Generally speaking, you can apply for citizenship as many times as you want. If USCIS denies your first application, there are several other paths you can follow for subsequent applications.
Citizenship Denial for Any Reason
If USCIS denied your application for any reason, you have two general choices for your next step. On one hand, you could wait and reapply at the next available time. Alternatively, you could exercise your right to appeal USCIS’s original decision.
After USCIS denies your application, they will send you paperwork which states their reasoning for denying your application. This paperwork will also include a date for when you may reapply. Should you choose to reapply, you will have to go through the entire naturalization procedure again from the very beginning. This includes filing a new N-400, submitting more photos and fingerprints, paying other fees, any every other step in the process.
The appeals process, on the other hand, is an entirely separate process, with many more moving parts.
Appealing USCIS’s Decision
The first step in the process is to figure out who you’re appealing to. Generally, you will send your first appeal to USCIS after receiving notice of their denial of your citizenship application. After you receive this notice, you have 30 days to file for an appeal.
This 30 day window is extremely important regarding your right to appeal. If you miss the window by even one day, you will lose your automatic right to an appeal, and USCIS will treat your request as a motion to reconsider or a motion to reopen.
Each of these motions carries a higher burden of proof on your part that your case deserves an appeal. For this reason, you’ll want to avoid this fate if at all possible. However, even if you do end up missing this 30 day window, your appeal still has a chance. You’ll want to talk with your attorney about your options for moving forward.
The Appeals Process
To begin the appellate process, you will need to file Form N-336 within the 30 day time frame discussed above. After filing this form, USCIS has 180 days to schedule a hearing. This hearing will be administered by a different USCIS officer of equal or higher rank.
The USCIS officer will conduct this hearing de novo. This is a legal term that means the officer will look at your application as if it had never been reviewed before. The officer may also choose to use a less formal review procedure, based on the complexity of the issue they’re reviewing and whether or not they need to conduct further examinations.
After they finish reviewing the case, the officer will either:
- Affirm the findings in the denial, and sustain the original decision to deny;
- Re-determine the original decision, but deny the application on newly discovered grounds of ineligibility; or
- Re-determine the original decision and reverse the original decision to deny, while simultaneously approving your naturalization application.
If the officer upholds your denial, you can again choose to simply reapply or appeal the case to a higher power. In this situation, this second appeal will go to any Federal District Court with jurisdiction over the claim. The Federal District Court will also hear your case de novo.
If, however, the officer reverses the original denial and approves your application, you’ll be one step closer to achieving citizenship.
Denial for Failing the Naturalization Exam
There’s one other situation which differs slightly from the scenarios we’ve described above: failing the naturalization exam.
As a first thing to note, remember that you have two separate opportunities to pass the exam. According to the USCIS handbook, USCIS will give you a second opportunity to pass any failed portion of the naturalization exam. Essentially, you will have two opportunities to pass the exam: once on your first interview, and a second time on your re-interview.
If you fail again your second time, you may either study up and reapply for naturalization, or, in a similar process to the one described above, you can appeal the USCIS officer’s decision.
The procedure for an appeal is the same as outlined above. However, the key difference is that the USCIS appeals officer will additionally administer any portion of the test that you previously failed.
Unlike with your initial interview, however, you only have one chance to pass the failed portion of the test.
What Happens if I Fail the Naturalization Exam Twice?
Regardless of which of the above paths you choose, the best advice anyone can give is simply “study more.” A large number of study materials are available on line that can help you hone your skills before your second or third attempt. Many of these study sources are available online for free through USCIS, such as both the Civics and English portions.
Also, as one other alternative you can explore, you should see whether or not you qualify as having a disability that impairs your ability to perform on the exam. In this scenario, you may be able to waive taking the exam or, at the very least, receive certain other aid, such as an easier exam or a longer testing time. Find more information here.
The naturalization process is a complex process with many moving parts, but the reward of U.S. citizenship is worth every step.
Should things not work out the first time around, consider the above options, speak with your attorney, and try again. As President Abraham Lincoln once said, “always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.”
You can do it, and we believe in you!