Can a recovering alcoholic be approved for U.S. citizenship?

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Question:

I was once a heavy drinker, but have been in various counseling and support programs, and have now been sober for four years. I’m also a permanent resident, through my wife, who is a U.S. citizen. I would like to apply for U.S. citizenship, but I see on the Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization that it asks whether I have ever been a “habitual drunkard.” I need to check “Yes” to this question, don’t I? And since this is one of the questions about “good moral character,” does that mean I will be denied citizenship? What should I do?

Answer:

By your description, it sounds like you do indeed need to check “Yes” to this question on the Form N-400 application. This question is generally applied to chronic alcoholics.

However, that does not necessarily mean that your citizenship will be denied. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.), which an applicant for immigration benefits cannot be found to have good moral character if, “during the period for which good moral character is required to be established, [the person] is or was -- a habitual drunkard.” (See I.N.A. Section 101(f).)

Pay close attention to that phrase, “during the period for which good moral character is required to be established.” In the case of an application for naturalization, it means the required number of years you were supposed to have held lawful permanent residence before applying for naturalization. For most people, it’s five years.

However, it sounds like you may be married to and living with a U.S. citizen for a while, in which case you can apply for citizenship after three years with a green card as well as marriage. (For details on that rule, see “When Can I Apply for U.S. Citizenship?”)

If you don’t meet the criteria for applying after three years, then your required statutory period is likely five years, and you should probably wait another year before applying for citizenship. That way, you will have been sober for five years, the entire period that USCIS takes a close look at.

Because of having to check “Yes” to the habitual drunkard question, you should also prepare materials to accompany your application or to bring with you to your citizenship interview, showing the steps that you have taken to seek treatment, and ideally including statements from counselors or group leaders attesting to your currently sober and responsible behavior.

Because of this complication in your case, and the need for added documentation, you would be best off getting the help of an experienced immigration attorney.

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