ALLAN WERNICK: Lost native country passport shouldn’t be an issue for naturalization

Q. I lost my native country passport and my citizenship interview is coming soon. Will I have a problem getting naturalized? I have a copy of my passport and I filed an affidavit of loss with my country’s consulate.

Lost home-country passport shouldn’t be an issue for naturalization.

Lost home-country passport shouldn’t be an issue for naturalization. (Shutterstock)

Charina, Bronx

A. If you have your green card or other government-issued ID, not having your passport shouldn’t be a problem.

Typically, naturalization applicants need their foreign passport to show travel history. Separate from that purpose, having a passport is not a requirement for naturalizing. Applicants must prove that they have been physically present in the United States for half the five (or in some cases, three) years prior to naturalizing.

Sometimes U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Service officers question applicants about long trips abroad. However, for most applicants, USCIS will accept their approximation of travel history. In your case, the copy of your passport should convince the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization officer that you meet the physical presence requirement.

Naturalization applicants can find their arrival and departure history for the past five years at I94.cbp.dhs.gov. For you, the search should show no travel. Print that page and bring it to your naturalization interview.

Q. My girlfriend and I plan to marry. She came here by sneaking across the border. Can she get a green card? I am a U.S. citizen.

Manny, N.J.

A. Once you marry, petition for your wife. If USCIS approves the petition, she can apply for a waiver.

Your wife can get a green card, but because she entered without being admitted by a border officer, she must return home for her immigrant visa interview. If she has been here unlawfully for more than 180 days, she faces at least a three-year bar from returning, 10 years if she has been here unlawfully for one year or longer. Fortunately, she can apply for a waiver of the (unlawful presence) bar and get an answer before she travels abroad.

To get the waiver, your wife must prove that her U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent will suffer “extreme hardship” if the family is separated. Under a program called provisional stateside waiver, she can apply for the waiver while in the United States.

If USCIS approves the waiver, the unlawful presence bar will no longer apply. If USCIS denies the waiver, she is no worse off than if she never tried to get a green card.

Allan Wernick is an attorney and Senior Legal Advisor to City University of New York’s Citizenship Now! project. Email questions and comments to questions@allanwernick.com. Follow him on Twitter @awernick.

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