing to his citizenship. 

“It is very important to know what to do if you face a situation that could lead to you losing your legal status beforehand. The best possible way to protect yourself is by hiring a competent immigration attorney.”

Requirements to become a US Citizen

The process of obtaining your citizenship is usually quick, but it depends on each case in particular. The institution in charge of processing it is USCIS. Citizenship is usually granted in American territory unless you obtain your citizenship through naturalization.

These are the requirements to obtain American citizenship:

  • Be 18 or older.
  • Hold legal permanent residence (usually 5 years)
  • Present a N-400 Form
  • The person interested must apply for citizenship to USCIS. They will evaluate your application and they will schedule an appointment to take your biometric information.
  • The last step to obtain American citizenship is a naturalization exam with USCIS. The exam has 2 parts: and English language part, and a civics part. This exam is mandatory unless the person is over 50 years of age, or has some kind of mental disability.
  • Finally, it is essential to attend to the citizenship ceremony, where the oath of allegiance is sworn. This takes place after an interview and the exam. After the ceremony, the person officially becomes and American citizen. 

Once you become a US citizen, you will have the right to vote, be protected, work formally, and live permanently in any part of the United States. You will also be obliged to obey the law of the land, and pay taxes.

Another great advantage is that you could request an American passport and visit 185 countries without a travel visa.

What about naturalization of the spouse of an American citizen? 

Many people talk about the possibility of naturalization as the spouse of an American citizen, and the truth is that countless people become citizens in this way. According to the Immigration and Naturalization Law in the United States, a person who is married to a US citizen, and has been a legal permanent resident for 3 years, can apply for citizenship. They must stay married to the American citizen during those 3 years.

Moreover, the spouse of a US citizen who works abroad could also be eligible even if he or she does not meet the requirement of having legal permanent residence in the United States for 3 years.

These are the requirements: 

  • Be 18 years of age or older.
  • Living continuously in American territory an a legal permanent resident for at least 3 years (at least 18 months of those 3 years, you cannot usually be absent for more than 6 months).
  • Be and stay married to an American citizen during the 3 years of residence The 3 years must be immediately before the citizenship application date.
  • Living in the USCIS jurisdiction you are applying for citizenship for at least 3 months before the application is presented.
  • The residence in 
  • Speak and write English and have some knowledge of US history and civics.
  • Prove that you have a good moral fiber and respect the US Constitution.

Have things changed lately? 

Everyone has witnessed how US Immigration Law has hardened against immigrants. This is part of the current anti-immigration administration’s policy and which has changed the more lenient approach before.

Changes keep being made and do not stop. Regarding the legal permanent residence and citizenship process, the administration announced that revisions would be made. The USCIS is the organization in charge of those revisions, and so far they have updated the questions in the English and Civics exam. There have also been changes with regards to Government aid, and expanded the criteria of who is considered to be a person of “good moral character”.

Things keep changing month after month, and that is why we recommend that you seek competent legal representation for your petition to be successful.